Body Tramping, Class, and Masculine Extremes: Jack London’s The People of the Abyss

  • William Dow
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


Rendering their physical environments foremost in terms of sensory impressions, Davis and Crane tried to come to terms with the social transformations that brought different class worlds (e.g., middle- and upper-class, middle- and lower-class) together. Accordingly, Life and Maggie handle class anxieties at a more properly aesthetic level, though with unsettling literary approaches to the nature of class difference and mobility. Like many other nineteenth-century writers, Davis and Crane increasingly saw the urban environments of America as a focus of the widening class rift between the poor and rich. Both writers created the identity of a middle-class reader in direct contrast to the commonly believed barbarism, perversion, and chaos embodied in the slum, working-class, and lower-class worlds.1 At the same time, wishing to bring into view what is hidden from the general view, what is unofficial, subversive, and even scandalous for their perceived readership, Davis and Crane generated stunningly new instances of cross-class perspectives.


Urban Poor Direct Address Sensory Impression Human Document Documentary Form 
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  1. 1.
    On the conditions of nineteenth-century American cities and the urban poor, see Giorgio Mariani, Spectacular Narratives: Representations of Class and War in Stephen Crane and the American 1890s ( New York: Peter Lang, 1992 ), 7–67;Google Scholar
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    There is an astonishing consistency in the intimate entanglement of masculinity, emotion, and nationhood in the history of American culture, of which Abyss is an important representation. For studies of the relations and homologies between conceptions of race, sexuality, and nationality, see Boys Don’t Cry? Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S., ed. Milette Shamir and Jennifer Travis (New York: Columbia UP, 2002); George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York: Oxford UP, 1996); Sentimental Men: Masculinity and the Politics of Affect in American Culture, ed. Mary Chapman and Glenn Hendler ( Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1999 );Google Scholar
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    See Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986) for their ideological distinctions between the bourgeois and proletarian body and their views on the pervasiveness of the mind/body split and its political importance to the bourgeois culture.Google Scholar
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    See Carolyn Johnston, Jack London: An American Radical? ( Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984 ).Google Scholar

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© William Dow 2009

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  • William Dow

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