Jack London, real name John Griffith Chaney, is well known "American novelist and short story writer, born in California" (Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature 629). London's short story "The Law of Life" was first published in Mc Clure's Magazine in 1901. "It was one of his first stories written around the time at which London had just discovered that this way of writing made the biggest impression on the reader."(Tenant 1) One of the most effective elements is that the main character of the story is an old Indian, named Koskoosh. He is left by his tribe and his relatives, with nothing but a fire and some wood to keep it burning for few hours. He was sitting by the fire and thinking about his youth, remembering certain moments of his life. In this story one may found London?s attitude towards life as a phenomenon which must be undergone by every living being in this world. London calls it ?the law of life? (London 956). And the law of life is aging and death.
First thing which can be treated as a kind of "the law of life" is a circle of life. The circle of life begins when a man is born and ends with his/her death. Koskoosh thinks of the leaves turning in autumn from green to brown, of young girls that grow more and more attractive until they find a man, raise children and slowly grow ugly by age and labor.
Koskoosh gives an example of a young woman, whom he calls ?maiden?: ?A maiden was a good creature to look upon, full-breasted and strong, with spring to her step and light in her eyes. But her task was yet before her.? (London 958). The picture of this woman is being portrayed at her youth when she is still nice, strong and with ?light in her eyes? (London 958). She would grow up and she would take a husband. ?And with the coming of her offspring her looks left her. Her limbs dragged and shuffled, her eyes dimmed and bleared, and only the little children found joy against the withered cheek of the old squaw by the fire.? (London 958) She is not an exception. This woman gets older until she reaches such age when she becomes uninteresting and expendable for other people.
And finally, ?her task was done? (London 958). Koskoosh equates her end of life with his current condition: ?she would be left, even as he had been left, in the snow, with a little pile o...
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...d by every living being in the world. This author?s attitude is clearly seen from the very beginning of the story when old Koskoosh felt that he was already ?very close to death? (London 956), until the last sentence of the story: ?Was it not the law of life?? (London 961). Of course one should not forget that London writes about the far north, and as he points out himself in many stories, the rules in the far north are very different from those of any other region. The Indian custom of letting the old man die alone is not criticized by London, because this custom was a necessity for the surviving of the tribe. London only emphasizes that ?the law of life? is one and irrevocable. One may call it the circle of life or the eternal struggle for living, but the end of our life, that is death, is the same for everyone.
London, Jack. ?The Law of Life?. Eds. Ronald I. Gottesman, et al. The Norton Anthology
of American Literature. Vol 2. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1979.
Merriam-Webster?s Encyclopedia of Literature. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1995
Tenant, Roy. "Who was Jack London?"
http://sunsite.berkely.edu/London.html 18 February 2005
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