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Jack London's Koreans as "People of the Abyss"

Daniel A. Métraux


Jack London (1876–1916) was America’s leading novelist and short story writer at the dawn of the twentieth century. He was also a brilliant essayist and feature-writing journalist and a crusading socialist, an impassioned and articulate spokesman for the underclasses. In his essays and in much of his fiction, London was determined to demonstrate the squalid living conditions of the working class. His most poignant work is his 1903 book The People of the Abyss, which brilliantly portrays the economic and social misery of the poor living in London’s great East End slum. London’s thesis is not a condemnation of the wealthy capitalist class per se; instead, he points out the irony that tens of thousands of British subjects were still living and working in conditions of abject degradation in what was supposedly the wealthiest city in the world. London maintained this theme when he traveled to Japan and Korea during the winter and spring of 1904 to report on the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst newspaper chain. His twenty-two feature articles and accompanying photographs portray the squalor and degradation of the Korean people. As was the case the previous year in Great Britain, London’s goal was not to condemn Korea’s ruling class but to showcase the misery of Korea’s mammoth lower classes.

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.