Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Road

The Road

Edited and with an Introduction by Todd DePastino
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Road
    Book Description:

    The best stories that London wrote about his hoboing days can be found inThe Road, a collection of nine essays with accompanying illustrations, most of which originally appeared inCosmopolitanmagazine between 1907 and 1908. His virile persona spoke to white middle-class readers who vicariously escaped their desk-bound lives and followed London down the hobo trail. The zest and humor of his tales, as Todd DePastino explains in his lucid introduction, often obscure their depth and complexity.The Roadis as much a commentary on London's disillusionment with wealth, celebrity, and the literary marketplace as it is a picaresque memoir of his youth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4012-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-l)

    On April 6, 1894, Jack London boarded the most luxurious passenger train in the world, the Overland Limited, and departed Oakland, California, for a six-month, ten thousand-mile journey that would change his life. Jack left no record of precisely where on the train he rode that first night. The unemployed eighteen-year-old had no money, so he did not ride in one of the aptly named Palace Cars where paying passengers relaxed in all the ornate comforts of a Victorian drawing room. The gas chandeliers and reading lamps no doubt illuminated the gilded interiors of these sumptuous salons as Jack ran...

  5. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. li-lii)
  6. A Note on the Text
    (pp. liii-liv)
  7. The Road

      (pp. 9-10)
      (pp. 11-14)
      (pp. 15-31)

      There is a woman in the state of Nevada to whom I once lied continuously, consistently, and shamelessly, for the matter of a couple of hours. I don’t want to apologize to her. Far be it from me. But I do want to explain. Unfortunately, I do not know her name, much less her present address. If her eyes should chance upon these lines, I hope she will write to me.

      It was in Reno, Nevada, in the summer of 1892. Also, it was fair-time, and the town was filled with petty crooks and tin-horns, to say nothing of a...

      (pp. 32-53)

      Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to “ditch” him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my...

      (pp. 54-66)

      Perhaps the greatest charm of tramp-life is the absence of monotony. In Hobo Land the face of life is protean—an ever changing phantasmagoria, where the impossible happens and the unexpected jumps out of the bushes at every turn of the road. The hobo never knows what is going to happen the next moment; hence, he lives only in the present moment. He has learned the futility of telic endeavor, and knows the delight of drifting along with the whimsicalities of Chance.

      Often I think over my tramp days, and ever I marvel at the swift succession of pictures that...

    • ʺPINCHEDʺ
      (pp. 67-82)

      I rode into Niagara Falls in a “side-door Pullman,” or, in common parlance, a box-car. A flat-car, by the way, is known amongst the fraternity as a “gondola,” with the second syllable emphasized and pronounced long. But to return. I arrived in the afternoon and headed straight from the freight train to the falls. Once my eyes were filled with that wonder-vision of down-rushing water, I was lost. I could not tear myself away long enough to “batter” the “privates” (domiciles) for my supper. Even a “set-down” could not have lured me away. Night came on, a beautiful night of...

    • THE PEN
      (pp. 83-98)

      For two days I toiled in the prison-yard. It was heavy work, and, in spite of the fact that I malingered at every opportunity, I was played out. This was because of the food. No man could work hard on such food. Bread and water, that was all that was given us. Once a week we were supposed to get meat; but this meat did not always go around, and since all nutriment had first been boiled out of it in the making of soup, it didn’t matter whether one got a taste of it once a week or not....

      (pp. 99-119)

      In the course of my tramping I encountered hundreds of hoboes, whom I hailed or who hailed me, and with whom I waited at watertanks, “boiled-up,” cooked “mulligans,” “battered” the “drag” or “privates,” and beat trains, and who passed and were seen never again. On the other hand, there were hoboes who passed and repassed with amazing frequency, and others, still, who passed like ghosts, close at hand, unseen, and never seen.

      It was one of the latter that I chased clear across Canada over three thousand miles of railroad, and never once did I lay eyes on him. His...

      (pp. 120-133)

      Every once in a while, in newspapers, magazines, and biographical dictionaries, I run upon sketches of my life, wherein, delicately phrased, I learn that it was in order to study sociology that I became a tramp. This is very nice and thoughtful of the biographers, but it is inaccurate. I became a tramp—well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest. Sociology was merely incidental; it came afterward, in the same manner that a wet skin follows a ducking. I went on “The Road” because I couldn’t...

      (pp. 134-146)

      A ʺStiffʺ is a tramp. It was once my fortune to travel a few weeks with a “push” that numbered two thousand. This was known as “Kelly’s Army.” Across the wild and woolly West, clear from California, General Kelly and his heroes had captured trains; but they fell down when they crossed the Missouri and went up against the effete East. The East hadn’t the slightest intention of giving free transportation to two thousand hoboes. Kelly’s Army lay helplessly for some time at Council Bluffs. The day I joined it, made desperate by delay, it marched out to capture a...

    • BULLS
      (pp. 147-164)

      If the tramp were suddenly to pass away from the United States, widespread misery for many families would follow. The tramp enables thousands of men to earn honest livings, educate their children, and bring them up God-fearing and industrious. I know. At one time my father was a constable and hunted tramps for a living. The community paid him so much per head for all the tramps he could catch, and also, I believe, he got mileage fees. Ways and means was always a pressing problem in our household, and the amount of meat on the table, the new pair...

  8. Explanatory Notes
    (pp. 165-168)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-170)