The writer and adventurer Jack London, like many of the characters in his stories, lived on the edge. Born in 1876, he died a short forty years later. As a young man, he was a full-fledged participant in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897. Like many others at the time, London made the incredibly arduous journey by foot and handcrafted boat from Dyea in Alaska over Chilkoot Pass—a three-quarter-mile forty-five-degree-angled obstacle course—and eventually down the Yukon River into the Northwest Territories. The only gold he brought back, however, was an experience that he would mine for gems of literature for much of his writing life, as evidenced in his well-known novels like Call of the Wild and White Fang, which draw on the places he saw and the people he met during his hope-filled and brutal times in the Northwestern Yukon territory.
Author: Jack London
In contrast to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “How We Kept Thanksgiving at Oldtown,” the “prosperity” in this tale exists mainly as a hope—in keeping with the root meaning of the word, (Latin: pro + spes, hope) “according to hope”—as the main characters hopefully prospect (“look forward”: pro + specere) for gold.
Perhaps most famous for his writing on the Klondike Gold Rush, Jack London (1876–1916) also wrote much about his experience working in factories as a child. Born illegitimate and poor, he was sent to work at the age of eight, and by age 14, was working 12-hour days at a cannery for ten cents an hour. This vivid account of child labor was published in Woman’s Home Companion in 1906.
American freedom and individuality have often been expressed in, and celebrated by, stories of exploration, adventure, enterprise, and the pursuit of gain: the conquest of the prairie, the settling of the West, the taming of the wilderness, the gold rush, and the mastery of nature through science, industry, and technology. Jack London’s story (1908) offers us a picture of one such fortune-hunting, rugged individual.