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OF JACK LONDON
By Dan Wichlan
The journalism of Jack London represents a substantial portion of his writing. London wrote a total of 208 nonfiction articles and essays for various newspapers and magazines — 12 more titles than the number of short stories that he wrote. In fact, London's literary production can be divided into three approximately equal parts — short stories, novels and journalism. However, the journalism has been the most neglected portion of London's work since almost half of this body of work has not been reprinted or collected. And most of what has been collected consists of his war correspondence and sports writing as opposed to his social and philosophical writing.
Jack London was one of the master short story writers of the twentieth century who helped shape this original American literary art form into its modern format. He was also the best selling novelist of the first two decades of the twentieth century. And he was one of the most influential journalists of the early twentieth century who helped to affect much social change through his journalism including suffrage, prohibition, labor laws, treatment of disease and political change.
In part because of this neglect, many people outside of the London community think of Jack London as a "racist" and a "Socialist" who wrote children's adventure stories. Why is London's masterpiece, Call of the Wild, so frequently considered to be a "dog story" while Moby Dick is not merely a "fish story" but the great American moral parable of the nineteenth century?
London's success as a writer of fiction and his social and political activism brought him unprecedented media attention that tended to sensationalize his more controversial statements out of their artistic, philosophical or social context. For example, his impromptu comment on the surprising success of Call of the Wild that he "set out to write a dog story" was widely quoted in the press without its full context. Although the full text of his 1902 essay "Salt of the Earth" has never been reprinted, bits and pieces have been widely quoted out of context to help brand London as a racist. Similarly, London's soapbox oratory and resulting arrest in Oakland was sensationalized by the press and he was dubbed "the boy Socialist" in newspaper headlines. London received so much publicity from these incidents that he was able to mount a campaign for mayor of Oakland on the Socialist ticket. These would seem to be three cases "of 'evil' living after him" and "the good being interred with his bones". His uncollected journalism can "exhume" the social good that Jack London did.
When one carefully reads London's journalistic nonfiction, one clearly understands how his youthful "Oakland-waterfront-working-class" thinking on race evolved to a much more liberal view on the synergy of the races and how he later embraced racial diversity as the result of education and world travel. This metamorphosis is easily traced from "Salt of the Earth" in 1902 to "Washoe Indians Resolve to Be White Men" in 1903 to "Denied Admittance to U.S. Because He Loves Liberty" in 1906 to "Bit of Data on the Japanese Question" in 1909 and to "Language of the Tribe" in 1915 (reprinted in Volume 2 of the "Jack London Journal").
A comprehensive reading of London's journalism will also demonstrate his compassion for his fellow man and that his "Socialism" grew out of this compassion more so than from a political ideology. London was more "social" than "Socialist". This is evidenced in "The Tramp Has Real Value"; "The Common Man"; "Our Brothers and Sisters, Scapegoats in Molokai"; "What Shall Be Done with This Boy?" and "Saved and Lost! the Sobraon Boys".
In the upcoming installments of the uncollected journalism of Jack London, I will reprint a cross-section of articles that have not been previously reprinted and that, up until now, were available only on microfilm in newspaper or library archives. For the first time, many readers will have the opportunity to see the many different and changing aspects of Jack London both as a man and as a writer. I will begin with a series of articles that London wrote when he was in Australia at the end of the Snark voyage. These articles have not been reprinted since their original publication in Australia and they have not been previously published in the United States.
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