In his brilliant collection of short stories Jack London explores the relations between the man and the surrounding nature, centering on the theme of struggle for life that seems characteristic of all living beings. The article is aimed at analyzing how the themes of struggle and survival are explored in the tales of adventure in the distant North.
Key words: Jack London, short stories, theme of struggle, nature.
Тема борьбы — одна из центральных тем цикла произведений Джека Лондона «Северные рассказы», посвященного событиям времен золотой лихорадки. Цель статьи — проанализировать, как тема борьбы раскрывается в рассказах Джека Лондона и каким образом тема борьбы в его произведениях соотносится с образом природы.
Ключевые слова: Джек Лондон, рассказы, тема борьбы, природа.
Jack London is a master of depicting strong characters determined to fight for their life in the most extreme conditions and set on achieving their goals no matter how impossible these goals may seem. Their effort is manifested in different ways, be it fighting against the passions of the living or against the regally impassive nature, with their adventures ending either in a crushing defeat or in unbelievable triumph.
Set in Klondike in the end of the 19th century, «Tales of the North» is a collection of short stories by Jack London dedicated to describing the life of those who joined the famous Gold Rush in pursue of wealth and prosperity. In these stories the author presents an array of strong characters that struggle to find their place in the cruel world, trying to come out on top no matter the challenges they must face on their way. Jack London used his personal experience to describe what one must be confronted with during their lengthy stay in the unwelcome lands of the North.
In the story titled «Love of Life” Jack London thoroughly describes the laborious journey two men must take across the frozen lands in search of gold. Among the obstacles they have to face are hunger, cold and dangerous encounters with wild animals. In the end, their goal becomes not prosperity or wealth but survival. (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 ). Jack London shows profound understanding of human psychology describing his characters’ fight for life, pointing out that even those who manage to escape the claws of the wilderness are for the rest of their lives affected by this terrible experience.
It must not be forgotten even for a second that in the wild everything is constantly at stake, and the odds may change just when one least expects them to. Even the smallest amount of recklessness can lead to disastrous consequences. In one of London’s most famous stories called «To Build a Fire” a man foolishly disregards the warnings of experienced people and sets out to travel across the cold with no companion but a dog. After a mere accident, his life depends on whether he will be able to put up a fire to protect himself from the merciless cold. It is difficult to imagine how someone’s life can depend on something so seemingly insignificant, yet out in the wilderness the smallest things can decide a man’s fate. ( Where it had burned was a mantle of fresh and disordered snow. The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death ). Opposing the nature itself is a mistake the wilderness does not easily forgive.
The tumultuous events of Jack London’s life are reflected in his stories. He wrote these stories relying on his personal experience, having participated in the Klondike Gold Rush and having gained an insight into what the life of fearless adventurers is like. Having seen all these things himself he creates stories that reflect the objective world, the real hardships that befall an ordinary person that dares take control of their life in their own hands. That is why their struggles do not always meet a fruitful end. Just like in the real world, there is constantly a risk of failure, and even the strongest people can break under the pressure of the wilderness, not able to bear the constant struggle where everything one has achieved can be lost in a blink of an eye. The story titled «The One Thousand Dozen” is a tragic tale of a man so caught up in pursuing a dream that he is ready to risk everything he must achieve it. The main character of the story commits himself to delivering one thousand dozen eggs to a town of gold prospectors, dreaming of making himself rich through his ingenious scheme only to discover upon his arrival that the eggs are rotten and all his efforts have been for naught. That is why once his venture is resulted in a failure, he loses the very will to live.
The image of the implacable nature is explored in a story called «The White Silence”. The story features three people traveling across Yukon’s Trail by dog sled. The title of the story refers to the landscape that surrounds the characters during their travels, reminding fragile human beings of the magnificence of the world of nature. What these people dare to confront is the nature itself. ( Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity, — the ceaseless flow of the 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 . ) Compared to the majestic stillness of the endless snow-covered plains, an ordinary human being cannot help feeling insignificant in the huge and merciless world. ( Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more ). Still greater is the courage of those who set out to meet the dangers of this world, and still more foolish are those who are ignorant enough to defy its power.
In «Tales of the North” Jack London poses existential questions about the man’s place in the world. What makes his stories unique is the profound psychological approach to describing the aspirations of people left face-to-face with the cold and unwelcome world.
- Jack London. “To Build a Fire” And Other Stories. Global Language Resources, Inc., 2003