The Sea-Wolf


Jack London

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Themes and Colors
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sea-Wolf, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Self-Reliance and Maturation

Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf is the story of a rich intellectual named Humphrey Van Weyden who, over the course of a long stay on a seal-hunting vessel called the Ghost, learns how to do the hard manual labor that working on a ship requires. Though many of the new skills Van Weyden learns are physical, perhaps even more significant is the mental change that occurs in him as he learns how to better survive…

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Materialism vs. Idealism

At the heart of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf is a conflict between the materialism of the fearsome captain Wolf Larsen and the idealism of his captives, the literary critic Humphrey Van Weyden and the poet Maud Brewster. In the book, materialism refers not to the selfish pursuit of material wealth, but to a philosopher theory that the material world is all that exists. As a materialist thinker, Wolf Larsen is essentially an atheist who…

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Survival of the Fittest

In Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, the fierce seal-hunting captain Wolf Larsen is surprisingly well read for such a tough sailor, and one of the authors on his shelf is Charles Darwin. In the late 19th century to early 20th century (around when Jack London wrote The Sea-Wolf), there was a movement called Social Darwinism, which sought to apply Charles Darwin’s biological theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest to the…

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Love, Duty, and Choice

Though primarily an adventure novel, Jack London inserts a romantic subplot into The Sea-Wolf when the crew of the Ghost rescues Maud Brewster, a poet who becomes the love interest of the narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden. Though the love story may seem like a departure from the sea adventures of the first part of the book, it serves as a logical continuation of Van Weyden’s character arc, illustrating how he has changed from…

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