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Siwash by Jack London

Updated on August 3, 2014

A Love Story

The famous, American author, Jack London is best known for his novels White Fang and Call of the Wild but he also wrote a lot of short stories for magazines that were just as excellent. One of these stories was Siwash, an extremely touching tale about a north American Indian wife and her indifferent, white husband. In my opinion it is, perhaps, the best love story ever written by the legendary author, Jack London.

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The Plot of Siwash by Jack London

Molly, a young, American woman possessed with a mighty, and mightily overbearing, can-do attitude is making the lives of two Yukon men, Dick and Tommy, miserable by sharing their tent with them. She insults them and boldly calls into question their manhood because they refuse to charge out into the death-dealing cold weather with her. Unable to shame them into going with her, she foolishly proclaims that she will go alone and off she goes.

At this point Tommy calmly relates the story of his own wife to Dick. He tells Dick of his Siwash (North American Indian) bride and beams with pride as he does. He relates the story of how they met and how he came to claim her at her own wedding ceremony when she was supposed to wed Chief George, a man she did not love.

Tilly, was her name, and Tommy loved her deeply and he would have spent the rest of his life with her had the tragedy not befallen them.

Did You Know?

After Jack London died, his wife, Charmian, began an affair with the most famous magician and escape artist of all time, Harry Houdini. She called him her 'Magic Man.'

A Review of Siwash by Jack London

Tempering the Human Spirit

Victor Hugo wrote in his introduction to his novel, Toilers of the Sea, that mankind struggles with three things, Religion, Society and Nature. Nature or the human spirit, a person's character, if you prefer, also seemed to be a predominant theme in the writings of Jack London and that is what this story, Siwash, is about.

London first expresses to us that it is better to have a strong character than a weak one, even if the manifestations of that character can, at times, seem a little excessive. "Takes a she-cat, not a cow, to mother a tiger" Dick explains to Tommy. And then the story moves on to show us what a tempered, mature spirit can be like. We hear of the Siwash woman, Tilly, and her bravery and steadfastness. A woman to walk the mountains with, the old prospectors would say. That is the kind of woman that this untempered Molly could become with just a little more life experience under her belt.

It seems to have been an almost holy belief of Jack London's that people are made better by hardship and experience. He was, himself, an adventurer and risk taker, a man who had pledged to live life like a shooting star, burning out rather than timidly lumbering through life.

The Snark

Jack London's boat, The Snark
Jack London's boat, The Snark | Source

The Experiences of Jack London

Jack London's writing is magnetic, it keeps drawing me back again and again. What is the source of this magnetism? The vividness of it, the complete authenticity. London wrote of things that he knew well, things that he had experienced and could describe back to us by using the written word. His diversity of characters and their languages is beyond compare and you can feel him remembering those real life people that had inspired the characters.

The Devil Is In The Details

It's the little things that raise Jack London's writing above the crowd, the things that can only come from experience. He writes about how the sailor, lost overboard was never seen again because he most likely had doubled up with the cold of the water and sank to the bottom like a cauldron. He writes about how huskies are bred with wolves when the breeding population gets too thin and how these animals are born to fight, a fact that he weaves into his story when Tommy starts a dog-fight so that Tilly can escape.

It's the kind of writing that I've tried to emulate when i relate the stories of the people that I have met while sailing e.g. The Seal Captain of Morro Bay, The Sea Gypsy of Southern California and Captain Pete vs the Pirate.

Works of Jack London

A Humorous Story

This story, while only short, is delightful because it creates a humorous atmosphere that any married man can relate to instantly. Trapped in a tent with a woman who cannot have her own way, the men try to calmly ride out the storm called Molly as she rants and raves, all the while the men go about the business that needs doing.

But it also speaks to man's utter inability to find ways of calming a woman down. Molly wants what Molly wants and the men can think of no way to deter, distract or educate her without just letting the hand play out.

When Steven Spielberg talked about the scene in Jurassic Park where the two velociraptors attacked the children in the kitchen he said that the setting was ideal because everyone could relate to a kitchen and it helped ground the scene in something familiar and very real to us. Similarly, this situation was familiar to all married couples and also helped to anchor us in the reality of the situation. Masterful writing by a masterful author, Jack London.

Have you read Siwash by Jack London?

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Jack London the Racist

A lot has been written about Jack London being a racist and it seems most people agree that he was yet I struggle with that conclusion. After all, London was raised by an ex-slave, Virginia Prentiss, to who he was entirely devoted and loved deeply. Could he really have considered her as inferior to himself?

Many reviewers have also cited passages from stories like the one in Siwash where Tommy tricked the Indians into thinking he had magical powers and was able to make anyone he wished vanish as he did with Tilly. I can't see that making an accurate observation about the superstitions of the Indians is racist. Actual accounts like the one described are documented and real, an anthropological observation is just that, an observation. It carries no agenda, especially when used in the context of a semi-fictional story. I say semi-fictional because London drew heavily from supposedly true stories that were told to him.

And, finally, Jack London's respect and admiration for the Siwash, in particular the women, was obvious as evidenced by the numerous stories he wrote about their great qualities. I think London was a complicated man with complex ideas but I don't believe he was what we recognize as a racist or a bigot.

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