Jack London (1876-1916), known for his naturalistic and mythic
tales, remains among the most popular and influential American
writers in the world. Jack London's Racial Lives offers
the first full study of the enormously important issue of race in
London's life and diverse works, whether set in the Klondike,
Hawaii, or the South Seas or during the Russo-Japanese War, the
Jack Johnson world heavyweight bouts, or the Mexican Revolution.
Jeanne Campbell Reesman explores his choices of genre by analyzing
racial content and purpose and judges his literary artistry against
a standard of racial tolerance. Although he promoted white
superiority in novels and nonfiction, London sharply satirized
racism and meaningfully portrayed racial others-most often as
protagonists-in his short fiction.
Why the disparity? For London, racial and class identity were
intertwined: his formation as an artist began with the mixed
"heritage" of his family. His mother taught him racism, but he
learned something different from his African American foster
mother, Virginia Prentiss. Childhood poverty, shifting racial
allegiances, and a "psychology of want" helped construct the many
"houses" of race and identity he imagined. Reesman also examines
London's socialism, his study of Darwin and Jung, and the illnesses
he suffered in the South Seas.
With new readings of The Call of the Wild, Martin
Eden, and many other works, such as the explosive Pacific
stories, Reesman reveals that London employed many of the same
literary tropes of race used by African American writers of his
period: the slave narrative, double-consciousness, the tragic
mulatto, and ethnic diaspora. Hawaii seemed to inspire his most
memorable visions of a common humanity.
Subjects: History, Language & Literature
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