Jack London, the man, and his The Call of the Wild, Sea Wolf and White Fang continue grey-wolf-snowto fascinate me.  On the one hand, his characters inhabit a brutal Nietzchian world of social Darwinism.  Characters infamously exhibit their rugged individualism pushed to the brink of survival, all of which remain synonymous with the late-industrial capitalism of today.  Yet on the other hand London himself was a committed socialist, as someone suddenly taken by the plight of the poor and marginalized.

Biographical timelines might indicate the London had a change of heart at some point in his life accounting for this discrepancy (see “How I became a Socialist”), which soon lead to him penning The Iron Heel and Martin Eden as Andrew Sinclair seems to suggest in his introduction to the latter book.  Yet even in such violent capitalistic texts there is, I suggest, an unraveling of this rugged individualism or at least an opening or fissure between “the law of fang and the law of club” that hints at a more socialist notion.

The love that Buck feels for his new owner, John Thornton, points to a pause or caesura in the song or call of the wild.  Thornton’s death at the hand of the Yeethats leaves a great “void” in him “which food could not fill.”  And throughout the text what acts as a continual inhibitor of the wild is the role of commerce, the lust for the gold rush.  Man is drawn out of civilization not by the call of the wild, but by the commodity of gold.  Animals pursue a call faithful to their being while man chases the phantom of money.

Money is surely contingent and unknown to “the law of fang.”

It is this sense that London prizes the beasts of the wild in contrast to man.  The wolves possess their definitive being-towards survival of the fittest and man, who can only limp along, unable as he is to rid himself of civilized garb.  It would take Josef Conrad’s attempt at the Congo to bring out the full implications of this terror.

In White Fang London writes, “Had the cub thought in man-fashion, he might have epitomized life as a voracious appetite…pursuing and being pursued, hunting and being hunted…But the cub did not think in man-fashion…He was single purposed, and entertained but one thought or desire at a time.”  On one side then stands the wild and the beasts of the wild doing what they do.  On the other is man, lured forward by unnatural lust for money.  It is this ability of London to simultaneous hold both narratives at bay and the gap between the two presents an incredible reading experience.

So what then is this socialist vision?  For London it seems nothing less than reality of love tearing a fissure into the social world man has created.  It is man who is out of place, who cannot give himself to the wild.  And when he does, the resulting world becomes a nightmare.

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