“Some Cosmic Secret”: The Speculative Fiction of Jack London

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Seals, Jason
ecocriticism; gilded age; Jack London; science fiction; speculative fiction; English Language and Literature
thesis / dissertation description
Throughout his career, Jack London composed many significant and influential works of literature, but his contributions to the speculative fiction genre have rarely been addressed in any sort of comprehensive critical manner. London employed his strengths as a socialist and naturalist, as well as his attitudes on the cultural issues of his time, to craft speculative fiction that was often rich with allegorical, dystopian situations in which mankind is required to consider the repercussions, both physical and psychological, of its choices and beliefs.The first chapter will supply the necessary historical and biographical context behind London’s speculative fiction and offer an overview of his inspirations, which include the technological and scientific advancements of his time, the social and class difficulties brought on by the Gilded Age, and the work of writers like Joseph Conrad and Edward Bellamy. Chapters Two and Three will thoroughly analyze London’s SF tales, separately focusing on works that address London’s treatment of religion and the science of the Gilded Age and his views on race, imperialism, and socialism. Chapter Four will consist of an ecocritical analysis of London’s speculative fiction, and the dissertation’s conclusion will focus on the modern SF writers who were influenced by London’s work, as well as the legacy that it left.The aim of this dissertation is to illuminate the way London’s speculative fiction nudged the SF genre into new literary terrain, a world that addressed fantastical themes and situations but did so in a more naturalistic, consequential manner—a world in which there was typically more at stake than there ever had been before.