American Naturalism &
Jack London(1876-1916)
John Griffith
American Naturalism
The spread of industrialization created extremes of
wealth and poverty. Slums areas like Bowery, New York
appeared where poor people lived and where there were
crimes, murder, diseases, violence and all the worst
things in the world. Life became a struggle for survival.
Farmers were still going westward, but frontiers were
about the close. People were doomed to have no more
land. They had to depend on the transcontinental railway
to transport their products, therefore, railway became
their master. Farmers were caught in the grip of the
railway company.
The spread of Darwin's theory of evolution
changed people's ideology "the theories of
'survival by social selection' and 'survival of
the fittest'". Living in an indifferent, cold and
Godless world, man was no longer free.
People's outlook toward life became
American Naturalism
Naturalism was a new and harsher realism. It
developed on the basis of realism but went a step
further than it in portraying social reality.
Thematically, naturalistic writers
wrote detailed descriptions of the lives of the
downtrodden and of the abnormal
had frank treatment of human passion and sexuality
were concerned about how men and women were
overwhelmed by the forces of environment and by
the forces of heredity
Technically, naturalistic writers
made detailed documentation of life: nothing but the
truth, more naked and wicked than realities
created gloomy and pessimistic atmosphere
American Naturalism first came into existence in
Maggie, a Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane,
then had its manifesto in McTeague by Frank Norris,
and later came to its maturity in Sister Carrie by
Theodore Dreiser.
About the author(1)
It is believed that London is an illegitimate child, who
passed his childhood in poverty in the Oakland slums.
He had little formal schooling, but was an avid reader,
educating himself at public libraries.
At the age of 17, he ventured to sea on a sealing ship
and from then on to voyages on ship became one of
his favorites and material for his later writing.
In his teens, he joined Coxey’s Army in its famous
march on Washington, D.C., and was later arrested for
vagrancy(流浪罪). The turning point of his life was a
thirty-day imprisonment that was so degrading it made
him decide to turn to education and pursue a career in
About the author(2)
His years in the Klondike a Gold Prospector (from
1897-1898 ) had to be ended because of his poor
health, which would provide abundant material for his
future novels and stories .
Upon his return to Oakland, California, he could not
find steady work. In desperation, he decided to dive
into writing, launching his writing career.
Jack married two times in his life. The first wife is his
math tutor and the second one his secretary.But two
marriages were not happy and ended in failure.
About the author(3)
From 1905 to 1913, London set up his own
“Beauty Ranch” totaling 1,400 acres bought. At
Beauty Ranch, he raised many animals such as
prize bulls, horses, and pigs and cultivated a wide
variety of crops, fully enjoying the life of a rancher.
By his death at age forty on November 22, 1916,
Jack had been plagued for years by a vast number
of health problems, including stomach
disturbances, ravaging uremia, and failing kidneys.
His masterpiece:
The Call of the Wild
The Sea Wolf
Martin Eden
White Fang
Many people argue as to what London's
masterpiece was. Some say The Call of the
Wild, others say The Sea Wolf, and still others
say Martin Eden.
The Call of the Wild 野性的呼唤
1) The Call of the Wild is thrilling adventure
story set in the Yukon frontier, telling the
gripping tale of a dog named Buck who is
wrenched out of his life of ease and luxury
to become a sled dog in Alaska. Drawing on
his wolf heritage, Buck must fight for
survival in an alien environment,
experiencing both the cruelty of man and
the freedom of the wild.
主人公是一条名叫 “巴克”的狗,在被拐卖前,它是
The Sea-Wolf
The Sea-Wolf was based on his experiences at sea.
When fate lands Humphrey Van Weyden on board the
Ghost, a sealing schooner(帆船) bound for Japan, little
does he know of the weeks of brutality which lie ahead.
Captain Wolf Larsen is feared and despised by all on
board, and only the chance arrival of Maud Brewster
spurs Van Weyden into action in a desperate attempt
to free them both from the terrifying power of the SeaWolf.
Martin Eden 马丁.伊登
a. Martin Eden, an uneducated, rough, young sailor
happens to save Arthur Morse, a son of a wealthy
lawyer. Hence, he is invited to be a guest in the
Morse’s. There, he is marveled at the noble and
intellectual life of the Morse and falls in love with
Arthur’s sister, Ruth. Since then he has the strong
desire to be civilized and to win Ruth’s heart. To
fulfill this, he begins to form a life style that he
considers a civilized man should have, and read
numerous books borrowed from the public library.
b. After gaining certain knowledge and selfimprovement through his hard work, the very idea of
being a writer comes to his mind on a sailing voyage.
For his great ambition, he only has 4 or 5 hours’
sleep each day, spending most of his time studying
and writing.
c. But he doesn’t get any financial reward from his
hard work, his manuscripts returns to him without
acceptance. His situation could not have been any
worse as to become too poor to have meals. People
around him despise him, Ruth also urges him to give
up writing and take other jobs.
d. Anyway, Martin insists and keeps toiling. His later
visits to the Morse’s convince him that he has had the
wrong impression about the higher society and the
Morse’s refusal for his coming to their house, together
with Ruth’s break with him give him a fatal blow. He
stops writing while continues to send the publisher his
manuscripts that have been rejected before.
E. In the end, Martin’s works are widely accepted after
one of his manuscripts has been published accidentally.
Martin soon gains large amounts of wealth and fame.
Nevertheless, the fact that those who refused to be a
friend with him when he was in acute hanger all come to
him and compete to invite him to dinner. He becomes
disillusioned with everything in life, and manages to stop
Ruth’s attempt to rebuild their relationship. Finding out
he is unable to lead an aimless life, Martin commits
suicide on a voyage
Appreciating Martin Eden
Martin Eden: dreamer, intelligent, industrious, ambitious,
individual, quite sensitive with his pride and inferiority
a. the portrait of Jack London: (less noble birth, the
process of struggle, the success, committing suicide)
b. the practioner of Nitzschean Superman
c. the tragedy of Intellectuals (叔本华的《人生的苦恼》)
d. the origin of American dream
Martin’s dream and disillusion
Martin’s dream is to climb to the upper class and win
Ruth’s heart. The problem of his dream is he idealizes
the upper class to a paradise of civilization and Ruth to a
perfect angel. Setting an unrealistic goal like this, Martin
is destined to fail. On the way of reaching his dream,
Martin makes progress step by step, his effort is evident.
Because Martin is aware that the society is not what he
expected to be, Ruth is just a representative of the
bourgeoisie. Martin collapses with his broken dream.
Being wealthy and civilized does not enable Martin a
place to stand, on the contrary, it makes Martin trapped
in the mind chaos. To Martin, the only way to salvation is
to escape from this earth forever.
American Naturalism &
Jack London(1876-1916)
John Griffith
Characterization of Ruth
Ruth: the daughter of the upper class, goodlooking, well-educated, timeserving
She was the certain product of her family and of
that time, though often criticized for her
abandoning Martin Eden (in poverty and in
fruitless in his writing) and returning to Eden (in
big noise).
Ruth should be pitied from the feminist
ideas.(Virginia Woolf, Helene Cixous, Simon De
英国的弗吉尼亚沃尔夫 《A Room Of Her Own》
人, 主动性∕被动性,太阳∕月亮, 父亲∕母亲)
Economic dependence
Was deprived of the right of speak
Subordinate to her father and brother
Victim of Patriarchy society
Major themes
The inequality of social class
The breakdown of American Dream
Martin Eden, Sister Carrie, The Great Gatsby
are all about American Dream.
Jack London (1878-1916) witnessed the change of the
American society from free competition to monopoly
capitalism. In Martin Eden, he criticized the dark side of
the American society and hypocrisy of the capitalists.
Capitalists such as the banker, the lawyer, and the judge
who appeared to be decent and civilized were in fact
selfish money lovers. The publishing institutions boasted
to be fair and authoritative were actually corrupted and
deceitful. For people lived at the bottom of the society,
the chance to be rich by paying honest efforts, although
exist, is extremely slim. The gap between the poor and
the rich can not be bridged in such circumstances. Thus
a dream to lead a better life would be only foam, which is
easily broken.