Transformation of Humphrey Van Weyden in Jack London’s The Sea Wolf

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Transformation of Humphrey Van Weyden in Jack London’s The Sea Wolf

Jack London’s The Sea Wolf is in some ways a philosophical text and a product of its time. The strain it puts on the reader between a social Darwinist and utilitarian perspective against that of a more idealistic one is great. Many times the character of Wolf Larsen is a more consistent articulator of the Darwinian position and seems to always be getting the upper hand argumentatively. However, it is due to a phenomenological outlook on the events presented within The Sea Wolf that the alternative becomes intelligible. After all, the endeavor to improve is one thing which identifies us as human. The understanding of what constitutes this improvement varies,
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Thus, since both the protagonist and the antagonist of this story read in order to educate themselves, they both demonstrate a desire toward self-betterment.

Yet the two character’s understanding of what this self-betterment is supposed to be is poles apart. Where Wolf’s view is purely materialistic and Darwinian, Hump’s position is, at least initially, entirely idealistic and metaphysical. And in the outset, each can only see the possibility of their own position, discounting the other’s. Hump confesses in his thoughts, “how could I explain my idealism to this man? How could I put into speech a something felt, a something like the strains of music heard in sleep, a something that convinced yet transcended utterance?” (35). Yet Wolf remains unshaken from beginning to end. “I believe that life is a mess …It is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all,” (35). This contrast endures throughout the entire novel, and even in the end Wolf utters his last word as “BOSH!” So, once again, Wolf and Hump hold two entirely different and very singular
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