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Jack London's Short Stories: The Cruise of the Snark, A Piece of Steak, The Road, John Barleycorn.

Essay By: Jennifer Alowen

Summaries of some of Jack London's short stories.

Submitted:Feb 20, 2010    Reads: 1,007    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

The Cruise of the Snark (1911 is a non-fictional, illustrated book by Jack London chronicling his sailing adventure in 1907 across the south Pacific in his ketch "The Snark". Accompanying London on this voyage was his wife Charmian and a small crew. London taught himself celestial navigation and the basics of sailing and of boats during the course of this adventure and describes these details to the reader. He visits exotic locations including the Solomon Islands and Hawaii and his first person accounts and photographs provide insight into these remote places at the beginning of the 20th century. London was a boxing fan and an avid amateur boxer himself. "A Piece of Steak" is an evocative tale about a match between an older boxer and a younger one. It not only contrasts the differing experiences of youth and age but also raises the social question of the treatment of aging workers. "The Mexican" combines boxing with a social theme, as a young Mexican endures an unfair fight and ethnic prejudice in order to earn money with which to aid the Mexican revolution. The Road (1907) is a series of tales and reminiscences of London's hobo days. It relates the tricks that hoboes used to evade train crews, and reminisces about his travels with Kelly's Army. He credits his story-telling skill to the hobo's necessity of concocting tales to coax meals from sympathetic strangers. London's autobiographical book of "alcoholic memoirs", John Barleycorn, was published in 1913. Recommended by Alcoholics Anonymous, it depicts the outward and inward life of an alcoholic. The passages depicting his interior mental state, which he called the "White Logic", are among his strongest and most evocative writing. The question must, however, be raised: is it truly against alcohol, or a love hymn to alcohol? He makes alcohol sound exciting, dangerous, comradely, glamorous, manly. In the end, when he sums it up, this is the total he comes up with: And so I pondered my problem. I should not care to revisit all these fair places of the world except in the fashion I visited them before. Glass in hand! There is a magic in the phrase. It means more than all the words in the dictionary can be made to mean. It is a habit of mind to which I have been trained all my life. It is now part of the stuff that composes me. I like the bubbling play of wit, the chesty laughs, the resonant voices of men, when, glass in hand, they shut the grey world outside and prod their brains with the fun and folly of an accelerated pulse. No, I decided; I shall take my drink on occasion. London does, however, show his strong support for the abolition of alcohol from civilized society, as if it were the culmination of social progress. He consistently blames his alcohol problem as the manifestation of alcohol's ubiquitous availability and of the social establishments which provide it. He provides imagery of John Barleycorn as a well which should be covered up, lest children fall into its dangerous depths.


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