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M I C H A E L Q U A L T I E R E Cambridge, Massachusetts Nietzschean Psychology in London’s The Sea-Wolf The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on Jack London’sThe Sea-Wolf has been discussed in numerous studies,1but none has focused specifically on an element London considered essential to the book: Nietzschean psychology.2 This study will suggest that the complex mental life of Wolf Larsen, the novel’s central figure, was expressly designed to reflect Nietzsche’s personal psychological history. The following discussion will: 1Critics are not agreed on the extent of this influence. Andrew Sinclair, Jack: A Biography of Jack London (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 95, 266-267; and Charles Child Walcutt, American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1976), pp. 112, 311, find no evidence of Nietzschean theory in The Sea-Wolf. Patrick Bridgwater, Nietzsche in Anglosaxony: A Study of Nietzsche’s Impact on English and American Literature (Leicester, Eng.: Leicester Univ. Press, 1972), p. 165; and James Hart, The Oxford Companion to American Literature (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), p. 490, suggest that the novel’s treatment of Nietzsche’s thought is restricted to a Darwinistic interpretation of the Superman and the theory of the Will to Power. Forrest Winston Parkay’s “The Influence of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra on London’s The Sea-Wolf’’ Jack London Newsletter, 4:1 (Jan. - April, 1971), pp. 16-24; and Katherine Littell’s “The ‘Nietzschean’ and the Individualist in Jack London’s Socialist Writings,” Amerikastudien, 22:2 (1977), pp. 309-323, are two of the limited number of studies to discuss the Nietzschean content of The Sea-Wolf in detail. 2In an effort to clarify the Nietzschean content of The Sea-Wolf, London wrote, in part: I want to make a tale so plain that he who runs may read, and then there is the underlying psychological motif. Quoted in Charmian London, The Book of Jack London (New York: Century, 1921), II, p. 57. (In this same note, London comments on the novel’s sociological motif and 262 Western American Literature (1) examine Larsen’s philosophical outlook and its similarity to Nietz­ sche’s Revaluation of Values; (2) compare Larsen’s psychological turmoil with Nietzsche’s “the long sickness,” a psychological malaise which the German scholar predicted and personally experienced as a direct conse­ quence of his Revaluation; and (3) examine the causal link between Larsen’s psychological turmoil and his mysterious physical collapse, com­ paring that collapse with Nictzsche’s own well-documented decline. The Revaluation of Values For this discussion, the most significant aspect of Wolf Larsen’s philosophy is the way it follows, point by point, Nietzsche’s Revaluation of Values. For example, the cornerstone of the Revaluation is Nietzsche’s violent repudiation of altruism.3 The German scholar insisted that human pity and compassion — values traditionally held in high regard — are actually immoral; he described them as “decadent values,” sins against oneself, “lies born of evil instinct.” “[D]o not spare your neighbor!”, he wrote, “Man is finished when he becomes altruistic.”4 In The Sea-Wolf, this “revaluation” of altruism is the principal theme of the novel’s opening section. “Then you don’t believe in altru­ ism?” narrator Humphrey Van Weyden asks Wolf Larsen.5 Larsen’s reply, “I do wrong always when I consider the interests of others,” echoes Nietzsche’s sentiment exactly. Altruism? Larsen scoffs, “I wouldn’t stand for that,” its relationship to Nietzsche’s thought—an issue this study will not discuss.) Charles Watson’s “Sexual Conflict in The Sea-Wolf: Further Notes on London’s Reading of Kipling and Norris,” Western American Literature, 11:3 (Nov., 1976), pp. 239-248; and Robert Forrey’s “Male and Female in London’s The Sea-Wolf,” Literature and Psychology, 24:4 (1974), pp. 135-143, are psychological studies of The Sea-Wolf, but their approach to the novel and its author is Freudian; neither mentions the book’s Nietzschean content. 3See Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 102-115, 361-371. 4Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. Anthony Ludovici (New York: Russell & Russell...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 261-278
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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