Places: The Sea-Wolf

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1904

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*San Francisco Bay

*San Sea-Wolf, TheFrancisco Bay. California’s great natural harbor, in which the novel opens with the protagonist, Humphrey Van Weyden, crossing the bay on a ferryboat. In the midst of a dense fog, the ferry collides with another ship, and Van Weyden is washed out to sea by strong currents, leaving behind the soft and comfortable life that civilized San Francisco represents. Near the Farallon Islands, about thirty miles west of the coast, he is rescued by the schooner Ghost.


Ghost. Seal-hunting schooner bound for Japan on which most of the novel takes place after Van Weyden is forced into joining the ship’s crew. Much of the novel consists of philosophical conversations between Van Weyden and the ship’s self-educated and brutal captain, Wolf Larsen, as the Ghost makes its way through the Pacific. Eventually, each man earns the other’s respect, and having to cope with the conditions aboard the ship makes Van Weyden strong enough to master what he initially regards as an impossibly brutal environment in which might makes right.

*Pacific Ocean

*Pacific Ocean. To take advantage of wind currents, the Ghost sails southwest across the Pacific before turning northwest toward Japan, following a route resembling the letter V. Although the story takes place aboard the ship, the ocean itself is the harsh world that surrounds the tiny, savage society dominated by Larsen. A turning point occurs immediately after the Ghost reaches the southernmost point of its voyage, when two crew members throw Larsen and his first mate overboard, only to see Larsen climb back on board. On a whim, Larsen promotes Van Weyden from cabin boy to mate. The southern apex of the journey’s V is thus the point at which the originally soft Van Weyden begins to realize his own power and potential. It is also the point where Larsen’s power begins to be challenged by the crew and by Van Weyden himself.


*Yokohama (yoh-koh-HAH-mah). Major port city on the eastern coast of Japan that marks another twist in the plot. When the Ghost is five hundred miles southeast of Yokohama, two crew members take a boat, hoping to reach Yokohama. Larsen changes course to pursue them. On this new course, the Ghost rescues five survivors of a ship that has sunk in a storm. One of these people is Maude Brewster, a poet whose work Van Weyden knows well. Brewster’s coming aboard the Ghost complicates the relationship between Larsen and Van Weyden, as the two men become rivals for her attention after Larsen insists on sailing north, rather than continuing to Yokohama to put Brewster ashore.


*Siberia. Desolate region of eastern Russia, north of Japan. As the Ghost passes the Siberian coast, Larsen’s control of events slips out of his hands when he encounters the steam-powered Macedonia, a seal-hunting ship under the command of his brother and enemy, Death Larsen. His brother’s ship beats the Ghost to the best seal areas and takes members from its crew. Meanwhile, Van Weyden and Brewster manage to steal a boat and provisions, and set sail to the southwest, hoping to reach Japan.

Endeavor Island

Endeavor Island. Desolate northern Pacific island on which Van Weyden and Brewster are marooned after being swept north on the boat on which they escape from the Ghost. The island is inhabited by seals, which leads Van Weyden to hope that human beings are near, but it soon becomes apparent that he and Brewster are alone. Drawing on his new-found skills and strengths, Van Weyden conquers this harsh new environment, from which he and Brewster are fortuitously rescued when the almost derelict Ghost appears after Larsen has lost the rest of his crew.

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: Places