Monday, August 16, 2010

Jack London

The Call of the Wild is a staple of the middle school curriculum in my safe, friendly suburb, which I find a little bit weird. There is an environmental, pro-wilderness theme, I suppose, but for me the main impression was one of a stark competition for survival in a harsh world where the losers die, and deservedly so. And this is not surprising, since Jack London was a political agitator who advocated bloody revolution, and an even more violent racist. From Johann Hari's review of a new biography by James L. Haley:
This man was the most-read revolutionary Socialist in American history, agitating for violent overthrow of the government and the assassination of political leaders—and he is remembered now for writing a cute story about a dog. It's as if the Black Panthers were remembered, a century from now, for adding a pink tint to their afros. . . .

And yet there is an infected scar running across his politics that is hard to ignore. "I am first of all a white man, and only then a socialist," he said, and he meant it. His socialism followed a strict apartheid: It was for his pigmentary group alone. Every other ethnic group, he said, should be subjugated—or exterminated. "The history of civilization is a history of wandering—a wandering, sword in hand, of strong breeds, clearing away and hewing down the weak and less fit," he said coolly. "The dominant races are robbing and slaying in every corner of the globe." This was a good thing, because "they were unable to stand the concentration and sustained effort which pre-eminently mark the races best fitted to live in this world."
I wonder if I should explain this to the teachers some time.


Unknown said...

I've wondered about this myself. I too had to read Call of the Wild, and a biography of London as well.

Do middle schools still assign it?

Bundle Brent said...

Well, it sounds like there's a lot to learn from reading this, then, right?

It's a really exciting book, and the language is accessible, which I why I think it's still assigned. I read at a pretty early age (back-to-back with White Fang) and I loved it. LOVED IT. It's so stark and violent and sad and filled with manly men and wolves and dogs! Of course, I didn't know anything about London's racism or politics. Now that I do, I have to admit, I still love those two books.

I'd guess a pretty substantial number of writers throughout history have held some pretty stupid ideas. If I decided to eschew all the misogynists, racists, and sexists, my library would dwindle pathetically.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't hate the player, hate the game?

John said...

Call of the Wild was assigned in Mary's and Thomas's GT reading classes for the 7th grade. I am not really calling for these books to be dropped. I just find it amusing that the sweet and kind teachers in our middle school assign them in apparent ignorance of the philosophy behind them.

Bundle Brent said...

Yeah, somehow I doubt that many 7th-grade teachers would attempt to address the racism and social darwinism.