Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf is primarily an adventure and a journalistic narrative, but it is also a philosophical discussion, the tale of a man coming to terms with what it is to be a man, and a love story. Literary critic Humphrey Van Weyden is thrown off a sinking ferry in San Francisco Bay and is rescued by the Ghost, a seal-hunting schooner bound for Japan. The captain, Wolf Larsen, disgusted that Ven Weyden does not really work for a living, offers him the job of cabin boy, through which he will learn to stand on his own legs, for the good of his soul. Thus, Van Weyden becomes a prisoner on the Ghost. He discovers that the captain reads literature and studies astronomy and physics, and the two enter into philosophical discussion. Larsen believes that people do not have souls, that the world is a terrible and selfish place, and that humans are all part of a great yeast in which the parts that are the strongest eat the weakest and stay alive.

Morale is not good on the ship, and, as a result of a series of attempted mutinies, Van Weyden is promoted to cook and finally to first mate. At the seal-hunting grounds, Van Weyden is given the job of tallying the skins and overseeing their cleaning, and he observes that he is toughened or hardened by the work. The Ghost comes upon a stranded mail steamer from San Francisco bound for Yokohama. Larsen takes the stranded passengers on board and passes by Yokohama, keeping the...

(The entire section is 543 words.)