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London, Jack. "The Law of Life".

Summary

Old Koskoosh, the father of the chief of the tribe, watches the camp being broken. His tribe moves, but he will be left behind. His son is kind and leaves a pile of wood for him before leaving. Koskoosh remembers sons who did not do even this for their fathers. The measure of Koskoosh's life is the pile of wood. He does not complain, it is the law of all flesh.

Koskoosh reminisces: his leaving his own father behind, the time of the Great Famine, the times of plenty, etc. Also he recalls the moose whose trail he followed as a child and found the site where the old animal was attacked by wolves and killed. It died first after a fight, it still clung on its life as he himself does.

A beautiful maid is married, toils, bears children, and when she old and weak, she is left. So as Koskoosh is now, sitting in the snow with a small pile of wood. Such is the law. Koskoosh is sorry that his granddaughter has not gathered a larger pile of wood for him. But she is young and does nor honour her ancestors.

The fire expires. Koskoosh listens whether his son is not returning to take him back. Wolves are approaching him in a circle. He takes a burning faggot of the fire and tries to draw the beasts away. Then he resigns. He sees the old moose before his eyes. "What did it matter after all? Was it not the law of life?"

 

Analysis

- naturalistic ideas: the futile plight of man against nature

- the Darwinian survival of the fittest

- suggests that "the law of life" is the same for human beings as for beasts

- suggests that what seems as inhumane treatment is only naturally given behaviour

- old Koskoosh, though losing his life, may be seen as a winner in that he accepts the law

Basics

  • Author

    London, Jack. (1876 - 1916).
  • Full Title

    "The Law of Life".
  • First Published

    In: The McClure's Magazine. 1901.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

London, Jack. "The Law of Life". (1901). In: The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. NY: Norton, 1989.

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