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J O N A . Y O D E R Westminster College Jack London as Wolf Barleycorn Dear Sinclair: I like the “Jack London” chapter very much, but its onslaughts upon alcohol make it impossible for us. We are com­ mitted to the revival of the saloon, exactly as it was. America misses it, and is much the worse for the lack of it. London, sober, would have written nothing worth reading. Alcohol made him. . . . Yours, Mencken/ There is another sense in which the fact of homosexual passion contradicts a national myth of masculine love. . . . The existence of overt homosexuality threatens to compro­ mise an essential aspect of American sentimental life: the cama­ raderie of the locker room and ball park, the good fellowship of the poker game and fishing trip, a kind of passionless passion, at once gross and delicate, homoerotic in the boy’s sense, possess­ ing an innocence above suspicion.2 While the autobiographical aspects of Jack London’s John Barley­ corn are obvious and well known, his preference for the name “Wolf” has received little notice. Contending that London is properly identified as Wolf Barleycorn, and illuminating that contention by the use of Upton Sinclair as a foil, one can conclude that whether or not London’s death resulted from a particular overdose of poison, he had been destroy­ ing himself, both physically and psychologically, from the time he 1U pton Sinclair, M y Lifetime in Letters (Colum bia: University of Missouri, 1960), p. 239. 2Leslie Fiedler, “Come Back to the R aft Ag’in, Huck Honey!,” An End To Innocence (Boston: Beacon, 1955), p. 143. 104 Western American Literature accepted an impossible concept of manly success as his legitimate inheritance." With so much in common, Jack London and Upton Sinclair should have been the closest of comrades. Both perceived their own childhoods as experiences in impoverishment within the land of plenty; both made a youthful conversion to the gospel of socialism; both felt that effective propaganda was the highest goal of a writer. And both men believed that both men were successfully achieving that goal. Sinclair gladly conceded that if The Jungle “went all over the world, it was Jack London’s push that started it.”4 London, already very popular, had championed Sinclair’s first significant novel as, potentially, “the Uncle Tom ’s Cabin of wage slavery.”5 And in M ammonart, his version of literary criticism, Sinclair returned a compliment, referring to London as “the true king of our story tellers, the brightest star that flashed upon our skies.”6 Because Sinclair felt cheated by a college “education” that excluded socialism, he helped found the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in 1905. He then led the defense of the inflammatory calls to revolution made by its first president, Jack London.7 And years later, when German students wished to demonstrate their views toward socialist education, they burned the books of both London and Sinclair in Berlin.8 3For persuasive contention th at John Barleycorn is not completely accurate autobiography because of exaggerations, inconsistencies, and impossible chronologies, see Sam Baskett, “Jack London on the O akland W aterfront,” American Literature, 27 (November 1955), pp. 363-371. W ith regard to London’s death, see Alfred S. Shivers, “Jack London: N ot a Suicide,” Dalhousie Review, 49 (Spring 1969), pp. 43-57. Earle Labor believes Shivers; see Jack London (New Y ork: Twayne, 1974), p. 161. Richard O ’C onnor believes London did kill himself; see Jack London (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964), p. 395. Joan London is not certain; see Jack London and His Times (Seattle and London: University of W ashington, 1939), p. 375. London destroyed himself; only the proposition th at he intentionally gave himself a lethal dose of poison on a specific date is debatable. And that hardly matters. 4U pton Sinclair, M amm onart (Pasadena: T he A uthor, 1925), p. 372. 5Jack London, “T he Jungle,” in Jack London: American Rebel, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Citadel, 1947), p. 254. cU pton Sinclair, Mammonart, p. 363. 7See Jack London: American Rebel, pp. 70-76; U pton Sinclair, American O ut­ post (Pasadena: The Author, 1932), pp. 160-161; Toan London, Jack London...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 103-119
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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