The Sea-Wolf Critical Context - Essay

Jack London

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

When Jack London first got the idea for this book, he was planning to write a narrative based on his travels as a sailor on the Sophia Sutherland called “The Mercy of the Sea.” As he was writing The Call of the Wild, however, he was so inspired by the idea of mastery in that book that he decided to take, as he said in a letter to his publisher, a “cultured, refined, super-civilized man and woman, . . . throw them into a primitive sea-environment, . . . and make this man & woman rise to the situation and come out of it with flying colors.” As The Call of the Wild was published in 1903, The Sea-Wolf completed in 1904, and White Fang completed in 1905, it is clear that the theme of survival of the civilized in an uncivilized environment, and then of the opposite situation, was a driving force in London’s work during that period.

The Sea-Wolf had a sensational reception, with an advance sale of twenty thousand copies, and there was even some interest in dramatizing it. The story, although not written for young audiences, was not unlike adventure stories for children during this period, which were strongly influenced by the work of Robert Louis Stevenson in that they involved escape, treasure, smuggling, and far-off romantic places.