ACTUALITY AND IDEALS:
During his apprenticeship, Jack London was not only seeking an adequate form and style for his short stories, but also defining his literary attitudes in relation to the continuing debate between realism and romance. Although he thought of himself as a realist, he was actually struggling to uncover a literary theory that would transcend deficiencies he perceived in both the realist and romantic traditions by uniting the best qualities of each. Since, for him, "the thought is the thing," he needed a literary perspective consistent with his "working philosophy of life," his third prerequisite for "success as a writer" in addition to a knowledge of life and of commercial literature.96 Somehow that perspective would have to account for the dark truths about nature and man's position in it thrust upon him by his fascination with evolutionary thought. And, simultaneously, that perspective would have to be consistent with a deeply felt intuition that man is noble and that humanly sustaining ideals can be validated.
As we have seen, Jack London began writing when the most influential short story theorists and commentators had fallen under the spell of realistic technique; Brander Matthews, for example, was a disciple and ardent defender of William Dean Howells. London learned from the realists "how to forbear the excesses of analysis, to withhold weakly recurring descriptive and caressing epithets, to let the characters suffice for them