Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Literary Timeline Six Novel Ideas My Favorite Novel Elements of the Novel Top Novel Lists About the Program
Navigate through 200 years of the American Novel using scrollable tools and pulldown menus.
Use these pulldown menus to read more about novels, authors & movements.
Jack London Return to the Timeline
Jack London
Much of Jack London's work deals with the struggle for survival of strong men driven by primitive emotions.

New York Public Library
Jack London, (1876-1916), was an American author, journalist, and political activist. He became the most widely read American author. Much of London's fiction can be read as juvenile adventure stories. But his best work also dealt with complex adult themes.

John Griffith London was born on Jan. 12, 1876, in San Francisco. His childhood was marked by emotional and economic deprivation. Between the ages of 16 and 19, he held many jobs connected with the sea. In 1897, London traveled to Canada to seek his fortune in the gold rush in the Yukon region. The trip to the Klondike region of Yukon was a major turning point in London's life. He found materials there that would allow him to express his major literary theme, the struggle for survival of strong men driven by primitive emotions. London's first Klondike stories, collected in THE SON OF THE WOLF (1900), made him a best-selling author.

London was fascinated with "environmental determinism," which states that the world shapes us in ways we are powerless to resist. This is the theme of London's two great animal novels. THE CALL OF THE WILD (1903) describes the adventures of Buck, a dog taken from California to Yukon. Buck learns to be brutal in order to survive. WHITE FANG (1906) reverses the story. It portrays a wolf who, through the power of a human master's love and kindness, turns from a savage beast into a loyal domestic animal. Among London's other major novels are two that portray strong, brutal men who scorn conventional social attitudes -- THE SEA WOLF (1904) and the autobiographical MARTIN EDEN (1909). In these and many other novels and essays, London attacked capitalism. His understanding and sympathy for the poor are strong elements in such works as THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS (1903), a journalistic report on the poor and homeless living in London, England.

London's life and work were filled with contradictions. He upheld a socialist ideal of collectivism, but he also held a cruelly individualistic notion of the survival of the fittest. He praised democracy, but he saw his own success as illustrating the rightness of the concept of the superman who stands above ordinary humanity and prevails by force of will. This philosophy had been developed by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. London died on Nov. 22, 1916.

Contributor:
Daniel Mark Fogel, Ph.D., Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Louisiana State University.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Jack London and related subjects.


Previous | Next

The American Novel