The Sea-Wolf Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1904

Locale: The Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea

Characters DiscussedWolf Larsen

Wolf Sea-Wolf, TheLarsen, captain of the Ghost, a ship used in hunting seals. Larsen is a fierce, satanic figure, driving his men relentlessly and beating them brutally when they disobey him. He calls himself a materialist who does not believe in morality, ethics, or religion. He is contemptuous of anyone who believes in a spiritual dimension to existence. Although he is a monster, he is also courageous and curiously intellectual. He loves debating his views of life and earns the admiration of the novel’s narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden, who learns from Larsen a code of self-reliance and honest self-scrutiny.

Humphrey Van Weyden

Humphrey Van Weyden, a writer and gentleman rescued from the sea by Larsen. At first, Van Weyden is revolted at Larsen’s cruelty and physical violence, and he refuses to believe that such an intelligent man could really believe completely in the doctrine of “might makes right,” no matter what the circumstances. Van Weyden confesses that he is soft and unused to physical labor and that he was called a sissy at school. He gradually comes to admire Larsen’s independence and lack of sentimentality. He cannot accept Larsen’s philosophy, but he is grateful for the opportunity to test himself against the elements and to discover reserves of energy and pluck that he did not realize he possessed.

Thomas Mugridge

Thomas Mugridge, the ship’s cook, who is assigned the task of teaching Van Weyden his tasks. Mugridge, a Cockney, despises Van Weyden for his gentlemanly ways and for the privileges that Mugridge has never enjoyed. He bullies Van Weyden and even threatens to kill him, but Van Weyden rebels and eventually masters Mugridge.

Johnson

Johnson, one of two hunters aboard ship who mutiny against Larsen. Johnson is a courageous rebel who fights Larsen, even though Johnson knows he cannot best the stronger man. Losing his battle against the captain, Johnson and his accomplice, Leach, escape the ship. Larsen catches up with the men and then toys with them, allowing them to drown in their small boats.

Leach

Leach, John’s fellow mutineer, whose implacable hatred of Larsen causes him to risk everything to subdue the captain. He escapes from the ship when the mutiny fails.

Maud Brewster

Maud Brewster, a writer who also is rescued at sea by Larsen. Like Van Weyden, she despises Larsen’s vicious amorality, but also like Van Weyden, she is mesmerized by his titanic will and strength. She is shocked by the inhumanity aboard ship. Although she is frail in health, she confederates with Van Weyden in plotting an escape. The couple succeed and are washed ashore on an island they call Endeavor. Through their struggles, Brewster supplies the inspiration and the grit that sustains Van Weyden. Their respite is short lived: The Ghost also washes up on shore. Although its crew is gone, Larsen remains as the couple’s nemesis. They discover that Larsen is dying, possibly suffering from a brain tumor that has blinded him and is slowly numbing other parts of his body. The couple, now in love, fight desperately to oppose Larsen’s efforts to thwart their escape in a rerigged Ghost. Contrary as ever, Larsen tries to burn the ship, but the couple prevails. Largely at Brewster’s instigation, they nurse Larsen until he dies, evincing an admiration of his indomitability even as they reject his antihumanist philosophy.

BibliographyLabor, Earle. Jack London. Boston: Twayne, 1974. Praises London’s convincing portrayal of Wolf Larsen and of Humphrey’s transformation from a weak, rich socialite to a dynamic he-man.London, Jack. Novels and Stories. Notes and chronology by Donald Pizer. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1982. Uses text from the first editions. Includes notes on the texts, historical and geographical notes, maps, and notes on the stories.Lundquist, James. Jack London: Adventures, Ideas, and Fiction. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1987. Suggests that the quality of London’s stories arises from the risks he took and from his colorful personal experience. Traces London’s intellectual leanings.Pattee, Fred Lewis. The New American Literature, 1890-1930. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1968. Chapter 9 discusses the influence that London’s life had on his writing.Sinclair, Andrew. Jack: A Biography of Jack London. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. Discusses the biographical detail in The Sea-Wolf. Describes London’s marriages and affairs.
Categories: Characters