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Jack London

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Jack London

The story of Jack London's life really is one of rags to riches. He was born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876 as John Griffith Chaney. I'd like to take you through the story of his life and examine a few of his significant literary works along the way.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 78 says that "the biographical consensus is that his father was William Henry Chaney, a "Professor of Astrology" with whom his mother, Flora Wellman, was living as a fellow spiritualist and common-law wife in 1875." (DOLB 78). However it goes on to point out that "Chaney had deserted her in a rage of denial when he learned of her pregnancy" (DOLB 78). In 1876 Flora married John London. John was a Civil War veteran. He was also a widower who had to put his two daughters into an orphanage while he worked. Upon their marriage the Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 212 says that "Flora's child was renamed John "Jack" Griffith London" (DOLB 212).

After marrying John the new family moved to Oakland California. When this happened Jack was introduced to the world of books by visiting the Oakland Public Library. He began reading at a young age because he was a lonely child. One of his favorite books was Ouida's Signa. Signa is the story of a great Italian Composer who rose to fame from being the illegitimate son of a peasant girl. Perhaps this story inspired Jack in some way as he also rose from a similar status, though he composed works of literature instead of music.

His mother had a bad habit of wasting money on get rich quick schemes. Because of this, even as a boy Jack was forced to do part time work to help support the family. He held a wide range of jobs. Some were simple and part time like being a newspaper delivery boy. After finishing grade school however, he went to work at a cannery. He worked up to "eighteen hours a day at ten cents an hour stuffing pickles into jars" (DOLB 78). That experience was traumatic and it drove him to hate physical labor. He turned that trauma into a story called "The Apostate" which is regarded as one of his most powerful.

In his mid-teens London borrowed money and bought himself a fishing ship. Contemporary Authors Online 2005 says that he used the ship to begin "a career as an oyster pirate, complete with a mistress who came with the boat" (CAO 2005). Eventually he had an altercation with the law due to his oyster pirating. After that incident he turned from his ways as a pirate and "he switched sides to become a member of the California Fish Patrol" (DOLB 78). These experiences gave London fuel for two more works, "The Cruise of the Dazzler" and "Tales of the Fish Patrol".

His sailing days weren't over yet even after leaving the fish patrol. He took work on a sealing ship which gave him material for "The Sea-Wolf". During his time on the sealing ship he also witnessed a typhoon which prompted him to write "Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan" which he won a prize for. While on the ship he earned the nickname of Sailor Jack. This was a name that "he used proudly in his hobo days" (CAO 2005).

He joined Coxey's Army which was a group of unemployed workers and headed to Washington D.C. with them for what was supposed to be a march on the city. Instead he deserted them while in Missouri and ran around as a hobo until he was arrested as a vagrant in Niagra Falls, New York. Jack had been stealing chickens as well and with his arrest he was "sentenced to a month in the Erie County Penitentiary" (CAO 2005). This experience was claimed by London to have been a turning point in his life.

London returned to California after the jail experience and began studying to get into college. He crammed years of study into months and eventually passed his entrance exams. He only

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