The Sea-Wolf

by

Jack London

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Seals Symbol Analysis

Seals Symbol Icon

The Sea-Wolf contains numerous allusions to “survival of the fittest,” a phrase Charles Darwin coined to describe how the organisms that are most likely to survive and reproduce are those that are best adjusted to their natural environment.  In The Sea-Wolf, seals—which Wolf Larsen and his crew hunt for their valuable pelts—are at the bottom of the evolutionary hierarchy. On the one hand, the seals represent the consequences of weakness—how a lack of strength (fitness) and cunning makes for an easy target. On the other hand, however, the seals are innocent victims that help demonstrate the cruelty of modern society. The narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden notes that the seals are turned into clothing for wealthy women who never have to witness the cruelty and violence involved in the processing of seal pelts. In this way, the seals reveal the hidden violence and cruelty inherent in many aspects of (outwardly) refined, wealthy society. The seals also represent a turning point in the character arcs of Van Weyden and Maud Brewster—when Van Weyden and Brewster find themselves stranded on an uninhabited island, they must club seals for survival. That Van Weyden and Brewster can bring themselves to kill the seals represents a new level of self-sufficiency for Van Weyden and Brewster—both characters come from affluent backgrounds that did not require much grueling, physical labor. In addition, Van Weyden and Brewster’s willingness to murder the seals shows how survival often requires cruelty. In this way, London shows how the cruelty of modern society mirrors the cruelty inherent in nature. 

Seals Quotes in The Sea-Wolf

The The Sea-Wolf quotes below all refer to the symbol of Seals. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1 Quotes

But life and death were in that glance. I could see the vessel being swallowed up in the fog; I saw the back of the man at the wheel, and the head of the other man turning, slowly turning, as his gaze struck the water and casually lifted along it toward me. His face wore an absent expression, as of deep thought, and I became afraid that if his eyes did light upon me he would nevertheless not see me. But his eyes did light upon me, and looked squarely into mine; and he did see me, for he sprang to the wheel, thrusting the other man aside, and whirled it round and round, hand over hand, at the same time shouting orders of some sort. The vessel seemed to go off at a tangent to its former course and leapt almost instantly from view into the fog.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

I have made the acquaintance of another one of the crew,—Louis he is called, a rotund and jovial-faced Nova Scotia Irishman, and a very sociable fellow, prone to talk as long as he can find a listener. In the afternoon, while the cook was below asleep and I was peeling the everlasting potatoes, Louis dropped into the galley for a “yarn.” His excuse for being aboard was that he was drunk when he signed. He assured me again and again that it was the last thing in the world he would dream of doing in a sober moment. It seems that he has been seal-hunting regularly each season for a dozen years, and is accounted one of the two or three very best boat-steerers in both fleets.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Louis, Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

“We must club the seals,” I announced, when convinced of my poor marksmanship. “I have heard the sealers talk about clubbing them.”

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Maud Brewster
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Sea-Wolf LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sea-Wolf PDF

Seals Symbol Timeline in The Sea-Wolf

The timeline below shows where the symbol Seals appears in The Sea-Wolf. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
...him he's on a vessel called the Ghost, which is headed toward Japan to go seal-hunting. The narrator then asks to see the captain. (full context)
Chapter 3
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
...There are the sailors (who are mainly English and Scandinavian) and then there are the seal hunters (who come from a wider range of backgrounds). Afterward, Wolf Larsen orders the whole... (full context)
Chapter 4
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
...he’s gone from his intellectual background to his current situation as cabin boy on a seal-hunting schooner. He considers how his mother and sisters will presume him dead. He tries to... (full context)
Chapter 16
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
The Ghost arrives at the seal-hunting grounds, where it’ll remain for three or four months. Leach tells Van Weyden that if... (full context)
Chapter 17
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
...happens on the Ghost at first. He is also shocked to witness the slaughter of seals, all so that wealthy women can wear the skin. (full context)
Chapter 23
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Seal hunting on the Ghost continues to be perilous. Meanwhile, Van Weyden thinks of sea romances... (full context)
Chapter 24
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
The Macedonia has more boats than the Ghost, allowing it to hunt far more seals than the Ghost—and leaving very few seals behind for Wolf Larsen and his crew to... (full context)
Chapter 30
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
...Brewster spend two weeks on Endeavour Island trying to build a hut. If they want seal skin for the roof of the hut, Van Weyden will have to club seals, since... (full context)
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Maud doesn’t want to continue clubbing the seals, but Van Weyden continues, this time going for a smaller female seal. But again, the... (full context)
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Van Weyden and Maud Brewster herd some younger male seals without mates away from their companions and begin clubbing them. Maud even joins in, leaving... (full context)
Chapter 31
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
Van Weyden and Maud Brewster complete their seal-skin roof. They build a second hut right next to the first. Van Weyden feels that... (full context)
Chapter 36
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
As Van Weyden returns to his senses, he realizes that Maud Brewster was holding a seal club, ready to attack Wolf Larsen. Van Weyden explains that Wolf had another attack like... (full context)