Studying The Life Of Jack London English Literature Essay

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Born on January 12th, 1876, in San Francisco, California, Jack London had a very interesting life, filled up with numerous adventures that made him be the great author he is known now. His parents were never married, and his dad, William Chaney, left before he was even born. In the same year as his birth, Flora Wellman, his mother, married John London, who soon became Jack's loving father. He already had two daughters, Ida and Eliza, from his first marriage. Jack London even took his step-father's name, instead of his real father's; he went from being John Griffith Chaney to Jack London.

John London, looking for jobs to support his family, had moved around a lot through California. At the age of three Jack moved to Oakland, spending there just two years, before moving again. For the next five years, he moved to Alameda, San Mateo Country, Livermore and then back to Oakland. In each city he learned something new and in Livermore he discovered the world of books at the age of nine. He went to first grade in Alameda in West End School, but as he moved he changed schools. He went to Oakland Cole Grammar School in West Oakland and finished studying there in 1891. His family wasn't rich, so he needed to help support them, and therefore got small jobs.

At the age of 16, Jack London left his family for less then a year and got a job in Benicia, CA, becoming a member of Fish Patrol. Then he returned back home for few months and then left again. This time he found an eight-month job on the Sophia Sutherland becoming a seaman. During this time he wrote his first book called "Typhoon on the Coast of Japan." In 1894 he joined General Kelly's Army. They marched all the way to Washington D.C., where he left them becoming homeless. Alone he traveled through U.S. and Canada and then returned to Oakland.

In Oakland, 19 year old Jack went to Oakland High School. In his school he wrote stories and essays for Aegis, the school news paper, and successfully graduated. He then studied in the University of California at Berkeley, but only for one semester since he didn't have enough money. So he sailed to a gold rush by Umatilla in Klondike. He spent there a year, leaving because of an illness, scurvy. When he returned back to his family, he learned that John London had died.

When he turned 24, Jack London started his own family, on April 7th, 1900, he married Bessie May Maddern. They lived happily together only for four years. During this time they had two daughters. Juan was born on January 15th, 1901 and Bess on October 29th, 1902. They had made up their minds about a divorce in 1904 and it was official on November 18th, 1905. One day after that Jack married for the second time, to Charmian, in Chicago. By this time London was becoming healthier and so could afford a nice honey moon in Jamaica

He wanted to build a ship, so that Jack could travel the world and write about his experiences. The ship, "Shark," took year to build and in 1907, he and his wife went on their first cruise. They visited Tahiti and Marquises Islands. Then in 1908 the second cruise took place. They went all the way to Sydney, Australia. There Jack had problems with his health, so they stayed for few months for him to recover. He bought the La Motto Ranch. And then left on a steamship back to Oakland, where they purchased more ranches; Caroline Kohler ranch and Fish ranch.

In 1910, he bought even more land and hired his step-sister as a ranch superintendent. In the same year Charmian had a baby, but after few hours alive the baby girl Joy died. The next year, in order to get more experience, Jack Travels to Oregon and back in a wagon with four horses. In two years he sailed on Dirigo around the Horn from Baltimore to Seattle for the same reason. In the same year, 1912, his wife lost another baby, this time in a miscarriage. After that they bought one more ranch, Freund Ranch, in 1913. At that time, their home got destroyed in fire and Jack found out from a doctor that problems with his kidneys.

In the last two years of Jack London's life, he had traveled a lot. First he went on Kilpatrick, an US Army Transport, to report about the Mexican Revolution. He wrote an article for Colliers magazine called "Mexican Army and Ours". Then he went on a cruise with the Roamer on the Sacramento River and arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1915. He returned to his mother city San Francisco few months later by S. S. Sonoma and then went back to Hawaii. During all of London's voyages, Charmian was by his side.

In 1916 with a ship called Matsonia, he travels to San Francisco for the last time. He died on November 22nd at the age of 40. The cause of his death is unknown, some people think it was a suicide and others believe his organs were bad. Right now Jack London is buried in Glen Ellen, California.

Jack London has been considered the greatest writer of his time. He wrote a wide range of famous literary master pieces. Through out his life, he had traveled to a large variety of countries and had interesting family life. All of these experiences had influenced him and his writing. All of these amazing adventures, as well as his sometimes troubled family life, contributed to his unique ability to write thrilling stories which appealed to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.


1) Education

Family is an important part of everyone's life, as was in Jack London's. It had influenced his writing in ways. Mostly, being in a poor family had a great effect on his education. As introduced earlier, Jack couldn't finish the University of California at Berkeley. He managed to study there only for a semester, because of the financial need. During this short period of time, Jack did what he enjoyed and was excellent at, he wrote. At this time he didn't know what he will become, but he used the opportunities and published articles in the school paper. It might not seem like it, but this had an impact on Jack's literary pieces, he knew that people were interested in reading his articles.

2) John London

As mentioned before, Jack London never lived with his real father, but adopted to love his step-father very rapidly. Until the age of 21, earlier in the same year that John died, did Jack learn about his real father, William Chaney, but his father didn't want to have anything to do with him. (jack-London) And so he went back to John being considered the "father".

Their family wasn't the riches, and so after the death of John London in 1897, after returning from Yukon, Jack stayed home to support his family. He self-educated himself and at in 1899, at the age of 23, started writing very seriously, up to 19 hours a day. From the books he started earning money and provided money for family. He did enjoy writing, but basically the main reason for him becoming an author is for his family.


1) Klondike Gold Rush

Sailing to the Klondike Gold Rush, in the Yukon Territory, in 1897 was one of the adventures that Jack London used as inspiration for his works. (kirjasto.sci) "To Build a Fire," a short story written first in 1902 and then changed in 1908, is an excellent example. (london.sonoma) It includes breathtaking description and thrilling plot.

Through June to July 1897, when he was 22 years old, Jack London went on a steamer north through the Inside Passage of Alaska to Dyea in Alaska. There he went along the Chilkoot Trail, which is also known as the Golden Staircase. It was a 33 mile (53 kilometer) long trail from Dyea to Bennett in British Columbia, Canada. He wasn't alone, he had the company of Merritt Sloper, and two men other men called Thompson and Goodmen, whom carried their supplies through the deep snow and high slopes.

In fall he arrived in Alaska and walked from Deep Lake to Lake Linderman, three or four miles per day. At Lake Linderman he builds a boat, being the first lake possible for sailing towards Dawson City, near which the Klondike Gold Rush was nested. On the boat, named Yukon Belle, he sailed through the Yukon River to Dawson City.

Winter was about to start, and arriving in Dawson City they moved to a cabin that was already used before. It was located in a place in which many gold miners and adventurers passed through. Sometimes these people stopped at the cabin, and told their tales to Jack London. Those stories also played an important role influencing his writings.

During winter Jack London got scurvy. Lack of vitamin C causes it, and the victim's muscle tissues and joints weaken, and skin swells and blackens. Therefore as soon as the ice weakened in spring, he decided to travel back home to San Francisco. (Arctic website)

The first version of "To Build a Fire" was published in 1902, and then rewritten and published again in 1908. These two versions almost have the same plot, just London changed the endings. In the first copy the protagonist, main character, with some frozen body parts, survives the terrible cold. In the rewritten story he dies a horrible death. Also in the first short story, the protagonist has a name, Tom Vincent, and is alone. In the second version the main character, referred to as "man" and is with a dog. The theme is similar, which "concerns the struggle of man versus nature" (enotes).

Both of these tales were inspired with the same factors, with the memories and experiences that Jack London lived through during his adventures through the Yukon Territory. He lived through the extreme coldness and beautiful scenery, and so described in his writings:

"North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hair-line that curved and twisted from around the spruce- covered island to the south, and that curved and twisted away into the north, where it disappeared behind another spruce-covered island. This dark hair-line was the trail--the main trail--that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more."

(Excerpt from "To Build a Fire")

This paragraph sounds like the author, Jack London, knew what he was writing about. Without the experience he wouldn't be able to describe the setting so vividly. He did hear tales from adventurers when he was in Dawson City, but possibly couldn't describe it so greatly. Therefore now we can see the magnificent impact of Jack London's life in his writings, just like in this "masterpiece of naturalistic fiction." (enotes)

2) General Kelly's Army

As mentioned earlier in the paper, Jack London joined General Kelly's Army in 1894. The eighteen year old was with them for April to late May and during this time he witnessed a numerous amount of fascinating events. The group that he went with, General Kelly's Army, wasn't an army at all. Instead it was an "unemployed, rebellious contingent of men" (Raskin, Jonah) marching to Coxey's "Industrial Army" to join them, for protesting unemployment. Their name was after Charles Kelly, whom they followed to Washington, to the federal government. The reason Jack went with them was to escape his strict parents and "took to the road with the explicit purpose of writing about it." (Raskin, Jonah)

London kept a diary, and in it recorded about his days, about potential characters for his stories. This of course had an affect on his work, for example on "The Road." This is a nonfiction book by him published in 1907. It has nine chapters, and all of them are from Jack London's point of view, but each chapter is a separate story. It starts when he's 18 years old.

After he left General Kelly's Army in late May, in Hannibal, Missouri. The reason that London ditched the army was because the "experience on the road made him feel that people can make history and that he might also have a hand in shaping American society rather than simply being shaped by it". (Raskin, Jonah) And so he was vagabonding in order to try changing America.

Later on, Jack London got send to jail, to Erie County Penitentiary, in Buffalo, New York. The reason behind that was vagrancy, for being a workless, homeless beggar. He was there for thirty days, being send there without a trial.

This had a gigantic impact on his writing, especially on "The Road" since one of chapters is based on it. Chapter five, with the name "The Pen" is all about his jail time. It is known that this chapter "contains some of the best writing in all of London's work" (Raskin, Jonah). In this part of the book, Jack describes all the fighting, men going crazy and having fits. It is a very emotional chapter, since London had witnessed all of what he wrote. However, he had later said that he has "witnessed horrors he could not write about." and that "for the rest of his life he remained a foe of prisons, solitary confinement and the death penalty". So even though "The Pen" is upsetting, it is just the parts of his life in jail that weren't the worse.

"I remember a handsome young mulatto of about twenty who got the insane idea into his head that he should stand for his rights. And he did have the right of it, too; but that didn't help him any. He lived on the topmost gallery. Eight hall-men took the conceit out of him in just about a minute and a half--for that was the length of time required to travel along his gallery to the end and down five flights of steel stairs. He traveled the whole distance on every portion of his anatomy except his feet, and the eight hall-men were not idle. The mulatto struck the pavement where I was standing watching it all. He regained his feet and stood upright for a moment. In that moment he threw his arms wide apart and omitted an awful scream of terror and pain and heartbreak. At the same instant, as in a transformation scene, the shreds of his stout prison clothes fell from him, leaving him wholly naked and streaming blood from every portion of the surface of his body. Then he collapsed in a heap, unconscious. He had learned his lesson, and every convict within those walls who heard him scream had learned a lesson. So had I learned mine? It is not a nice thing to see a man's heart broken in a minute and a half."

(Excerpt from Chapter 5 of "The Road")

The above is a paragraph from "The Road". In it London describes one of the events that he faced in the jail. It shows that prisoners couldn't stand up for them selves, and how horrible it was there in general. Also the paragraph starts with "I remember", which clearly shows that Jack lived through the occasion and remembers it.

After the thirty day, Jack London, frightened and shocked left the jail. He went some more through U.S. and Canada. A year later, in 1895, the nineteen year old returned home, to Oakland. The great adventure he lived through and noted in a journal was a great inspiration for his writings, such as "The Road". His "account of his wild, eye-opening journey across the country by railroad, boat, on foot--and even barefoot, when his shoes fell apart--remains a pivotal work in the cultural history of America's long obsession with road travel, roadside attractions and road books." (Raskin, Jonah) Since it shows a lot about America.