Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Jack London’s Argonuats – Stories From “Son of the Wolf”

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on March 4, 2012

Jack London produced some remarkable stories around the people who participated in the Klondike gold rush at the turn of the twentieth century. The northern part of Canada that constitutes the Klondike region is known for its extreme weather and any misadventure or miscalculation can turn into a definitive recipe for death. Yet the availability of gold and lure of lucre led hordes of prospectors from America and Canada to try their fortunes in this indifferent and brutal setting. London traveled to these regions for a brief while and gained firsthand knowledge of these Argonauts who went gold prospecting and celebrated them and their lives through a series of stories. The setting in which men pitted against harsh nature, fellow men and animals brought the best and the worst in them. The greatness of London’s stories lies in spinning interesting tales around his observations and encounters of these men, women and animals leading to a popular body of fiction which is unique, well-admired, memorable and a joy to read. “The Son of the Wolf” is one such collection of London’s Klondike stories.

For the gold prospectors in Klondike death, dying and destruction are part of the deal and therefore death of men, women or animal did not accompany conventional expression of grief. In the story “The White Silence”, Mason – a gold prospector – is crushed under a tree by a freak accident and after meaningful attempts to do his best, Mason’s best friend Malemute Kid despite his great attachment and love for Mason puts a bullet in him and continues on his journey with Mason’s wife Ruth without a word or murmur. The loneliness of two men and a pregnant woman in the vast silence of those frozen wastelands is brought to life by London in a way that is unforgettable

London’s prose has a peculiar masculinity associated with it. Yet his portrayal of female characters in these stories is never any less to the male characters he writes about. In the stories “The Priestly Prerogative” and “The Wife of a King” one gets to see two strong willed women have their way and assert their independence with the help of honourable and just men who populate this male dominated setting

In Klondike region, weak minded and weak bodied men are simply winnowed out by the natural conditions. The story ‘In a Far Country’ is a tale of two such men who cocooned in an isolated shelter work towards mutual destruction for lack of strength, moral tenacity and trust. In an environment where being unjust and unfair could mean a chance of survival and an opportunity to live once again one expects men to develop a code of ethics that are savage and easily comprisable. On the contrary London’s Argonauts are men of a moral fibre that is sturdy, impressive and emulation worthy. In three of the best stories in the collection “An Odyssey of the North”, “To the Man on the Trial” and “The Wisdom of the Trail” one gets to see this chivalrous conduct of men

All migrations of human beings invariably end up in clash between the migrants and natives in some form or the other. The Klondike prospectors too had their share of such encounters. The title story “The Son of the Wolf” is a white man’s attempt to get a native wife of his choice against the opposition of the youth and priest of the Tanana tribe. London’s narration of the atmospherics of this encounter outlines the customs, mores, and apprehensions of two different cultures brilliantly.

For the narrative power, character delineation and absorbing story telling the stories of Jack London are second to none and this collection is a testimony to that

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