Monday, November 15, 2010

When I read "Wolf, The Lives of Jack London" I looked forward to reviewing this bio because of what Jack London meant to me


Jack London died in 1914 at the age of 40 years old, so he had been dead 17 years when I was born. Nether the less when I was able to get hold of some of his short stories and novels I was absolutely blown away because here was a writer who came from the working class as I did. He used his love of books to propel his way from working for a living as a laborer to becoming a world famous writer. And he did it and died at the age of 40, so his writing career was actually amazing when you think about it. I know today how hard that would be to accomplish because I am still trying to do it.
Jack was working all the time as a child in order to supplement the family income, and his mother was always shameless about hitting him up for for whatever pittance he had earned, working for something like 10 cents an hour for far too many years. He delivered papers. He did any kind of work a young boy might be hired to do. And not any short hours either. It is no wonder he died at 40, he had burned out his vitality the way many working class people had to do in those days, when exploiting the poor laborer was a way of life. Children of the poor were expected to go to work. They had to many times to keep their families from starving.
His early history caused Jack to become a socialist as much as anything. He grew up hating the rich capitalists who paid the poor the lowest wages possible, used up their bodies unmercifully, and then tossed them aside when they got too sick or injured to keep working.
The longer we live the more everything stays the same. The recession is now causing people to be so happy even to have a job they can be persuaded to work long hours to keep the company going, hours that break down their bodies in time. Americans are being asked to retire at a later age, so the government won't have to shell out social security for them during lean times for government coffers.
Greed again fueled this recession that may shorten the lives of millions just as harsh conditions were shortening lives in Jack London's time all over the world. At one point Jack went to London to pose as one of the working class poor so he could study what was happening there as a result of exploitation. He saw and reported on horrifying conditions even in what was then thought to be one of the most civilized countries in the world, Great Britain.
Reporting such stuff caused Jack to become a very controversial figure when he began writing novels and lecturing on his socialist ideas. America tended not to like his criticisms of the greedy capitalists any more than they like that kind of criticism today.
Jack believed in working to acquire wealth, he just did not believe in exploiting other human beings by paying them wages they could not even live on and demanding back breaking hours they could not endure many years without breaking down.
Jack went on the road during the poorest of times, rode the rails as a hobo, went looking for work wherever it was to be found across the United States. Even his trip to Alaska during the gold rush days was to strike it rich so he would not have to work so many hours for nothing. He developed scurvy and like many others got so sick he had to return home with nothing, having spent borrowed money on his supplies and means to get there and eat while he was trying to pan for gold.
But his mother accurately predicted that in writing about his adventures in the frozen north he would strike gold, which he did with his two best known novels, "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang."
Jack went to sea at one point when he was young, and learned what work on a ship was all about, which he wrote about in "Sea Wolf" and other books, he became an 'oyster pirate' in the bay area where he was born and raised, robbing the oyster beds of the delicious oysters he could sell for good money, and later he was persuaded to work for the oyster pirate patrol on the side of the law that went out and tried to catch the pirates. He used that more respectable job as background for a book of short stories aimed toward the young.
When Jack finally started to make money as a writer, he commissioned a yacht to be built in which he planned to sail for five years, during which time he planned write about what he encountered. He had to cut this goal short when he developed so many weird tropical ailments, ailments that played a part in killing him at such a young age, those and the treatments he had to endure.
I could not help but relate to this guy because he was such a physical force with his rough lower class background. Like the cowboys I grew up with, he prided himself on being as tough and ready to take on the most difficult physical work as they come.
And all during these years he was pretty much a heavy drinker which eventually helped ruin his kidneys. In those days the failure of both kidneys was a death sentence as dialysis had not yet been developed which saves millions when their kidneys stop functioning. He wrote about alcoholism in "John Barleycorn." I thought when I saw the title of that book, I could surely use a book about this with the alcoholism rampant in my family.
Drinking is one reason he died at the age of 40. He was found with a morphine syringe by his side, which he had started taking in the final stages of his physical breakdown. Wealth, fame, nothing could save him from the effects of his hard life, so essentially he died a poor working man's death, used up and burned out at a very young age.
He wrote extensively about his socialist reform ideas which bear studying today, as they are still pertinent. People need to study why reform becomes necessary when the wealthy capitalists of the world still can't keep from exploiting other people to become even richer. The rich capitalists still try to obscure the reasons why these kind of ideas must still be recognized as necessary for many to live better instead of just a privileged few. As though if they can grab a much larger piece of the world's pie that is all right, and if the exploited working class die in greater numbers because of them that's acceptable.
I was surprised to realize how good a thinker Jack London was, and how strongly he felt about exploitation because he knew he had been exploited and he probably knew by then he was going to die young because of it.
I thought this book explored the socialist side of Jack's character better than any book I have read about him. This book was probably written because of what is going on in the US today and all over the world. It's just that when people have power, they have such a difficult time being the kind of employers and wealthy class Jack believed he should be when he became world famous.
I have been reading about Bill Gates and his wife Miranda working hard to give away their vast wealth in ways that will do the most good, showing that not all extremely wealthy men think they're entitled. Jack London would have approved.
Jack London achieved world wide fame as a writer and he earned it. Nobody can ever take that away from him. With his body of work, the kind of thinking he did, his colorful character and flamboyant life style, he deserved the interest people had in him. This bio by James L. Haley was a fascinating read. I was glad to go back and learn more about the man in still another examination of what he stood for, still relevant, still worth knowing about. Jack London inspired me, with all his faults and failings, and I am happy to say I still think of him as a great writer.

6 comments:

kanyonlandking-annk.blogspot.com said...

Now I have author and title, I'll look for the book. Sounds like a book I'd like. Monson is pretty tedious..I usually try to read about current people. I will look for Bush's book. Laura didn't entertain me too much. Interestingly, I really liked Pres.Clinton's book in that it covered so well just what a President does, but didn't like Hillary's nearly so well. I will look for Wolf.

Missie said...

Just getting to your entries tonight. Sorry I'm so far behind.

Have a good week.

~mel said...

Gerry ~ YOU are an accomplished writer! Just reading your blog some days blow me away on how articulate you are and how knowledgable you are on so many different subjects. Jack London would be proud of YOU for this post. Thank you for sharing!!

DB said...

Gerry, thank you for this article. I remember reading some and hearng some about London when I was a kid and in the working class. The strange thing is that people who are suffering from the greed of the capitalists today are many of those who claim that capitalism is the only true America way.
DB

Ann LRD said...

Always loved his work! His gift of painting pictures with words, out standing!

Ann LRD said...

Wow, Gerry! You did a great job writing about Jack London in his time frame and matching it to ours today!

If you don't mind I would like to share this link around with others! :)

I promoted a writer and he is now known around the World as they love his style on News events.

If I remember right, you have a few from around the World reading you also:)


Herrad

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