THE DECLINE: 1906-1911
Martin Eden, London's autobiographical hero, sailing for the South Seas aboard the Mariposa, broods over the failure of his individualistic philosophy to furnish him with values that would be at once optimistic and true and decides to commit suicide. Martin Eden was published in 1909, and Eden's suicide almost marks the death of Jack London's best short fiction. During the next two years, 1910 and 1911, London squandered his creative energies in penning Smoke Bellew ( New York, 1912) and a Son of the Sun ( New York, 1912), the first, a series of connected stories about the Klondike and the second, a series of related stories about the adventures of David Grief in the South Seas. These, even London admitted, were pot-boilers, and they signaled the end of his story-writing for five years.
Although from 1906 to 1911, London wrote a few Alaskan stories such as "Love of Life," "To Build a Fire," and "Lost Face," new emphases appear in his subject matter, themes and techniques that reveal a growing loss of literary vitality even though a few excellent stories were composed. These new emphases are found in three general categories of stories: socialist stories, which attempt to reaffirm positive values; South Seas tales, which continue the grotesque misery of the later Alaskan stories; and many pot-boilers, including some socialist and South Seas stories, which show London's retreat into the inconsequential.
To understand the emergence of London's socialistic fiction, the pessimism of his South Seas stories and his retreat into