Jack London

Jack London

Jack London Jack London[1†]

John Griffith Chaney[1†], better known as Jack London[1†][2†], was born on January 12, 1876, in San Francisco, California[1†][2†]. He was an American novelist, journalist, and activist[1†][2†]. A pioneer of commercial fiction and American magazines, he was one of the first American authors to become an international celebrity and earn a large fortune from writing[1†]. He was also an innovator in the genre that would later become known as science fiction[1†].

London was part of the radical literary group “The Crowd” in San Francisco and a passionate advocate of animal rights, workers’ rights, and socialism[1†]. He wrote several works dealing with these topics, such as his dystopian novel The Iron Heel, his non-fiction exposé The People of the Abyss, War of the Classes, and Before Adam[1†].

His most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in Alaska and the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as the short stories “To Build a Fire”, “An Odyssey of the North”, and "Love of Life"[1†]. He also wrote about the South Pacific in stories such as “The Pearls of Parlay”, and "The Heathen"[1†].

Early Years and Education

Jack London was born on January 12, 1876, in San Francisco, California[2†][3†]. He was an illegitimate child of Flora Wellman and William Chaney[2†][3†]. His mother later married a man named John London, and Jack took his stepfather’s surname[2†][3†].

London’s family first moved to the Bay Area and then shifted to Oakland[2†][3†]. He received his elementary schooling from the West End School in Alameda, California, and in 1887, he joined the Oakland Cole Grammar School in West Oakland, California[2†][3†][4†]. However, he dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade[2†][3†][4†].

As a child, London had to work to help his family earn money[2†][5†]. After he graduated from grammar school at the age of 14, he left school and took a job in a factory[2†][5†]. A year later, he bought a small boat and sailed around San Francisco Bay, stealing oysters and working for the government fish patrol[2†][5†].

Despite these challenges, London was a voracious reader and educated himself at public libraries with the writings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, usually in popularized forms[2†]. At 19, he crammed a four-year high school course into one year and entered the University of California, Berkeley[2†][4†]. However, after a year, he quit school to seek a fortune in the Klondike gold rush[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Jack London’s career was as adventurous and varied as his novels[2†][1†]. He worked in various jobs such as a cannery, a jute mill, a window-washer, a watchman, and a longshoreman[2†][6†]. He also learned to sail at an early age and bought a sloop with borrowed money, working as an Oyster Pirate in the Bay[2†][6†].

London’s writing career began after he returned from the Klondike gold rush, still poor and unable to find work[2†]. He decided to earn a living as a writer[2†]. London studied magazines and then set himself a daily schedule of producing sonnets, ballads, jokes, anecdotes, adventure stories, or horror stories, steadily increasing his output[2†]. The optimism and energy with which he attacked his task are best conveyed in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909)[2†].

Within two years, stories of his Alaskan adventures began to win acceptance for their fresh subject matter and virile force[2†]. His best-known works—among them The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906)—depict elemental struggles for survival[2†][1†]. He also wrote about the South Pacific in stories such as “The Pearls of Parlay”, and "The Heathen"[2†][1†].

London was part of the radical literary group “The Crowd” in San Francisco and a passionate advocate of animal rights, workers’ rights, and socialism[2†][1†]. He wrote several works dealing with these topics, such as his dystopian novel The Iron Heel, his non-fiction exposé The People of the Abyss, War of the Classes, and Before Adam[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Jack London was a prolific writer, and his works spanned various genres. Here are some of his most notable works:

Each of these works left a significant impact on literature and continue to be studied and appreciated today[2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Jack London’s works are known for their bold and sometimes brutal depiction of the confrontation between humans and nature[7†]. His stories often reflect the idea that human beings, to survive, must adapt to nature yet are themselves creatures of nature, subject to forces they do not really understand[7†]. This approach placed London at the forefront of the move toward naturalistic fiction and realism[7†].

London was influenced by social Darwinism and his stories often reflect this influence[7†]. His work often employs a working-class hero, reflecting his interest in Marxism[7†]. His realistic stories were very popular in the United States when they were first published and continue to be so[7†]. He has also achieved wide popularity abroad, with his work being translated into more than fifty languages[7†].

His stories in the naturalistic mode continue to influence writers[7†]. His novels, especially The Sea-Wolf and The Call of the Wild, are taught in high school and college English courses, and a number of his books remain in print year after year[7†].

London resisted the sentimental beast fables of his day, which personified animals to manipulate the reader’s emotions[7†][8†]. His goal was not to make animals appear human, but to emphasize the hereditary connection that humans have with animals[7†][8†].

Personal Life

Jack London was married twice in his life[9†]. His first marriage was to Elizabeth Mae on April 7, 1900[9†]. They had two children, Joan and Bessie[9†]. Despite his great love for his children, his relationship with his wife remained strained[9†]. They parted ways on November 11, 1904[9†].

London’s mother, Flora Wellman, was the fifth and youngest child of Pennsylvania Canal builder Marshall Wellman and his first wife, Eleanor Garrett Jones[9†][1†]. Marshall Wellman was descended from Thomas Wellman, an early Puritan settler in the Massachusetts Bay Colony[9†][1†]. Flora left Ohio and moved to the Pacific coast when her father remarried after her mother died[9†][1†]. In San Francisco, Flora worked as a music teacher and spiritualist, claiming to channel the spirit of a Sauk chief, Black Hawk[9†][1†].

Biographer Clarice Stasz and others believe London’s father was astrologer William Chaney[9†][1†]. Flora Wellman was living with Chaney in San Francisco when she became pregnant[9†][1†]. Whether Wellman and Chaney were legally married is unknown[9†][1†]. Stasz notes that in his memoirs, Chaney refers to London’s mother Flora Wellman as having been “his wife”; he also cites an advertisement in which Flora called herself "Florence Wellman Chaney"[9†][1†].

According to Flora Wellman’s account, as recorded in the San Francisco Chronicle of June 4, 1875, Chaney demanded that she have an abortion[9†][1†]. When she refused, he disclaimed responsibility for the child[9†][1†]. In desperation, she shot herself[9†][1†]. She was not seriously wounded, but she was temporarily deranged[9†][1†]. After giving birth, Flora sent the baby for wet-nursing to Virginia (Jennie) Prentiss, a formerly enslaved African-American woman and a neighbor[9†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Jack London’s life embodied the frenzied modernization of America between the Civil War and World War I[10†]. His rags-to-riches success story, thirst for adventure, and progressive political ideas mirrored the passing of the American frontier and the nation’s transformation into an urban-industrial global power[10†].

London valued education, fair wages, healthy working conditions, and sustainable farming practices that preserved the earth[10†][11†]. He held the progressive opinion that those with great wealth have a moral duty to improve the quality of life for others and used his notoriety to speak about the risks associated with unfettered capitalism[10†][11†].

A century after his death, scholars continue to examine Jack London’s enduring legacy[10†][12†]. His hard-edged prose with its stark view of men’s encounters with the natural world fit right into the national imagination, when the West was a place brimming with tales of adventure — the mythological West of unlimited opportunity and heroic episodes[10†][12†].

His swift rise from obscurity to celebrity at a time won London a worldwide following[10†][12†]. The author Upton Sinclair drafted him into the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in 1905[10†][12†]. Jack London also spent time looking at poverty elsewhere — particularly London’s East End, where he went native among the poor of England by dressing in sailor’s gear and living in workingmen’s dormitories in 1902[10†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Jack London [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Jack London: American author [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Jack London Biography [website] - link
  4. SunSigns - Jack London Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - Jack London [website] - link
  6. Famous Authors - Jack London [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Jack London Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - The Call of the Wild Critical Essays [website] - link
  9. Literary Devices - Jack London [website] - link
  10. Smithsonian Magazine - The Short, Frantic, Rags-to-Riches Life of Jack London [website] - link
  11. Living Sonoma County - Jack London’s Enduring Legacy [website] - link
  12. Stanford University - The Bill Lane Center for the American West - A Century After His Death, Scholars Examine Jack London’s Enduring Legacy [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.