Eat or be eaten (92). This is said to be the law of nature as stated in Jack London s novel, White Fang. It is a law, which is very simple, both in words and in meaning. If every living thing abided by this rule, then obviously only the strongest would survive. This is a theory proposed by English philosopher Herbert Spencer and is also a theory in which Jack London had a great belief (Sciambra). One of the main focuses of London s writing is the survival of the strongest beings driven by the primitive desire to live.
London shows this belief in many of his novels and short stories, however, it is most apparent in those involving strong animals and brutal men. Within these novels, London illustrates this theory of the survival of the fittest through the forces of nature, animals, and mankind.
The first way which London portrays this theory is through the forces of nature in the novel, The Sea Wolf.
One of the main characters in the novel is a vicious man named Wolf Larsen. He is a massive man who is smarter, stronger, and faster than any other man in the world. London seems to use Wolf Larsen to bring some of his own opinions and ideas to the reader. The following quote proves that London believed in the survival of the fittest. Wolf Larsen is talking about the forces of nature when he says: Life? Bah! It has no value. Of cheap things, it is the cheapest.
Nature spills it out with a lavish hand. Where there is room for one life, she sows a thousand lives and its life eats life till only the strongest and most piggish life is left (68). This quote means that only the strongest will survive, whether it is human, animal, or plant. Take, for example, two saplings striving to grow in the middle of a dense forest. If one happens to be slightly bigger or stronger than the other, it will smother the smaller one until it can no longer sustain itself. The weaker tree will eventually be starved for sunlight and food and will soon die off, leaving the strong tree to flourish in the forest and perhaps snuff the life out of many other things in its surroundings. So, as it is told by Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf, the survival of the fittest does not only apply to man and beast but all of nature in general.
Another method by which London tells us that only the strong will survive is through the many animals in his stories. In the novel, The Call of the Wild, an enormous dog named Buck is taken to the Klondike as a sled dog in the days of the Gold rush. Since Buck is a city dog, he must get accustomed to the ways and laws of the northern wilderness. London gives this description when he is telling the reader about the laws of the wild north: The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak so that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all (50). By using this law of nature, London depicts how the world of animals works and how it determines which ones live and which ones die. He is also saying that animals have to adapt themselves to different situations if they want to survive. London tells of this when he wrote, that Buck had a great capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death (53). In The Call of the Wild, London gave Buck the size, strength, and intelligence to conquer all other dogs and survive to live happily ever after.
The story of White Fang is also a novel involving animals where London shows his focus on the survival of strong creatures. In the story, White Fang is the main character. He is half wolf and half dog, however, he does t know whether he belongs in the wild or whether he needs a master to love him and take care of him. When he finally figures out that he wants to be a dog, he has great difficulty being accepted by the other dogs in the village. His goal is to overcome the other dogs and prove to them that he is superior. As London put it, He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in primordial life (153). Even in the world of humans, it is sometimes necessary not to show mercy if you want to survive. In the situation of a victim being held at gunpoint, his/her only window of opportunity would be to overpower the captor and not show any mercy, enabling him/her to survive. So as one can understand, these types of situations occur in the animal kingdom and the human world. London chose to make his theory known once again, only this time through the lives of animals.
Going back to The Sea Wolf once more, London again shows his focus on the survival of the fittest but uses man as his example this time. Humphrey Van Weyden, another character in the novel, is perhaps the exact opposite of Wolf Larsen. He is small, weak, and very nonathletic. When he asks Wolf Larsen about his theory on life, Wolf Larsen replied, Might is right and that is all there is to it. Weakness is wrong (79). These words make clear London’s belief in the theory that only the strong will survive. A great modern example of this theory is that of professional hockey. All the teams start the season with a clean slate. During the year they battle each other and by the time the playoffs arrive, only the strongest and most talented teams are left. The teams that remain play each other again and again until there is only one team that stands undefeated. This team is not only the winner, but also the strongest, fastest, most fit, and a most merciless team of them all.
One further piece of evidence is gathered in The Sea Wolf when Humphrey Van Weyden is forced to take brutal action against Wolf Larsen. London wrote this when talking about the change in Humphrey Van Weyden: It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence (153). London is saying in this sentence that to stay alive, you sometimes need to go against what you believe in and just do what is necessary to survive.
By reading Jack London s work it is very apparent that he had a great fascination with such things as strong men, wolves, dogs, the wilderness, etc. It is also very clear that London used nature, animals, and mankind to illustrate one of the main focuses of his writing. That focus is the survival of the strongest beings when they are driven by the primitive desire to live.