When I was a youngling, I only read books about animals. I can admit that. I don’t think I lost out too much either. I discovered some great authors and it was those great authors that got me interested in people in the end (hats off Melvin Burgess). I didn’t think people were so interesting when I was little. Then I realsied they were animals and everything changed.
I don’t mean that in a critical way. It just is. And it’s a lot easier to forgive the horrors we’ve comitted on the planet and each other, when you accept it. Like my domesticated cat torturing half-dead birds out of boredom, we don’t know any better. If we did we wouldn’t do it.
So. Jack London. Most famous for Call of the Wild and White Fang. But these weren’t cutesy animal stories, they were brutal. The people were brutal and the canines and lupines were too. It’s only now that I’ve fully discovered Jack London’s other work. He had some pretty radical left-wing views, and while I was aware he’d written the non-fiction piece The People of the Abyss (about living among the poor and homeless of East London), it was only recently I discovered The Iron Heel.
The Iron Heel is dystopian fiction, which is rumoured to have had an influence on more famous works like Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. Whereas Orwell’s work tends to suggests a certain political reading, The Iron Heel wears its politics on it’s sleeve in flashing neon.
It’s unabashedly socialist. It’s propaganda. It’s also eerily gripping, and experimental in its execution of narrative. It is written as though a discovered manuscript from the early 20th Century (the actual book was first published in 1908), from the perspective of Avis Everhard (shock horror, a woman *cue Matt Berry gag*). But it is also riddled with the footnotes and explainations of the intellectual/historian who has discovered the manuscript three centuries on.
And so this powerful tale, feels even more tragic as we already know that, the revolt she speaks of and all the things she’s living for, will fail.
I’m only a few chapters in, so back to Jack. Reading this affirms strong similarities in the way I’ve grown to rationalise human and animal behaviour. It’s an odd feeling, but I wonder now how much Call of the Wild influenced my politics subconsciously. Particularly when reading The Iron Heel’s descriptions of the upper class snarling and snapping when backed into an ideological corner. It’s very relevant to reactions to the UK riots last summer, and the general prejudice of those living on welfare.
To gloss over any natural sense of guilt (for people living a hand-to-mouth existence), the ruling class draw their own image of a savage underclass, just waiting for a point of weakness they can sink their teeth into. During the industrial revolution, they didn’t want to compensate those who were seriously injured by the machinery. Because then the poor might ‘injure themselves on purpose’.
Sound familiar to attitudes today?
In summary. Jack London, still relevant, still radical.
Over & owt.