The Sea Wolf Study Guide

The Sea Wolf By Jack London

The Sea Wolf is about a soft, weak-willed intellectual named Humphrey van Weyden who was forced to become a hard-bodied, hard-hearted man through his exposure to cruelty and brutality at the hands of other men. Humphrey was on a ferry traveling San Francisco when it crashed and sank. He was set adrift until picked up by Wolf Larsen, the intelligent and intellectual yet highly cynical and sociopathic captain of The Ghost, a seal-hunting schooner.

Larsen ruled over his ship with his complete lack of concern for human needs along with his titanic physical strength and endurance, terrorizing his crew members (who were often actively stolen from other ships Wolf came across.) Van Weyden describes Larsen as an individualist, a hedonist, and a materialist -- a combination of philosophies that essentially render Larsen incapable of valuing human life outside of it's immediate physical use to him. Nonetheless, Larsen appreciated Humphrey for his intellect, and enslaved him as a cabin boy, to do menial work and learn to protect himself from a crew almost as brutal and uncaring as it's leader.

Some time later, the crew attempts to mutiny against Wolf, who is simply so physically superior to them that he literally beats down the mutineers. Afterwards, he promotes Humphrey to the place of first mate, for the original mate had been murdered in the mutiny. Humphrey watches from the second-in-command post as Larsen tortures his crew, insisting that he will murder the lead mutineers (Leach and Johnson) as soon as he can find crew members to replace them.

Following this, another group of castaways finds themselves aboard The Ghost, including a poetess named Maud Brewster whom Humphrey knew previously. He and Wolf both immediately decide that they are attracted to her. As Humphrey strives to protect her from Wolf and the crew, Wolf's brother Death Larsen (yes, his first name is Death) appears.

Death Larsen hates his brother, as his brother had previously kidnapped and enslaved the crew of one of Death's ships. The two fight, and Death leaves. Wolf begins to have intense headaches that leave him nearly incapacitated. During one of them, Humphrey and Maud escape on a lifeboat.

The two land on a small island populated with plenty of seals. Using the strength and capacity he gained on The Ghost, Humphrey hunts seals, builds a shelter and fire, and the two survive for several days, until The Ghost, having been gutted by Death and with only Wolf aboard, shipwrecks on the same island. Wolf attempts to kill Humphrey, but the headaches have turned into strokes, and Wolf eventually dies. Humphrey repairs The Ghost and takes Maud home.

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