The Sea-Wolf


Jack London

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The Sea-Wolf: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Later, Wolf Larsen catches Leach and Johnson in their small escape boat. Van Weyden learns that the four men and Maud Brewster were on a mail steamer heading from San Francisco to Yokohama before it wrecked in the typhoon. Van Weyden tries to convince Wolf Larsen to be merciful to Leach and Johnson. Wolf Larsen promises not to lay a hand on Leach or Johnson. Instead, he leaves them in their small boat and speeds away. They are lost in a squall and presumably die.
Larsen’s literal interpretation of Weyden’s request not to touch Leach or Johnson and leads to them (probably) dying at sea—the exact opposite of what Van Weyden intended. This discrepancy shows that while Van Weyden might be more accustomed to violence, he’s nowhere near as cruel as Larsen. Larsen’s decision to abandon Leach and Johnson gives them the opportunity to survive if they’re fit enough, but arguably they were never given a chance to survive in the first place. This contradiction illustrates the limitations of Larsen’s literalist interpretation of Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest."
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon