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Naturalism In Jack London’S Northland Short Stories   Do Thi Thu Hoan 051 E4 Naturalism In Jack London’S Northland Short Stories Do Thi Thu Hoan 051 E4 Document Transcript

  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION When I was first exposed to Jack London’s novel “The call of the wild” and the short story “The law of life” in my literature course book, I was deeply impressed by this author’s writing style and rich experience reflected in them. Thus, I desired to learn more about Jack London and his works. I also hoped to choose some one of them as the subject for my thesis. After doing some reading of Jack London’s works, it struck me that the author’s Northland short stories were by no means less interesting than his worldwide famous canine novels. Actually, they revealed a new side of Jack London’s talent in creating human characters with all the good and bad sides based on his naturalistic viewpoint. Jack London’s keen sense of observation makes his stories vivid as if they were happening in front of our eyes, at the same time the open endings give us a lot of food for thought. From the above points, I made a decision to do a research on naturalism in some of Jack London’s Northland short stories. This graduation paper aims at studying naturalism by analyzing the main characters in some of Jack London’s Northland short stories. Due to the limited knowledge and experience of the writer, this paper only covers 9 short stories of Jack London, including: to build a fire, the son of the wolf, the white silence, the love of life, grit of women, in a far country, the wisdom of the trail, to the man on trail, a day’s lodging. This study is far from perfect; therefore, all suggestions and comments concerning how to improve it would be welcome. 1
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Chapter 2: LITERARY AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 1. Literary background 1.1 Naturalism The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position: for naturalistic writers, since human beings are, in Emile Zola's phrase, quot;human beasts,quot; characters can be studied through their relationships to their surroundings.quot; Eric Sundquist comments “naturalists revel in the extraordinary, the excessive, and the grotesque in order to reveal the immutable bestiality of Man in Nature”. Although Naturalism was inspired by the works of the French writer Émile Zola, it reached the peak of its accomplishment in the United States. In France, Naturalism was strongest in the late 1870s and early 1880s, but it emerged in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century and extended up to the First World War. Because the focus of Naturalism is human nature, stories in this movement are character-driven rather than plot-driven. The concept of naturalistic characters: a. Vulnerable and helpless human beings in an indifferent, deterministic universe: naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion. b. Bestial human beings: characters struggle to retain a quot;veneer of civilizationquot; despite external pressures that threaten to release the quot;brute withinquot;- lust, savagery, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure in the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe 2
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories c. Human beings with compensating humanistic values: characters have which affirm their individuality and life - their struggle for life becomes heroic and they maintain human dignity. The Naturalists do not dehumanize man. American Naturalist writers include the novelists Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Hamlin Garland, and Jack London; the short story writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter); and the poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and Edgar Lee Masters. Dreiser's “An American Tragedy” is considered the pinnacle of naturalist achievement. Other representative works are Dreiser's “Sister Carrie”, London's “The Call of the Wild”, Norris's “McTeague”, and Crane's “The Red Badge of Courage” 1.2 Short story 1.2.1 Definition of short story A short story is defined as a prose narrative usually involving one connected episode or a sequence of related events. Many readers who enjoy short stories have pondered the question “why is a short story short?”. There seem to be various reasons, but two are fundamental. Often the material that the writer takes for his or her story is in itself restricted, consisting of one incident or closely related sequence of events. Or, if the material is broader, the story may be short because the writer has compressed it. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. 1.2.2 Features of short story A short story has an overall unity and finality. Nothing is included that does not further the action of the story. Therefore, nothing can be added or taken away from a short story. It deals with one situation and has no subplots (secondary storylines), and therefore conveys a single impression. In a short story, there is a conflict or struggle between two opposing forces. There is a distinct climax or crisis which 3
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories develops directly from the conflict. A short story often has one central character, the protagonist, and few others, with no unnecessary characterization. The amount of time that passes and the location of the story are limited. A single, dominant mood permeates the story. A short story has a definite outcome that is satisfactory to the readers and is not necessary to be a “happy ending.” 1.3 Characterization Characterization is the portrayal of those essential traits which form the unique, distinctive personality of an individual human being. Characterization requires an extreme degree of selectivity. A human being is the most complex entity on earth; a writer’s task is to select the essentials out of that enormous complexity, and then proceed to create an individual figure, endowing it with all the appropriate details down to the telling small touches needed to give it full reality. That figure has to be an abstraction, yet look like a concrete; it has to have the universality of an abstraction and, simultaneously, the unrepeatable uniqueness of a person. In real life, we have only two sources of information about the character of the people around us: we judge them by what they do and by what they say (particularly the first). Similarly, characterization in a story can be achieved only by two major means: action and dialogue. Descriptive passages dealing with a character’s appearance, manner, etc. can contribute to a characterization; so can introspective passages dealing with a character’s thoughts and feelings; so can the comments of other characters. But all these are merely auxiliary means, which are of no value without the two pillars: action and dialogue. To re-create the reality of a character, one must show what he does and what he says. 4
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories 2. Historical background 2.1 American literature at the turn of the 20th century The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed the rapid development of the American literature under the effects of socio-economic and political changes. New themes, new subjects, new authors and new audiences were prominent. The literary characters were no longer moralistic men from New England and the old south; they were no longer polite, well- dressed gentlemen. The old motif was replaced by the characters of industrial workers, the rural poor, ambitious men, prostitutes and unheroic soldiers. The coming into being of modern short stories at the beginning of the 19th century together with the flourishing of magazines enlarged the reader. American wrote to earn money, fame and to change the world, too, but this time they dealt with the social, economic, political problems, especially the unsolved issues which stemmed from the rapid changes of time. Women‘s rights, political corruption, economic inequity and especially the racial discrimination or “Negro problem” became the subject matters. The Klondike gold rush and the Westward influx also brought new themes to literature; gold hunters and the Far North became the main characters in literacy works. As American literature developed in every aspect, it was dominated by three main trends: Realism, Regionalism and Naturalism. One of the most successful natural writers of this area was Jack London. 2.2 The Klondike gold rush On August 16, 1896, George Washington Carmack and two Indian friends in the Yukon pried a nugget from the bed of Rabbit Creek (later named Bonanza Creek), a tributary of Canada’s Klondike River. The Klondike gold rush began in July of 1897 when two ships docked in San Francisco and Seattle carrying miners returning from the Yukon with bags of gold. The press was alerted and papers carried the story to 5
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories the masses, setting in motion one of the most frenzied and fabled gold rushes in history. Within six months, at least 100,000 eager gold-seekers called quot;stampeders, from all over the world set out for the new gold fields with dreams of a quick fortune. Only about 40,000 actually made it to the Klondike, and precious few of them ever found their fortune. To be allowed to enter Canada, stampeders had to carry a year's supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes. The easiest and more expensive route to the gold fields was by boat upstream from the mouth of the Yukon in western Alaska. The most difficult route was the quot;All Canadian Routequot; from Edmonton and overland through the wilderness. The most common route taken by the stampeders to reach the fields was by boat from the west coast of the continental U.S. to Skagway in Alaska, over the Chilkoot or White Passes to the Yukon River at Whitehorse and then by boat 500 miles to Dawson City. The Chilkoot Pass trail was steep and hazardous. Rising 1,000 feet in the last half mile, it was known as the quot;golden staircasequot;: 1,500 steps carved out of snow and ice worked their way to the top of the pass. Too steep for packhorses, stampeders had to hide their goods, moving their equipment piecemeal up the mountain. One woman reported that the trail was only about two feet wide, and had loose snow on either side. She said that if some one slipped off the trail, he was never seen again. Stampeders who gave up often did it here, discarding their unneeded equipment on the side of the trail. Conditions on the White Pass trail were even more horrendous. Steep, narrow and slick, over 3,000 pack animals died on the trail. It was Jack London who renamed it “dead horse trail”.. 6
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Those who made it across the passes found themselves at Bennett Lake. Here, boats had to be built to run the final 500 miles down the Yukon River to the gold fields. A three week trip, the miners had to survive many sets of rapids before making it to Dawson City. Many miners lost their lives or their possessions when their boats broke up in the rapids. Those who survived the perilous journey mostly found disappointment once they reached Dawson City. Locals had already claimed all of the gold-bearing creeks and claims of quot;gold for the takingquot; were grossly exaggerated. Many stampeders headed home, some worked for others on the claims and still others stayed to work in Dawson City. The work that was necessary to retrieve the gold was incredible. Most of the gold was not at the surface, but rather 10 or more feet below. To reach it, the miners had to dig through the permafrost - the layer of permanently frozen ground. The ground had to be thawed before it could be dug. Then the dirt had to be sluiced to separate it from the gold. All digging had to be done during the summer as it was impossible to dig in the winter when temperatures could reach -60°F. It was incredibly difficult work. The biggest boom to hit this part of the world was a huge bust for the miners. The only ones to strike it rich were the merchants and profiteers who took advantage of those who hoped to quot;get rich quickquot;. A certain amount of slang came out of the gold rush. Experienced miners were often known as Sourdoughs, while potential miners, new to the Klondike, were known as Cheechakos. These two names live on in Dawson City, in tourist literature, and enjoy occasional usage by miners still working the tributaries of the Yukon River and Klondike River as well as in literature relating to the gold rush era. 2.3 Jack London’s participation in the gold rush 7
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories On July 25, 1897, Jack London and his brother-in-law, James Sheppard, sailed to join the Klondike gold rush where he would later set his first successful stories. He was twenty years old when the great Klondike gold discovery was made; London lived and worked in the midst of the excitement. As a young man, he worked at various jobs on board a series of ships London's time in the Klondike, however, was quite detrimental to his health. Although the young, rugged writer reveled in the wild Klondike life, London did not strike it rich in the gold fields, and returned home to California in the summer of 1898 suffering from scurvy. London survived the hardships of the Klondike, and his Klondike writings proved to be London's gold mine. In addition to The Call of the Wild, which helped catapult London to international fame as the most popular (and highest paid) writer of his day, London's stay in the Yukon inspired a number of short stories including The Son of the Wolf, 1900 and Children of the Frost, 1902, etc. It was said that the Northland provided Jack London with the graduate degree. 8
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Chapter 3: JACK LONDON’S LIFE AND LITERARY CAREER 1. Jack London’s life Jack London’s real name was John Griffith London. He was born on January 12 th 1876 in San Francisco and was probably the illegitimate son of William Henry Chaney and Flora Wellman. Jack never saw his real father and took his stepfather’s name. His childhood was chronically deprived. Jack grew up in extreme poverty and had to support himself with dangerous jobs. Thus, he experienced profoundly the struggle for survival from his childhood. Jack graduated from Grammar School at the age of fourteen and worked in a local cannery. Some months later, with a borrowed $300, he bought a sloop and set up an oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay. As he approached 17, he enlisted as a boat-puller on a sealing schooner. At that time, he was heavily drinking and living among the rascals inhabiting the Benicia Wharves. He had no overwhelming interest in living anymore and wanted to die. By the time he was 18, he had worked as a worker, a seaman, etc. this period of life provided him with precious materials for his writing later. After crossing much of the continent as a member of “Coxey’s Army” in 1894, he was jailed for thirty days for vagrancy. At this point, he determined to educate himself in order to improve his own condition and that of others. With an intellectual energy that matched his physical strength, Jack quickly completed high school and spent a semester prodigiously at the University of California. Temperament rather than logic led him to embrace the hopeful socialism of Max on the one hand and the rather darker view of Nietzsche and Darwinism on the other. He returned to Oakland with a new interest in sociology and the socialist party. In 1859, he joined the Socialist Labor Party and started writing attacks on capitalism. 9
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories In 1897, the Klondike gold rush broke out. Jack and his brother-in-law traveled to the Klondike field. During the winter of 1897-1898, they had to cope with the harsh nature of the Far North, which later became the typical feature in his writing. Jack returned to Oakland in July 1898 and found his father dead. He became the breadwinner of the family. With million dollars’ worth ideas, he settled to write for his living. His stories and books soon brought money and fame to him. He took more active part in politics. In 1901, he stood unsuccessfully as Socialist candidate for Major of Oakland and in 1905, once more he failed in standing as Social Democrat Major of Oakland. One year after Jack and his first wife Bessie divorced, he married Charman (1905). He lectured extensively on political topics. But after that, he lost his belief in socialism and in March 1916, he resigned from the party “because of its lack of fire and fight and its loss of emphasis on class struggle”. The remainder of his short but full life was spent under the influence of popularity and success. But he feared that he was in danger of losing his manhood, which he had laboriously earned by sweat, danger and struggle. Jack London wrote a great number of stories and novels and finally succeeded in working himself to death. On 22nd, November 1916, he died either from his chronic ill health and tremendous life or from a self-administered overdose of morphine. Few men have packed so much living into such a short life – just 40 years – but Jack’s life was really exciting and eventful. 2. Jack London’s literary career 2.1 Overview of Jack London’s literary career Jack London’s contribution to American literature and world literature during his 20 years of writing is undeniable. He was among those who laid the foundation for 10
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories American Socialist literature. Jack London was a successful writer, this originated from all his experience in life and his great efforts. By his death in 1916, the writer had finished over 40 volumes of novels, plays, short stories, essays, autobiographical sketches, etc. Jack’s works touched upon many subjects. He wrote about American people’s life, about the South Sea, and about the Far North. His pen was brutal, vivid and exciting, which distinguished him from other masters of world literature. American people in urban regions appeared in many of his writings. He wrote about their life, their hardship and their hope, which he knew so well since his early days. He emphasized on their struggle for a better life, depicted their hard life, showed their hope for the days to come and exposed to the light the essence of the bourgeois society with its cruelties and oppression. Jack’s sincere intellectual and personal involvement in the socialist movement was recorded in his novels and polemical works such as “The People of the Abyss” (1903), “The Iron Heel”, (1908), “The War of the Classes” (1905) and “Revolution” (1908). “The Iron Heel” is a novel that predicted future and showed working people’s bitter struggle against the ruthless monster of monopoly. The three others depicted the class struggle in the U.S. All these works are Jack’s great contribution in reflecting reality of America. He also wrote about the struggle of people in other countries in “The Mexican” (1911), “A Chinese” (1911). The writer wrote biography, too. The most remarkable of this kind are “The Road” (1907), “Martin Eden” (1909) and “John Barleycorn” (1913). The first piece was his experiences of vagrancy on the road; it exposed the self-sufficiency, cruelties and selfishness of the society. “Martin Eden” concerned the tragic fate of art and talent in the bourgeois, through the main character, the writer showed his realistic view on literature. The play “John Barleycorn” revealed the writer’s hope for social progress. In this work, he also reflected the conflicts and frustration of his period. The 11
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories contradiction in Jack’s beliefs was vividly projected in these works, which were the mix-up of Critical Realism and Realism. London was a man of the Pacific. He wrote about the sea passionately. His characters that were roaming the Pacific are strange, savage and remorseless. From his pages, he brought readers typhoon, sharks, and the wind, which were made visible and were given a palpable character. Men in Jack’s Pacific stories are white on the surface but red inside. The image of Otoo (“The Heathen”) in water “both hands were off at the wrist, the stumps spouting blood” talks more than thousand pages can say on the character of men who lived in the old day on the Pacific. The sea is his desire. He traveled a lot on the sea and his first writing “Typhoon off the coast of Japan” (1893) was about it. Concerning his first novel, in a letter to his friend, he wrote “I have made up my mind that it shall be a sea story (…) it shall have adventure, storm, struggle and love”. And he did. “The Sea Wolf” (1904) was greatly successful. It is an allegory of humanhood discovered first as crude, reflexive instinct for survival, then as a set of many skills, finally as transcendent heroism. After this novel, he went on with “South Sea tales” (1991), “Jerry of the Island” (1917) and “On the Makaloa Mat” (1919). In these works, he gave a sense of rugged life close to nature and the conflicts between man and nature. However, it was Northern stories that brought him great success. Jack’s experience in the Yukon was crucial for his literary apprenticeship. The Far North enabled him to forge a unique authorial identity for himself. His writings of this field were the combination of Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism and Determinism. He worked a lot in writing Northern stories. Jack sold his first one “To The Man on trail” in January 1899 and during the course of the year, he published some twenty others. His works are gripping narratives of man’s painful struggle with nature. His men in the North are usually brave and strong-willed. 12
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories London was marvelous instrument of experience. He was possessed of an uncanny perception of the ordinary as well as the bizarre. He completed stories one after another and the North indirectly gave him fame and money. “The League of the Old Man” (1901), “An Odyssey of the North” (1898), dealt with the native’s fighting against the white, who came to conquer the land. In “The Wit of Porpotuk” (1899), “The Son of the Wolf” (1901), “A Daughter of the Snow” (1902) and “The Children of the Frost” (1902), he dealt with the race problem. On the one hand, he focused on native people with strong characteristics but on the other hand, he extolled the strength of the white. Most of the main characters in Northern tales are gold hunters. They suffered from the conflicts between man and cosmos and between man and man. They formed their own way of life. Among more than 80 stories set in the Klondike, we should mention some remarkable ones such as “The God of His Father” (1901), “The White Silence” (1899), “In a Far Country” (1898), “The one thousand dozen”, ‘To Build a Fire” (1916) and “Love of Life” (1906). London also appeared to be a talent in stories of dogs. Two most famous stories of this kind are “The Call of the Wild” (1930), a story of a civilized dog and his coming to the primitive life, and “White Fang” (1906), about a beast of the North and his turning into a civilized one. London frankly disliked his profession. He wrote for money but he was also a methodical and careful craftsman. He deserved to be one of the most celebrated writers of all times. 2.2 Jack London’s short stories 2.2.1 Overview of Jack London’s short stories Western writer and historian Dale L. Walker wrote: 13
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories “London's true métier was the short story …. London's true genius lay in the short form, 7,500 words and under, where the flood of images in his teeming brain and the innate power of his narrative gift were at once constrained and freed. His stories that run longer than the magic 7,500 generally—but certainly not always—could have benefited from self-editing. London's quot;strength of utterancequot; is at its height in his stories, and they are painstakingly well-constructed”. quot;To Build a Firequot; is the best known of all his stories. It tells the story of a new arrival to the Klondike who stubbornly ignores warnings about the folly of travelling alone. He falls through the ice into a creek in seventy-below weather, and his survival depends on being able to build a fire and dry his clothes, which he is unable to do. The famous version of this story was published in 1908. Jack London published an earlier and radically different version in 1902, and a comparison of the two provides a dramatic illustration of the growth of his literary ability. Labor (1994) in an anthology says that quot;To compare the two versions is itself an instructive lesson in what distinguished a great work of literary art from a good children's story.quot; Other stories from his Klondike period include: quot;All Gold Canyonquot;, about a battle between a gold prospector and a claim jumper; quot;The Law of Lifequot;, about an aging man abandoned by his tribe and left to die; and quot;Love of Lifequot;, about a desperate trek by a prospector across the Canadian taiga. Jack London was a boxing fan and an avid amateur boxer himself. quot;A Piece of Steakquot; is an evocative tale about a match between an older boxer and a younger one. quot;The Mexicanquot; combines boxing with a social theme, as a young Mexican endures an unfair fight and ethnic prejudice in order to earn money with which to aid the Mexican revolution. A surprising number of Jack London's stories would today be classified as science fiction. quot;The Unparalleled Invasionquot; describes germ warfare against China; quot;Goliahquot; 14
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories revolves around an irresistible energy weapon; quot;The Shadow and the Flashquot; is a highly original tale about two competitive brothers who take two different routes to achieving invisibility; quot;A Relic of the Pliocenequot; is a tall tale about an encounter of a modern-day man with a mammoth. quot;The Red Onequot;, a late story from a period London was intrigued by the theories of Jung, tells of an island tribe held in thrall by an extraterrestrial object. To sum up, Jack London’s short stories with various themes all rooted from his own experiences in adventures, his imagination and keen sense of observation. 2.2.2 Jack London’s Northland short stories Jack London gained a tremendous amount of insight and perspective while in Alaska and the Klondike. Although he had not discovered much gold, he brought something even more valuable than money — his notes about all he had seen and heard. His memory stored meetings, stories, and pictures of mighty nature. He was a witness to a crude people's struggle with wild nature; he saw their victories and defeats. His faith in the might of a human being, in friendship, and comradeship grew stronger. Jack London had uncovered a lode of experience from which he would draw material for his future novels and stories. In his Northland short stories, the heroes of Jack London were gold-miners and Yukon natives, and the conditions in which they lived were very new and unusual. London filled his stories with action and conflict. The action was usually laid far way from bourgeois civilization and personages were of adventurous types. Also, the eternal conflict of man versus the cosmos, man versus himself was objectively manifested. London recreated the fatal dangers that awaited explorers of the North. The victory over nature did not come easily. A person attempting to fight nature alone may perish, as did a character in the story quot;To Build a Fire.quot; The Northland did not pity 15
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories those who violated its laws. (For example, Sitka Charley unmercifully punished his fellow Indians for secretly eating flour and refusing to help a sick person). The laws of ethics promote honesty among people. Creators and executors of the laws of the North are people of high moral qualities. Here in the severe North, people are judged by their courage and code of social position. London’s heroes value freedom; they strive to be individual in the best meaning of the word. These are people like Sitka Charley and Malamute Kid, about whom the author wrote that a snarling wolf experienced trust for him and wintry hearts opened to him as spontaneously as flowers open to the sun. It is possible to name a dozen of Jack London's Northern short stories every one of which is a masterpiece in itself, created by the hand of a true expert. In spite of everything that unites them, these stories were very different from each other. Each story can be read with growing interest, and each revealed new sides of the author's talent. 16
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Chapter 4: DEVELOPMENT 1/ HUMAN VULNERABILITY AND POWERLESSNESS Undeniably, prospectors in the Klondike gold rush experienced numerous difficulties while adapting themselves to the new land and this was the foundation for Jack London to show human vulnerability and impotence in the endless struggle with Nature. Nature in the Klondike was manifested first and foremost in the ghastly cold weather and the dangers it brought to humans on trail. The cold appeared in all of Jack London’s Northland stories. The cold in the Northland was not the normal cold, it was the tremendous cold that made human beings shiver in nature and realize their vulnerability. A frequent image of the cold vividly described is a trail covered with pure white snow like in the story “to build a fire”: “The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow. It was all pure white… North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white” At the beginning of the story, Jack London seemed to depict only two characters: an unnamed man and a dog. The man was traveling on foot along the Yukon river, and at his heels trotted a big native husky dog. Although it was exceedingly cold and there was ‘no sun or hint of sun”, this made no impression on the man. As a new gold prospector, he knew nothing about the Far North. This was his first winter in this unfavorable environment; as a result, the man could not comprehend what the cold here meant and a very serious flaw in him was that he was without imagination. For him, fifty degrees below zero was just a matter of facing snow, ice and frost, and he ran away with the idea that his being equipped with mittens, earflaps, warm moccasins and thick socks was enough to protect him. The man’s lack of imagination was dangerous because he could not work out the perils of the cold. 17
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories As the story went on, readers gradually realized another very important character: the Northland nature, first and foremost represented by the cold. The cold was lively described as a human assiduously doing his job: the tobacco juice turned into ice with the color of amber, the man’s nose and cheeks-bones went numb the instant he stopped rubbing them and the ice-muzzle formed on his mouth. Although the man was startled by the cold then, it did not make any sense to him because he was too self-confident and inexperienced to take it seriously. It was not until the man made his first mistake that he became aware of his frailty as a creature of temperature. Traps were another way that nature played its role in afflicting human life. In the North, dangers lurk everywhere and the man knew this in advance. He comprehended that while streams froze completely, small springs still welled up and did not freeze. They were covered with snow, however, so traveler might step into them by accident. And this was exactly what happened to the man in the story. When he saw no signs of a running spring, he underestimated it, steeped on it and wetted himself half to the knees. His knees lost all insulation and they began to freeze. Thus, it was compulsory for him to stop and make a fire as getting wet in such a cold may end up being a matter of life and death. No sooner had the fire burned with strength than the man started to look down on the old-timers’ advice: “these old-timers were rather womanish…all a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was alright. Any man who was a man could travel alone”. Obviously, the main character had too much self-confidence in his intellectual ability to cope with such a severe nature. His arrogance and ignorance of the Northland seemed to herald a sinister end to his life. And what could easily be guessed came true. Only when it happened, did he realize his mistake: he should not have built the fire under an evergreen spruce tree. He shook the tree as he was collecting tinder, and the snow on the branches fell off and extinguished his fire. The man got shocked as if his own sentence of death was announced. From that very point, the man had to actually appreciate the old-timer’s words, but it was too late. 18
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories His mistakes were never redeemable. His hands immediately lost sensation and went lifeless as his feet a few minutes before. The withdrawal of blood form the surface of his body made him shiver and he became clumsier. He tried all he could to save himself, but it was counter-productive. He failed to build a fire again but burnt his own hands. He strove to dispel the fear of being frozen to death away, and ran frantically, but this was of no help. He tottered, crumpled up and fell. Eventually, he lapsed into delirium and went to his lifelong sleep. The story began with London’s description of the cold ended with its triumph over a human being. Throughout the story, readers watched the cold as it slowly but strongly affected and finally killed the protagonist. First, the man’s face, feet and hands froze, then the legs and arms and finally the trunk of his body. “To build a fire” is a tragic reminder of mankind’s frailty in facing nature. Jack London examined the difference between man and animal in dealing with nature and how human beings failed to overcome nature. As the dog got wet, it instinctively licked its wet feet to keep them warm and bit the ice chunks from between the pads in its paws. Natural selection has bred this knowledge into dogs, though the dog in the story only knew that its feet would get hurt if ice built up on them. The man, like the dog, was first of all a “creature of temperature” and able to live within a certain narrow limit of heat and cold. However, the man in the story had been dependent on technology like fire too much and was unable to survive without it. The man was a member of his species whom London watched as he struggled with the cold. The author merely reported what happened to the man objectively, which explained why the man was not given a name. Both the man and the dog must battle nature to exist, but nature in the forms of the extreme cold and dangers defeated the man. The man was stronger and presumably smarter than the dog; however, the man was afflicted with “hubris’ – he took too much pride in his abilities. The man had no imagination, neither did the dog, but it had instinctive knowledge that helped it survive. The man had a terrible death in the cold as soon as his technology-thick 19
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories socks, warm moccasins, mittens and fire-failed him. While the man could not survive without fire, the dog could. The dog was much closer to its ancestral way of being than the man is. It appreciated fire, but it was not a necessity for its survival. The man was not fit to survive in the cold, but the dog, which seemed to be a lower animal, could stay alive. When the man froze to death, the dog considered its own survival. It left the man’s corpse in the snow and went in the direction of the camp it knew to find other food and fire providers. The man’s death made little difference to the dog because it must provide for itself and it knew that other people would take it in and keep it warm, even it meant becoming the slave of another person. The point London wanted to make was that the dog instinctively knew what to do to save itself while the man’s knowledge was not enough to save him in a setting as cold as the Klondike. In other words, the man’s intellectual ability was not as powerful as what the dog was handed down from its ancestor. The setting of the story was actually part of the characterization because only in this unfavorable condition, can humans realize how vulnerable and tiny they were in comparison with the vast wilderness. Unaided by technology, the man became a bare animal like the dog and failed the contest with nature. Nature was flatly indifferent and had no pity for those who violated her law, the man in “to build a fire” providing a prime example. It was evident that only a seemingly minor mishap could cost humans their life. They were pursued and penalized brutally for their mistake. Living in the deserted Northland, humans can’t help dwelling on the eternity of the land and feeling their finiteness. As frequently on trail, what our characters saw and what they experienced soon taught them the first lesson to survive in the North: fear and respect for nature. Facing the mighty nature, humans understand that they are too small and effete to exercise their own will. The Northland wilderness was deadly cold and silent and full of hidden dangers. Humans shivered in the cold, felt lonely and frightened by the ghastly silence. These points were exactly what Jack London wanted to convey through “The White Silence”, the short story in which Nature 20
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories under the veneer of a lofty pine burdened with snow was like a silent and hidden monster that attacked man at the least expected moment: “The stillness was weird; not a breath rustled the frost –encrusted forest; the cold and silence of outer space had chilled the heart and smote the trembling lips of nature. Then the great tree, burdened with its weight of years and snow, played its last part in the tragedy of life” The White Silence told the story of two men and a woman on the trail back to civilization. Mason, one of the two men, fell prey to the Nature’s violent attack. He was terribly crushed and no hope of life remained for him. The dangers Nature brought to human beings were ensued by a more frightening component of it: “Nature has many tricks wherewith She convinces man of his finity – the ceaseless flow of tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery, -- but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all is the passive phase of the White Silence…” In front of such a horrifying scene, no word was voiced up because “those of the Northland are early taught the futility of words and the inestimable value of deeds”. From then on, the stillness of Nature is added with human silence. Worse than Mason’s pain was the dumb anguish in Ruth’s face, the blended look of hopeful, hopeless and query and Kid’s reminiscence and impotence. The unavoidable result was obvious: with the temperature at sixty five below zero, Mason could not endure his injuries for long. Leaving Ruth in soft cry over her wretched husband, Kid went away in the forest and returned light-handed and heavy-hearted. Gloomy darkness and silence prevailed and occupied human mind. In that desperate plight of three people, Nature was depicted as another striking character, flatly indifferent and cruel. Nature had its rules and simply implemented them. Nature did not count out any individual in its principles and never cared if they afflicted human life to the maximum. One instance of the natural rules was expressed in the rebellious acts of 21
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories the dogs. To take advantage of a woman’s weakness, the sled dogs, which were exhausted and half-starved, broke the iron principle of their masters and rushed the reserved food: “The hoary game of natural selection was played out with all the ruthlessness of its primeval environment… and man and beast fought for supremacy to the bitterest conclusion” The hungry dogs’ fight against their masters was the palpable evidence of the brutal natural rules: to survive, one must act, whether it is against the benefits of the others or not. The dogs betrayed their masters in order to ensure their survival against the grip of hunger. In essence, it was natural but it also proved an undeniable fact: humans were, willy-nilly, living in the world which nature dominated and they could not act against her. Human powerlessness is pushed to the utmost when it came the matter of Mason’s life and death. Both Ruth and Mason were well conscious of the fact that Mason could hardly survive with such serious injuries, and bringing him along the trail would be impossible. Two healthy people are unlikely to overcome the impediment- filled road, let alone carrying a dying man to add to the burden: “In the abstract, it was a plain, mathematical proposition – thee possible lives as against one doomed one. But now he hesitated. For five years, shoulder by shoulder, on the rivers and trails, in the camps and mines, facing death by field and flood and famine, had they kitted the bond of comradeship” The inevitable consequence was unambiguous: Mason must be left behind. But his conscience did not allow Malemute Kid to be cruel to his comrade, who together with him had experienced all the ups and downs in this God-forsaken land. The fight between human will and Nature broke out. The human will in Kid and Ruth demurred and prevented them from acting to the natural rules, while Nature brutally showed him the inevitable result. Finally, what must come finally came. Malemute 22
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Kid let Ruth have her last outburst of grief and decided to help Mason put an end to all his pains. Ruth received her husband’s last wishes and made no struggle. Nature once more won. In this harsh environment, attempts of human beings to exercise free will were futile and they had to act against their own conscience. The image of Malemute Kid and Ruth as tiny spots traveling on the vast area of snow after Mason died suggested human fragility in comparison with the imposing Nature. Once again, the White Silence as manifestation of an indifferent Nature emerged: ‘it is not pleasant to be alone with painful thoughts in the White Silence…the bright White Silence, clear and cold, under steely skies, is pitiless…the White Silence seemed to sneer” It was on purpose that Jack London put “the White Silence” in capital as in this short story, London implies that it was also a character with a specified name. The White Silence was described as attached to every human activity from the beginning to the end of the story. It went along the trail with humans, turned up in human desperate plights and seemed to sneer when humans must act against their will. This character was the very evidence of the rules and powers of a pitiless nature over human life. In conclusion, “to build a fire” and “the white silence” were only two prime examples of Jack London’s writings in which the author deliberately put his characters into an unfavorable living condition in order to reveal their inner characteristics. Humans are effete in front of a mighty nature and their desire to exercise free will became an illusion. Northland stories were the experimental proof of Jack London about human vulnerability and impotence in a world which nature ruled. 2/ HUMAN BESTIALITY Bestiality is another feature of characters in a literary naturalistic work as naturalists “revel in the extraordinary, the excessive and the grotesque in order to reveal the immutable bestiality of Man in Nature. Jack London was not an exception. For 23
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories naturalists, humans can be studied without moralizing about their nature. As in Emile Zola’s phrase human beings are “human beasts”, each person carries in himself the typical traits and instincts of a wild animal. And in the frequent struggle with nature, Jack London’s characters must resort to these traits and instincts to survive. This is the obvious truth in the short story “the love of life”. “Love of life” is one of the most famous Northern short stories by Jack London. Starting from the very first line, Jack London brought readers right into the middle of events: “They limped painfully down the bank, and one of the foremost of the two men staggered among the rough-strewn rocks. They were tired and weak, and their faces had drawn the expression of patience which comes of hardship long endured” Then, in a trice, the scene changed: the protagonist slipped on a smooth boulder and sprained his ankle. Added to his suffering, he desperately called his only trail mate Bill but Bill never turned his head. The protagonist wretchedly realized that he was abandoned in a barren land with no sight of human life. For him, this is the very opening, ensued by a series of other drastic challenges to human endurance. From then on, the isolated man could only rely on himself to survive in the Northland to which he is only an alien. His road was made longer and thornier, and impediments were more frequent. Fear was his first reaction to the frightening truth, which was as natural as when an animal is driven to the corner. However, he still plucked all his courage and strength to go on, as in order to survive, there was no other option for him to choose from. He deluded himself with the image of “the land of little sticks” and Bill waiting for him, which turned into motivation for him to go on: “he was compelled to think this thought, or else there would be no use to strive, and he would have lain down, and died” 24
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories The poor man was then half-starved and exhausted. It was hunger that drove him mad. This was how the sense of hunger experienced by the main character was brought to readers’ mind: “he had not eaten for two days; for a far longer time he had not had all he wanted to eat. Often he stopped and picked pale muskeg berries, put them into his mouth and chew and swallow them”. A muskeg berry was not the proper food for human beings. It was only “a bit of seed enclosed in a bit of water. In the mouth, the water melts away and the seed chews sharp and bitter”. The man was well aware that there was no nourishment in the berries, but he “chewed them patiently with a hope greater than knowledge and defying experience”. This was only the first phase of the main character’s being animated by hunger. In the wilderness, without food, tortured by hunger, hardened by danger, humans are described as not much different from animals. In the hostile environment, to survive, people act in an unhuman way. As the man continues to go on the trail, his ankle was stiffened and more painful, but it was nothing compared to the pain of his stomach. The sharp hunger pangs gnawed him and urged him to fill his belly, as a wild animal must look for food to satisfy its physical needs before anything else. Hence, what the man did , though barbaric and disgusting it might be, was inevitable. As soon as he pulled up something like “a young onion-sprout no larger than a shingle-nail”, he immediately “went into the rush-grass on hands and knees, crunching and munching, like some bovine creature”. There was hardly any trace of human characteristics in the man’s behavior as he then had no right to be fastidious about food. Finally, one thought took total control of his consciousness: to eat. The man no longer tried to build a fire or boil water. He slept under the open sky but was restless, hungry. His hunger deprived him of the veneer of civilization and turned him into a feral creature haunted by the verb “to eat”. He was continually driven on but “not so much by his desire to gain the land of little sticks as by his hunger”. The man put into his mouth everything though he knew it was not for man. As he found two minnows in a large pool, “he ate the fist raw, masticating with 25
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories painstaking care”. Further, he fell into a ptarmigan nest: “there were four newly hatched chicks, a day old, little specks of pulsating life no more than a mouthful, and he ate them ravenously, thrusting them alive his mouth and crunching them like eggshells between his teeth”. The frontier between human and animal was broken. The human savagery in him was released. He was a total omnivorous beast, he devoured raw meat in the way that only wild animal did. The cover of human civilization melted way from him, leaving him naked to the nature of a mere living creature in the wild. To satisfy his hunger, he put into his mouth whatever within his reach and no longer cared about what it was and in which manner he ate it. Starvation animated him, turning him into a monster with bestial behavior. For his own existence, the man was forced to do anything without sentiment and morality of any kind. The main character was put in a desperate plight, which gave him no other choice than to act as an animal. Later, as the half-starved man dragged on, he encountered scattered bones where the wolves had killed a caribou calf before. The man ate them, as London described “a bone in his mouth, sucking at the shreds of life that still dyed it faintly pink”. The picture became more terrifying as the exhausted man finished up the bones that even wolves did not eat. He crushed the bones with a stone and greedily swallowed them. He did not even felt the pain when he hit his fingers instead of the bones. Readers could not realize this was the image of a human because the protagonist had lost all his sensations and acted only with instincts in him, it cost him a dear price to continue his survival as he was then no better than a real beast with barbarous acts. As the story continues, readers met with a weird struggle between the protagonist and a wolf. The wolf was sick with frequent cough, “the sharp ears were not pricked sharply and the eyes were bleared and bloodshot, the head seemed to droop limply and forlornly”. Then the man dragged along the trail, the wolf followed; as he rested, it stopped and regarded him with a wistful and hungry stare. There were undeniable analogies between the man and the wolf: both were starved and 26
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories exhausted and neither wanted to have their life come to an end yet their chances for survival were extremely slim. This actually was not a struggle between a human and a wild wolf but a struggle between two equal creatures at the foot of life. The survival of one was synonymous with the death of the other and vice versa: “then began as grim a tragedy of existence as was ever played – a sick man that crawled, a sick wolf that limped, two creatures dragging their dying carcasses across the desolation and hunting each other’s lives” At this point, the poor man could no longer walk but crawled along the trail. His knees and feet were stripped to the bone and the sick wolf licked his bloody trace. The sense of the imminent danger forced our main character to take the decision. He pretended to be asleep, putting all his will power into keeping his consciousness and waiting for the wolf to come closer to him. The patience of the wolf terrible, but the man’s patience was no less amazing. Then came the fatal fight between the two dying enervated creatures. The man’s attempt at last paid him off: “at the end of half an hour, the man was aware of a warm trickle in his throat”. The starving traveler did a barbaric thing that was unimaginable to ordinary people: sucking blood from a dying wolf. The scene appears to be one animal killing another, not a human taking an animal’s life. Undoubtedly, to save his life, the man resorted to human immutable bestiality in him. He exceeded the limits of the civilized world and stepped on the world of the wild. It was hunger and the desire for life that turned the protagonist in “the love of life” into a monster, a wild animal that is willing to do everything to survive. Bestiality in him emerged as an inevitable factor, without which he would have been dead. Human bestiality is depicted quite in the same way in the short story “the son of the wolf”. Mackenzie’s desire to have Zarinska, an Indian maiden, led him to a fatal fight with the tribesmen. In the final stages of the struggle with the Bear, when Mackenzie was winning, the true son of the wolf emerged: 27
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories “At first, he felt compassion for his enemy; but this fled before the primal instinct of life, which in turn gave way to the lust of slaughter. The ten thousand years of culture fell from him, and he was a cave-dweller, doing battle for his female”. The protagonist was described as a true product of the wild, going in or a physical fight over a female. In him there was no pity for a fellow-creature but only cold- bloodedness and yearning for killing. As London wrote, under stress, man showed his latent animal traits – his atavism and reverted to that state. Probably, the title “the son of the wolf” implicitly meant to convey that the main character Mackenzie was a descendent of some earlier animal form or that Mackenzie’s survival indicated his animal nature. While in the above two short stories “the love of life” and the son of the wolf”, bestiality helped protagonists win the struggle for survival, it was manifested as vices that corrupted people in other stories. “In a far country” provided a prime example. Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert were new comers to the northland. Like other men rushing to this god-forsaken land, they came because of the tale of Arctic gold. However, being estranged to this harsh region, they did not know what was required of them: “When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped…it were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country, if he delays too long, he will surely die” The prologue of the story served as a warning for those unfit to the Northland hostile environment. By the same token, Cuthfert and Weatherbee’s fate seemed to have been prophesied as their true personalities became obvious with daily severe toil. The two men still refused to abandon the odds of their old lifestyle. They evaded 28
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories responsibilities, grumbled about minor pains and were “the first to turn in at night, the last to turn out in the morning, the first to fall in at meal time, the last to have a hand in the cooking, the first to dive for a slim delicacy, the last to discover they had added to their own another man’s share. Their comrades “swore under their breaths” and grew to hate them deeply and bitterly. Finally, the thought of all the hardship set them back. They quitted the game when they had not reached its end. This new living condition, the North in winter, which is in stark contrast with the Southland, is the very purpose of Jack London to “lay a man naked to the very roots of his soul”. Cowardice prevented them form continuing to travel further with their fellows and the two “incapables” were left behind in cabin through a mighty long, dark winter. At first, things appeared to go smoothly. Both men were physically healthy and well conscious of the mutual responsibility. However, they could not lie to their true nature for long. The way each man treated his comrade living under the same roof with him was what made them animal-like. Though in difficulty, they were not cooperative while what they were supposed to do was wholly dependent on each other for company. The men quarrelled over trivial stuff – sugar, because both feared they got smaller portion than the other. The two men had nothing in common except vile features “the one was a lower-class man who considered himself a gentleman, and the other was a gentleman who knew himself to be such”. Jack London’s ironic words tacitly told readers that none of them deserved the title. Being complacent, selfish and greedy, they grew hatred to each other for nonsensical reasons. They abominated each other just because one liked to blatantly argue over politics while the other favored arts. And both evil-minded men were lazy enough to make rows over tiny bits of chores. “The very presence of either became a personal affront to the other” – each man kept the other in low esteem and totally avoided communication. As time went by, things got more serious. Each man encountered their own trouble. Cuthfert worshipped and was obsessed by the wind vane outside the cabin and 29
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories always imagined its moving while Weatherbee fell prey to superstitions – he often dreamed of spirits of unknown people in the forgotten graves and awakened in frightening outcry. Weatherbee’s madness aroused a fear in Cuthfert, who was ready to pull the trigger of the revolver to kill his roommate and guard himself. Once, due to the fancy of his brain, Cuthfert dragged himself to follow what resembled a tragedy of a snowshoe rabbit and came back on hands and knees, but Weatherbee grinned malevolently and offered no help. Obviously, the differences and conflicts between the two men grew larger and larger day by day, but none wanted to adapt themselves to the new living environment and live harmoniously with their comrade. None of them could see the positive characteristics of the other because both of them were too selfish. They loathed and looked down on and implicitly mocked at each other. Two people in a cabin were on the alert against each other. Their personalities were distorted and corrupted not by the living condition but by themselves. Their mutual detestation made the cold Northland bitterly colder and froze their hearts. Silence was then the only sign of their relationship and they were totally devoid of faith in each other. The brute within the two men changed them into monsters, lacking human common decency toward their fellow creatures. The pettiness blinded them, they shared a cabin but lived in two different worlds. They “remember no song of the past, conjure no song of the future”. The ghostly silence made their life become dull and meaningless existence. Not only were the two men mentally destroyed but they were also physically worsened. “In the absence of fresh vegetables and exercise, their blood became impoverished and a loathsome, purplish rash crept over their bodies”. Owing to their laziness, the men lost all regard for personal appearance. Their heads and faces “grew long and shaggy”, garments never got washed, and the cabin was like a pigsty with beds not once made. Their life had become an awful mess. Mental strain added with the ravages of scurvy made them “loose all semblance of humanity, taking on 30
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories the appearance of wild beasts, hunted and desperate”. Thus, both physically and mentally, the two men were then more like animals than human beings. Actually, there was a period of time when the two men were drawn nearer to each other. The sun-dog made them feel better and thus more positive about each other. Then reality came back to them very quickly: there was no sun in the North and they were the only two citizens in this desolate land. The two wretched men sought each other in tears and “their hands met- their poor hands, swollen and distorted beneath their mittens”. In a trice, it dawned on them that they were lonely and desperate and that they had lost their human features. They needed each other and together they would leave this horrid land and come back to the South. The brute within them somehow dipped down and they found company irresistible. Unfortunately, that precious time was too transient: “but the promise was destine to remain unfulfilled. The Northland is the Northland, and men worked out their souls by strange rules, which other men, who have not journeyed into far countries, cannot come to understand”. Human bestiality in each man again turned up, and this time was due to a trivial reason as usual: Cuthfert mistook Weatherbee’s sack of sugar for his own, and this quickly became the source of Weatherbee’s rage. Human essence left him; there was neither pity nor passion in his face. Within him, the brute woke up more strongly and drastically than ever. He turned into a monster with an axe in hand, patiently and stolidly looking at the prey. Then “the axe bit deeply at the base of the spine, and Percy Cuthfert felt all consciousness of the lower limb leave him”. But the same fate was destined for Weatherbee when Cuthfert “slid a hand up the clerk’s belt to the sheath-knife, and they drew very close to each other in the last clinch”. Readers seemed to be viewing a wild battle between two fierce animals with axe and sheath-knife, not between two people. The two vile men in this short story had lost all regard for the fact hat they were human beings and that they were supposed to act differently from wild animals. They no longer kept their human traits and could not forbear themselves. The fight, rooted from small conflicts that 31
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories that combined to grow larger and larger day by day. Until the conflicts were too big to deny, a fight was inevitable and the two men had to bear the same disastrous fate. Throughout the story, we felt the bleak and heavy atmosphere, not only because of the Northland condition, but mainly due to the way the two main characters behaved toward each other. The harsh Northland was exactly “the extraordinary, the excessive and the grotesque” in which Jack London penetrated into to reveal the unchangeable bestiality in human beings. Apparently, with the sun-kissed life in the Southland, both Weatherbee and Cuthfert were regarded as civilized men – one seemed to be knowledgeable of politics while the other was a “master of arts, a dabbler in oils, and had written not a little”. However, only when under pressure, when life was no longer as easy as it used to be, was their true nature unveiled. They never wanted to share but always wanted to get shared; their every action was for the self-interest, not for the sake of others. And in each man’s eye, the other was at lower rank. Both men were lazy, arrogant, petty and greedy. These vices corrupted them and in the harsh northland, their violent death was something unavoidable. With similar way to manifest human bestiality, Jack London wrote the short story “the wisdom of the trail”. Hardship and difficulties, which seemed to have exceeded human endurance, uncovered the true nature of Kah-chucte and Gowhee. Only concerning for their own life, they abandoned their effete comrade in the bitterly cold snow, and frantically ate the reserved food of the whole band. Finally, their vices made them pay the price: a painful death by Sitka Charley’s law. To sum up, only under pressure, only when in hard struggles for survival, is the human bestiality released, although the characters tried to retain their veneer of civilization. Jack London actually reveled “in the extraordinary, the excessive and the grotesque in order to reveal the immutable bestiality of Man in nature”. Bestiality was exposed in many forms: the animal traits and instincts that characters resorted to in order to survive in an amoral and indifferent universe, and greed and 32
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories pettiness – vices that corrupted them. Whether in any form, bestiality destroyed humans physically or mentally or in both ways. 3/ HUMAN VIRTUES As aforementioned, naturalists often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will in this universe and reveal the immutable bestiality of Man in nature. However, they also suggest a compensating humanistic value in their characters or their fates which affirms the significance of the individual and of their life. Naturalists do not dehumanize people. This is what was in Jack London’s thoughts as he created his characters. “The love of life” was a legendary tale of human unequalled endurance and the ardent love of life burning in human soul. Abandoned by his own trail mate, the protagonist ragged with his sprained ankle in the vast wilderness of the North. Though in desperate plight, the thirst for life strongly raised him up, filled him with the optimism that Bill-his trail fellow man would be waiting for him in front and together they would travel to the warm and sunny Southland. His ankle, which was injured, got no treatment and “had swollen to the size of his knee”. Readers had no difficulty imagining how much hardship the main character endured to go on as London wrote “his joints were like rusty hinges…and each bending or unbending was accomplished through a sheer exertion of will”. Weak from chronic hunger and great pain, he could not easily stand erect as an ordinary human and was frequently compelled to rest. As discussed in part 2, the man was animated by hunger: he ate everything within his reach, from wild seeds to raw fish and ptarmigan and he ate them ravenously like some bovine creature. Usually, he was driven on by his hunger-madness. When “the keenness of his hunger had departed”, “the hunger pangs were no longer exquisite”, he walked on with the ration in him. And since he was still able to reason, he discovered the meaning of life: “again he divided the gold, this time merely spilling half of it on the 33
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories ground. In the afternoon, he threw the rest of it away…”. The protagonist had a worthwhile act: leaving the gold behind. It is worth noticing that this was the very gold for which he left the world of civilization, came to this god-forsaken land and bore so much difficulty. After many hesitations, he made the final decision on deserting the gold without looking back. Our main character valued his life and realized what was even more precious than gold. It was the importance and the meaning of his life that he found out when he was under the squeeze, and now he put them above everything. This was a highlight in his personality, showing the smoldering flame, the thirst of life in him. As he went on, the man’s situation was from bad to worse. “Sensation and emotion had left him. He was no longer susceptible to pain. Stomach and nerves had gone to sleep…soul and body walked or crawled by side, yet apart, so slender was the thread that bound them”. The man did not even know that he was suffering a lot. He lost his consciousness more often and lucid moments got rarer and shorter. He saw a ship but could not figure out whether it was a reality or an illusion form his disordered mind. He traveled in the night as much as in the day. He did not know when he made camp and broke camp because he lost the concept of time “he was aware of the vague memories of rain and wind and snow, but whether he had been beaten by the storm for two days or two weeks, he did not know”. The man was then no better than a dead person with hardly any physical and mental feeling. However, readers did not wonder how he could continue his journey because in him there was a strong desire for life: “he, as a man, no longer strove. It was the life in him, unwilling to die, that drove him on”. No longer motivated by his hunger or his ration, the main character went ahead with the potential and eternal love of life in his soul. This love became the driving force for his going on, though he had lost everything and his feet had become “shapeless lumps of raw meat”. The man was weary but he knew that he was not allowed to lie down and rest at the mercy of nature because the love of life in him refused to die: 34
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories “And yet he wanted to live. It was unreasonable that he should die after all he had undergone. Fate asked too much of him. And dying, he declined to die. It was stark madness, perhaps, but in the very grip of Death, he defied Death and refused to die. And because it was not content to die, although he as a man was almost dead, he bore the seemingly unbearable to survive: sucking blood from a sick wolf as mentioned in the second part. Though nauseous, he accepted and endured it, and thanks to this, he was saved. And not having the strength even to crawl, but only to wriggle, like some unknown monster, in a half unconscious state, the man moved along the last few miles so that he was seen from the ship. After terrible suffering came the happy end. Finally, the man came out a winner. The love of life in him, the sinewy love that nothing could surpass, gave him the strength to overcome all challenges of nature “sometimes he was all but submerged, swimming through oblivion with a faltering stroke, and again, by some strange alchemy of soul, he would find another shred of will and strike out more strongly”. The will to live triumphed. The struggle was carried to the very last moment, the struggle in which everything was put at risk. Though the protagonist was made animal-like by hunger, his victory was a human victory. It was remarkable that once he came to a pool of water and caught sight of his reflected face, he found it so horrible that “sensibility awoke long enough to be shocked”. He realized he almost lost the proper appearance of an ordinary human. Furthermore, he encountered Bill’s bones but did not suck them. If he had, the whole story would have lost its humanistic feature, and his love of life would be merely trampling on others to survive. Thus, the two episodes proved that from the very profound part of his heart, the protagonist was a full human. The happy end was a worthwhile reward for our main character after such amazing endurance he had undergone. It was noticeable that the setting of the Northland stories is Klondike – a barren land where dangers, harsh environment and severe toil were taken for granted. Thus, to 35
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories survive, the first and foremost virtue that a human being must possess was tenacious endurance. This explained why this property of human beings was, more or less, depicted in almost all Northland stories, among which “Grit of women” was a highlight. Women as protagonists are not often seen in tales of the Far North by Jack London; however, one of the few exceptions was Passuk, the main female character in “Grit of women”, whose impressive courage and mighty strength made deep impressions on readers. The story of Passuk was told by Sitka Charley – London’s hero of the Klondike: “I got her in a fair trade from her people…and she was timid and afraid… there was no place in my heart for her to creep…” Passuk was bought by her master because he needed a trail mate who would help him with work on the trail. And flaccid as she might appear, within her was the incredible strength, which only exposed itself under pressure. On the way to the Salt Water, where hardship and lack of food laid a man “naked to the roots of his soul” (“in a far country”), it was proved that her endurance overcame that of men. While Long Jeff, a Yankee man, a windbag who mistook himself for a mighty traveler “born to the snow shoe and bred on buffalo milk”, cried like a child, it was she who cooked, helped lash and unlash the sleds, saved the dogs and made the way easy. Though trail-sore, tired and weak with hunger, she “never opened her lips, but stepped to the fore to break the way”. A man who was physically stronger than Passuk became worthless, even an obstacle on the trail, when she, a tiny woman, did all the work and underwent all difficulty without complaint. As it gradually became clearer that Long Jeff was actually a hindrance, Passuk was sensible and assertive to give him a quick death. “I chided Passuk for this, but she showed no sorrow, nor was she sorrowful. And in my heart, I knew she was right”. As the story continued, the two travelers encountered an Indian, who was driven into a corner like them: a long trail to walk with almost no food in hands. Passuk hesitated, she was “of two minds”; her emotion urged her to share a portion of their 36
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories food with the man while her ration told her the adverse. When her master was about to help him, her eyes lighted with quick pleasure. However, her ration in the end won, and the wretched man went away in silence. This event had not been worth noticing until we knew that the Indian man was her full brother. Passuk’s firmness and decisiveness surpassed her man’s imagination. The woman had plucked all her courage to make frightening decisions: to kill a man and deny the chance to survive of another, but we were all aware that it was reasonable. If the food were shared, all would have been dead. At last came the inevitable result: the reserved food ran out but the destination had not been reached. The two travelers got exhausted, lay down and waited for death to come. However, a miracle saved Sitka and gave him the strength to go n – it was Passuk’s endurance and sacrifice: “I felt there was a well-filled pouch, and learned the secret of her lost strength …day by day half her share had she eaten. The other half had gone into the well-filled pouch”. Only till the end of the story, did it dawn on readers how a small woman had such unequalled grit and sense of sacrifice: “And I was with you when you did bold deeds and led great adventures…your word was wise, your tongue true. And I grew proud of you, till it came that you filled all my heart, and all my thought was of you” It was Passuk’s love, a mighty love for her man that became the source of her unique attempts and devotion. It was for her beloved man that she bore all the hardship on the trail without lamenting at fate and her endurance exceeded that of a big-boned and big-muscled man. It was also for the man in her heart “who led her away on weary trails to the bitter end” that she denied the Indian - her own full brother who had once put his life at risk to save her. She herself betrayed her benefactor’s slim chance to survive. Readers comprehended that Passuk had a drastic mental struggle. She suffered this anguish discreetly and only wept when 37
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories darkness came. And finally, she denied herself so that her man could go on and fulfill his great task: “this is the end of Passuk; but your trail, Charley. Leads on and on… and it is full of years and honors and great glories”. Love was the reason for Passuk’s exertion and sacrifice. Till the last minute of her life, Passuk still turned to her man, strengthened him and encouraged him to “let himself up …that she may still keep her pride”. The lofty love in her transformed her from a timid, afraid woman into an assertive, strong-willed one, helped her gather strength to overcome hardship and challenges. And her beloved man’s heart was touched. The stony man knew the love of woman and their love became a miraculous source of motivation for him to go on: “And Passuk held my hand and walked by my side. When I laid down to sleep, she waked me. When I stumbled and fell, she raised me. When I wandered in the deep snow, she led me back on the trail” Sitka Charley accomplished his task but a happy end did not come to Passuk. However, what London wanted to convey to us was clearer than ever: human beings may or may not win the contest with nature, but in them there exist great virtues. Endurance, sacrifice and astonishing strength coming from love and care for one another made human greater, nobler and more admirable. Passuk was not the only person who at deathbed still thought of her beloved one’s future. Mason in “the White Silence” was a similar example of human love and sacrifice. When Mason comprehended that his lifetime could only be counted by days and death was inevitable, he did not groan about his bad fortune. Instead, he refused to be a burden for his wife and trail mate and begged for a quick death. With his last breath, he calculated and thought of his wife and his unborn child, meanwhile trusted his comrade for their future: “Take care of her, Kid…see that he gets a good schooling…I’m a gone man, Kid…you’ve got to go…you must go on”. 38
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories People in the Far North struggled with Nature for survival and they fought with the exertion of all their strength, both physical and intellectual. However, when it became obvious that death was unavoidable, they made light of it and accepted it with calmness and dignity. For Mason, death was “just a shot, one pull on the trigger”. What mattered to him then was not the pain he must suffer but the life of his beloved one. Likewise, in the short story “to build a fire”, when it dawned on the unnamed man that he was the loser in the battle with the powerful Nature, he “recovered his breath and control, he sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity”. He admitted his inexperience and shortcomings. He acknowledged that the old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right and that he should have traveled with a partner. “With this new found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like taking aesthetics”. The man took death decently as if it had been a comfortable and satisfying sleep for him. Jack London suggested a compensating feature in these people: though they committed mistakes, even fatal ones, met with failure and had to pay a dear price, they still remained human dignity at their last breath. People venturing into the Northland from a civilized world faced the harsh Nature with its frigid cold and hidden dangers. Quick death was impending to those who isolated themselves from the community, like what happened to the man in “to build a fire”, who was too arrogant and inexperienced to get a trail mate. Consequently, Jack London’s subliminal message to readers was that support given by friends was the decisive condition for attaining victory over Nature. Hence, a person who wanted to exist in this land must “substitute unselfishness, forbearance and tolerance for the courtesies of life. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great price – true comradeship” The Code of the North was based on trust and mutual honesty, which was also Jack London’s main idea in the short story “to the man on trail”. When all the hard work 39
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories was temporarily put down, “the men of the camps and trails unbent in its genial glow, and jest and song and tales of past adventure went round the board. Aliens from a dozen lands, they toasted each and all”. Strangers form different corners of the world gathered here and befriended one another without caring for their backgrounds. No matter who they were, no matter where they came from, as long as they were in the same cabin , they were unselfish, honest and fair, they would be comrades. This was the reason why Jack Westondale was welcomed in a cozy atmosphere “though they had never met, each had heard of the other, and recognition was mutual”. Without face-to-face meeting in advance, Malemute Kid had known him through a friend’s tale: he was fair, courageous, honest, laborious and open “especially against odds…the trouble with him is clean grit and stubbornness”. That was enough to find him a trustworthy man and to treat him as an intimate friend. London described a moving episode when the picture of Jack Westondale’s wife and son was revealed: “He finally surrendered it to Prince, and they noticed that his hands trembled and his eyes took on a peculiar softness… and so it passed from horny hand to horny hand – the pasted photograph of a woman, with a baby at the breast” The owner of the picture could not hide the restrained rush of tears, while the others became silent and retrospective. These hardened men, who had witnessed and experienced all roughness of life in the Far North, from famine and scurvy to quick death, were touched by the image of a stranger woman and child. “it seems hard that a man with a young wife like this should be putting in his years in this god-forsaken land, where every year counts two on the outside”. Their wintry hearts melted at the man’s plight. They grew full of compassion for him, sympathized with him, at the same time forgot the fact that they themselves were also suffering from loneliness and there maybe someone longing for them at home. The common virtues between them turned into empathy and connected them, which explained Kid’s concern for Jack. The hero of 40
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories the Klondike harnessed his dogs, got everything ready for start beforehand, woke him up fifteen minutes earlier and gave him heartfelt advice. In the Far north, where humans could be frozen to the little bit part of their bodies, human emotions proliferated. Comradeship flourished as for these true men, honesty was man’s prime jewel. London’s writing spoke against egoism, praising human virtues, promoting friendship and mutual aid. According to the author, a coward, a worthless person will die sooner than a courageous human being. This was how two of his characters died – the selfish and greedy gold seekers who lost self-control in the short story “in a far country”, and the man named bill in “the love of life” who deserted his companion. Or in “the man with the gash”, Jacob Kent, stricken with a passion for gold, became a victim of his own greed. His gun, in which he hid gold nuggets, exploded and killed him. In his works, Jack London advocated strong-spirited people. For Jack London, a man with his courage and endurance, his spirit of companionship, his honesty and nobleness, was far more important than gold. This also explained why Messner, a character in the story “a day’s lodging” threw the gold given to him by a lover of his ex-wife into an ice-hole. This story was an additional example to prove that for men in the far North, human dignity and decency were above money. To sum up, in Jack London’s Northland stories, honesty, spirit of comradeship, endurance, sense of sacrifice were praised as man’s invaluable characteristics. These human features made people noble and lofty though they may be the losers in the battle with nature. This was the irrefutable proof that Jack London did not dehumanize his characters. CONCLUSION 41
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories Jack London deserves the title “the Kipling of the Klondike”, not only because of his worldwide famous novels such as “The call of the wild” and “White fang”, but also his Northland short stories with prime ones like “to build a fire “ or “the love of life”, etc. Each story reveals new side of the author’s talents, especially in creating human characters with their inner characteristics, which do not expose themselves easily in ordinary daily life. Main characters in Jack London’s Northland short stories are often people from the civilized world, who came to the Far North in the Klondike gold rush, or the native Indian people. Whoever they are, in the harsh living condition, their struggle for survival was inevitable. And it was in this fatal fight that human characteristics were revealed. In front of a mighty and indifferent Nature, human beings found themselves so tiny and powerless. Their desire to exercise free will became illusionary. To survive, they many times must resort to bestiality within themselves. However, Jack London did not dehumanize his characters. Whether they won, like in “the love of life” or failed in the battle with Nature, like in “to build a fire” or “grit of women”, the protagonists remained human dignity and their life became heroic. Their virtues – honesty, courage, spirit of companionship and sense of sacrifice made them lofty and noble. What has been studied in this graduation paper is naturalism in some of Jack London’s Northland short stories from the aspect of character analysis. In point of fact, naturalism is also expressed in Jack London’s choice of themes and his writing style. And more importantly, naturalism goes through almost all of Jack London’s Northland short stories. Therefore, a deeper and broader study on naturalism in Jack London’s Northland stories from three angles-theme, writing style and characters, is suggested. REFERENCES 42
  • Do Thi Thu Hoan 051E4 Naturalism in Jack London’s Northland short stories 1. Thom, Nguyen Xuan A history of English and American Literature, Hanoi, The Gioi publisher, 1997. 2. Tuyen tap truyen ngan Jack London, NXB Van Hoc, 2001. 3. London, J. Northland Stories. Penguine book, 1997. 4. http://london.sonoma.edu/Writings/#ShortStories 5. http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/naturalism.htm 6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_story 43