Tuesday, January 29, 2013

American Dreams - The Call of the Wild

Is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild a stirring defense of Social Darwinism or a critique of American individualism? That's the question posed recently in the Daily Beast.

From the piece...
London called The Call of the Wild a “parable of buried impulses,” but Buck’s impulses are not buried very deep. Mainly he wants to kill:
The blood-longing became stronger than ever before. He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survived.
As might be clear from that last phrase, London was at the time a devoted disciple of Herbert Spencer, the British civil engineer who popularized the theory of Social Darwinism. (Spencer’s philosophy predated Darwinism—it was Spencer who coined “survival of the fittest.”) Social Darwinism would seem to be a philosophy ill-suited to Jack London, who ran for mayor of Oakland in 1901 and 1905 as a socialist. But The Call of the Wild, until the novel’s final line, channels both Spencer and Roosevelt as London tells the story of Buck’s ascension from docile pet to blood-lusting wolf. By the end Buck has been transformed into a monster—“the Fiend incarnate.” Even Cujo would whimper before him.

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