Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

London's the Mutiny of the Elsinore: A Tragic Allegory of the Whole Proletarian Destiny

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

London's the Mutiny of the Elsinore: A Tragic Allegory of the Whole Proletarian Destiny

Article excerpt

Although almost critical consensus claims that The Mutiny of the Elsinore is London's worst novel, it can be argued that it really is a novel of exceptional force, thematically, symbolically and structurally. This paper, however, seeks to show that London's art as a novelist in the novel is to mystify the reader, and in choosing a particular narrator, he entirely conceals his own voice. London does not leave us in any obscurity; everything is visible and palpable and all is narrated with a completely concrete externalization. He adroitly transfers the tragic struggle of the individual to the struggle of the whole class without resorting to any kind of symbolic ending or verbal wish fulfillment. The Mutiny of the Elsinore is thus a modern tragedy, a social protest novel in which London evidently intends to stir our consciences, to make us aware of the real facts of life. It is indeed a masked satire on the whole established socio-political system.

In his letter of January 3 0,1913 to William Ellsworth of the Century Company, London wrote that The Mutiny of the Elsinore "will be quite different from any other novel I ever wrote, and it will be quite different from any other sea-novel ever written by anybody else" (Hendricks and Shepard, 1966, pp. 369, 370). This urges us to see The Mutiny as anew experiment in London's career. Commenting on The Mutiny in California Writers (1983), Stoddard Martin notes that "wrongly condemned as his worst novel, The Mutiny is certainly London's most ironic, and Pathurst and Margaret his one really odious couple " (Martin, 1983, p. 36). The Mutiny is aproletarian novel, a conscientious exposure of certain facts in capitalist society. Its temper is revolutionary throughout, and contains many echoes of the motifs dominating the proletarian novel. The literary realism, which London achieves in this solidly realized novel of contemporary life in capitalist society, indicates that his writing is radical rather than reformist.

The Mutiny of the Elsinore, in the first instance, tells how a world-weary, wealthy playwright, John Pathurst, undertakes a voyage aboard a steel-built clipper captained by Nathaniel West to sail round Cape Horn. During his initiation and coming to manhood under the inspiration of hardships and the Captain's daughter, and with another Wolf Larsen as the first mate, he exposes the nightmare of the social pit which Jack London once saw in the slums of London, and in the j ail in Buffalo. The Captain die s off the Horn, the mates kill each other, and the crew mutiny. It was initially serialized by the Hearst Press under the title The Sea Gangsters and later published by MacMillan as The Mutiny of the Elsinore.

Unlike The Sea Wolf however, The Mutiny, though it consciously illuminates the sufferings of the sailors and implicitly affirms sympathy with them, superficially appears to be full of hatred and contempt for the people of lower strata. In fact, it is a determined but indirect attack upon capitalism and its social organization. It is, moreover, a tragic allegory of the whole proletarian destiny. It is a social protest novel in which London clearly intends to stir our consciences, to make us aware of the real facts of life. It vividly depicts the sufferings of the sailors, the class struggle, the mutiny, the brutal retaliation perpetrated by the ruling class, represented by Pathurst and Margaret West, and the final imprisonment of the mutineers.

Admitting D H Lawrence's precaution that a reader must trust the tale, not the teller (Lawrence, 1933, p. 9), I would claim that although the narrator in the novel is not sympathetic to the actions ofthe sailors, the narrative itselfis and by implication, therefore, The Mutiny's central theme is the tragic drama of "the people of the abyss," social injustice and the conflict of the social classes, the victimization of the poor by social forces in capitalist society. The structural and imaginative significance of the startling analogs inclines us to trust the tale rather than the narrator, and entitles us to postulate the central theme of the novel. …

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