Jack London's Sea Wolf Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Sea Wolf" by Jack London. Discussed is the transformation of the character Humphrey Van Waden, physically, psychologically and philosophically. These traits are compared from the beginning of the story to the end. Paper includes quotes from book that describe transformation.

Sea Wolf"

Jack London's "Sea Wolf" was first published in 1904. London's story is a vivid tale of seal hunters on the high seas aboard a schooner called Ghost., who rescue a lone survivor from a ferryboat accident, Humphrey Van Weyden. A gentleman scholar and literary critic, Van Weyden's experience aboard the schooner becomes of nightmare of shock and terror. The captain of the vessel is Wolf Larsen, the most savage, brutal, ruthless character imaginable. Van Weyden all too soon discovers that there is nothing sacred or humane in the captain's character. London uses the scholar's ordeal at the hands of Larsen to create his powerful and unforgettable themes of courage and survival. He takes a privileged man and pushes him to the brink of reality. The changes Van Weyden goes through from the beginning of the story to the end could be easily seen as post traumatic stress and the post recovery thereof. He goes from a gentleman to a brute and back to a gentleman again, only stronger in body, mind, and spirit.

The story is narrated by Van Weyden and begins with the now famous words, "I scarcely know where to begin" as he begins to recall his ordeal from beginning to end (London Chapter 1, p1). His nightmare begins with the collision of the ferryboat in the dark waters and fog off San Francisco. The rescue from what seemed to be certain death proved to be only the prelude of his nightmare when he is brought aboard the Ghost. At this point, his life turns surreal and will never be the same again. Rather than return Van Weyden to shore in San Francisco, Larsen forces him to join his crew, making him cabin boy and the Ghost heads for the high seas. Van Weyden discovers his first day on board that the crewmen are a group of devious, murderous thieves. They all seem to be aboard escaping some criminal past, or else they have been aboard so long that they no longer remember how to live or behave in any sort of normal manner. Larsen treats the men as if they were animals, showing no concern or loyalty for any of them. They are simply workers there for his command and nothing more. As Larsen sizes Van Weyden up, he says, "You stand on dead men's legs. You've never had any of your own. You couldn't walk alone between two sunrises and hustle the meat for your belly for three meals. Let me see your hand..."Dead men's hands have kept it soft. Good for little else than dish-washing and scullion work" (London Chapter 3,p2). However, all of that was about to change. Van Weyden's first physical injury occurred during the pitch of the sea when he was tossed around, he remarked, "an injured knee-cap that went undressed and from which I suffered for weary months" (London Chapter 4 p 2). Aside from the physical pain, what Van Weyden was unaccustomed to was "the total lack of sympathy on the part of the men...I was faint from the pain...but no one spoke or took notice of me" (London Chapter 4 p 2). Then Larsen said, "Don't let a little thing like that bother you. You'll get used to such things in time. It may cripple you some, but all the same you'll be learning to walk"(London Chapter 4 p.2). At this point, Van Weyden is in disbelief of his situation, a nightmare that he would surely wake from, unfortunately however, it was all too real. He says, "It was unparalleled, undreamed-of, that I, Humphrey Van Weyden, a scholar and a dilettante...should be on a...schooner... A Cabin-boy" (London ch,4 p. 2). He had never done any manual labor in his life. He had led an uneventful and sedentary existence, the life of a scholar and recluse (London Chapter 4 p.3). Now, he was faced with brutality and callousness, and was not only forced to toil and labor, but his very life was in constant danger, if not from the elements, then from captain and crew. Violence was foreign to him and when a crew member came at him with fists, he said, "To my shame be it, I cowered away from the blow and ran out the galley door" (London Chapter 5 p.1). He was not a man of violence, moreover, he had never been confronted with any time of brutal behavior. He was a man out of his elements.

As time went by, Van Weyden grew accustomed to physical pains, and grew to see that on board the ship he was no different than the other men, as he watched men lose fingers and keep on working as if it were no worse than a stump on the toe. He began to develop a brutality in himself that he never knew existed. When confronted with a brawl, he now took up a knife and held it to a man's throat, ready to kill, ready to defend his own life. He was capable of lashing at Larsen, as the rage from all the brutality and humiliation he had endured swelled inside him. His thoughts centered on hatred and revenge. He plotted in his mind the destruction of Larsen, he felt capable of killing him, a thought that would have never entered his emotions before, in his other life. And that is exactly what this seemed, another life, a life a such brute and force that he found it impossible at times to comprehend the reality of it, as one might experience a war battle. He experienced and saw things that he knew dreamed existed in humankind, things unbearable to recall.

A philosopher of heart and mind, Van Weyden found the very foundations of his beliefs at odds with this new reality. Larsen forced him to question his very soul, the essence of his humanity. From this nightmare, his new reality, emerged a new personal creed. Van Weyden says, "I think, entered the austere conscience of my Puritan ancestry, impelling me toward lurid deeds and sanctioning even murder as right conduct. It would be a most moral act to rid the world of such a monster" (London Chapter 16 p 2). Larsen seemed delighted by the idea that Van Weyden was passionate with hate, claiming that now he had found his own legs to stand on, to which Van Weyden replies, "I may have learned to stand on my legs...But I have yet to stamp upon other with them" (London Chapter 20 p.2). All his hatred was aimed at Larsen, as his thoughts focused on escape.

By the time they rescued Maude Brewster from the sea, Van Weyden's body was hard and strong, his mind determined, and his spirit low. She became a reality check for him, a memory of what life really was outside the Ghost. He began to remember who he was in soul. He also fell in love for the first time in his life, something that had been as foreign to him as his life on the Ghost. He had always been aloof and passionless, now however, he felt blood rushing through his veins, and not from the boiling hatred for Larsen, but from a true connection to a kindred spirit. He not only realized his physical attraction to Maude, but he also became aware that through his love for her, he seemed to gather strength, morally, mentally and physically, that he never knew existed. It was this love that became his saving grace, so to speak. Because of her, he was able to muster the strength he needed to escape from the clutches of Larsen. It was through her that he found the strength to turn his hatred into positive action. Moreover, it was through her that he found his humanity that he seemed to have been lost along the way aboard the Ghost. When he had the chance to easily kill Larsen, as he lay helpless, he chose to let him die an agonizing death instead, thus leaving Larsen's demise to fate, rather than at his own hands. Through this journey Van Weyden found not only his love, but also his courage and true character. All that he had learned in books and study were but to test, and he passed. He now stood on his own two feet. He now was a survivor of the worst life could offer. Furthermore, he was physically capable of surviving even the harshest conditions of nature, and skilled enough to pull himself through. He was now a man of grit and substance, no longer a coward and recluse.

The phases Van Weyden went through during his ordeal were much akin to post traumatic stress, the emotional numbness, the depression, the nightmares and outbursts of…

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