Date of Award

1980

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

Although Jack London is recognized as one of the most popular American fiction writers in the world, critics of American literary naturalism have tended to rank him considerably below the other well-known naturalists: Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser. The consensus has been that London wrote too much, too hastily, and weakened his art by imposing "ideas" (Darwinian, Spencerian, Nietzschean, Marxian) upon his narratives. However, in recent years a serious reevaluation of "the boy wonder of the naturalist carnival" has begun. As a master of the action narrative, Jack London, who both mirrored his age and anticipated later twentieth-century literary trends, is now receiving deserved attention. Nonetheless, most of this interest has centered upon London's Northland classics, such as The Call of the Wild, and his apocalyptic visions of social revolution, such as The Iron Heel, while the most outlying and, in many ways, the most fascinating of the author's fictive worlds, the South Pacific, has remained relatively uncharted. This is a serious omission, for in two novels, a travel book, and in four complete short story collections, as well as in miscellaneous short stories and articles, Jack London drew upon the personal experiences of his cruise through Polynesia and Melanesia (1907-1909) to extend his literary landscape. This study is intended to help fill this gap in London scholarship by focusing upon the themes and motifs of these South Sea narratives which distinguish these works from the rest of the author's canon. A work-by-work analysis in the reader's guide tradition has not been attempted. Rather, sixteen narratives (The Cruise of the Snark, "The House of Mapuhi," "The Pearls of Parlay," "Mauki," "Yah! Yah! Yah!," "The Inevitable White Man," "The Seed of McCoy," "The House of Pride," "Koolau the Leper," "The Chinago," Adventure, "On the Makaloa Mat," "The Water Baby," "The Bones of Kahekili," "Shin Bones," and "The Red One") are utilized to illustrate these distinctive thematic elements. Most noteworthy are London's blending of romantic, realistic, and naturalistic elements in narratives of idealized heroes struggling for dominance in a deterministic universe; his explicit, often excessive, use of violence and death to demonstrate the naturalist's law of life; his conflicting visions of "natural man"--Polynesian and Melanesian, god and devil, respectively; his use of irony to undercut his own dogmatically espoused opinions regarding white racial superiority; and, finally, his use of Jungian theories in his last South Sea stories to explore the possibilities of escape from the spirit-destroying trap of determinism.

Pages

228

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