The Sea-Wolf

by

Jack London

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The Sea-Wolf: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Van Weyden must move to a new cabin because the new mate Johansen talks in his sleep and Wolf Larsen can’t deal with it. Van Weyden finds that his old clothes are now dry, and he changes back into them—but he finds that money is missing from his purse. When he confronts Mugridge about the missing money, Mugridge threatens to hit him,  so Van Weyden runs away.
The fact that Van Weyden moves to a new cabin just because Wolf Larsen can’t stand Johansen talking in his sleep shows once again how life on the Ghost is determined by Larsen’s whims. The theft of Van Weyden’s money by Larsen shows that some sailors have no problem stabbing each other in the back.
Themes
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Later that day, Van Weyden is discarding ashes from a stove. He accidentally throws the ashes over the windward side, getting ashes on himself, Wolf Larsen, and a hunter. Van Weyden fears the worst, but Wolf Larsen brushes off Van Weyden’s mistake.
Although the novel has portrayed Wolf Larsen as powerful and cruel up to this point, this passage shows that violent and unpredictable mood swings are another central aspect of Wolf’s character.
Themes
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Later, Van Weyden is surprised to discover, while making Wolf Larsen’s bed, that the captain’s bookshelf contains books by authors like William Shakespeare, Alfred Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Darwin. He supposes that Wolf Larsen is not as ignorant as he initially appeared. This discovery motivates Van Weyden to go to Wolf Larsen and tell him that someone has stolen his money.
This passage continues with the idea that there is more to Wolf Larsen’s character than meets the eye. Out of the writers on Wolf Larsen’s bookshelf, perhaps the most significant is Charles Darwin—Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest” fascinates Larsen, as evidenced by the cruel, backbreaking way he commands his crew. Finally, it's worth noting that Van Weyden only feels comfortable confiding in Larsen after he sees that Larsen is well-read. This shows how largely class factors into Van Weyden’s worldview—Larsen’s intellectual interests make him an equal and confidant in Van Weyden’s mind. 
Themes
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Wolf Larsen listens to Van Weyden’s tale about Mugridge robbing him, but he refuses to intervene, saying the money is a fair price for Van Weyden’s life. Wolf Larsen says Van Weyden needs to learn how to hang on to money for himself. Robbery brings up the topic of morality, and the two men talk about whether they believe in souls. Wolf Larsen does not believe in eternal life, but Van Weyden does.
Though Wolf Larsen and Van Weyden have read many of the same authors, they interpret the authors’ messages very differently. This scene shows how literally Larsen interprets Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest.” Larsen’s literal reading of Darwin informs his refusal to help Van Weyden retrieve the stolen money. Larsen seems to believe that Mugridge’s ability to steal from Van Weyden is proof that Mugridge is “fitter” than Van Weyden—and that for Larsen to help Van Weyden retrieve the money would mean interfering in the natural order of things.
Themes
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Quotes
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Wolf Larsen believes life is chaotic and that hunger and selfishness motivate much of human behavior. He concludes the conversation by asking how much money Mugridge stole. Soon after, Van Weyden hears him cursing men elsewhere on the ship.
Wolf Larsen’s belief that life is chaotic plays out in his behavior, which is itself chaotic and hard to understand. Just minutes after dismissing Mugridge’s robbery, Larsen asks Van Weyden how much money Mugridge stole—should Van Weyden take this to mean that Larsen now cares about the robbery? Or is it wrong to attach rhyme or reason to Larsen’s  behavior?
Themes
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon