From Jack London: Novels and Stories
|Bibb Mill No. 1 in Macon, GA, 1909. “Some boys were so small they had to climb up on the spinning frame to mend the broken threads and put back the empty bobbins.” Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.|
Seeking to escape the grueling monotony, London became an “oyster pirate,” one of a covert gang of nighttime thieves who stole from privately owned oyster beds and sold their booty in the Bay Area fish markets—receiving up to $25 for an evening’s catch. When his sloop became damaged and no longer seaworthy, he switched to “the other side” and was hired by the California Fish Patrol. At the age of seventeen, he signed on as a seaman for a seven-month voyage. But by the end of 1893, London was back working ten hours a day, at ten cents an hour, in a jute textile mill. In four arduous years as a teenager, his life had come full circle: “Despite my increase in strength and general efficiency, I was receiving no more than when I worked in the cannery several years before.”
At the age of eighteen, he abandoned the ranks of the working poor, adopted the mien of a hobo, and joined Kelly’s Army, the western branch of Coxey’s Army—a national movement of so-called “tramps” who marched to Washington in protest. (See our introduction to Stephen Crane’s “An Experiment in Misery,” a previous Story of the Week selection, for more on Coxey’s Army.) London made it only as far as Hannibal, Missouri; he was eventually arrested for vagrancy and sentenced to thirty days in a New York penitentiary.
Twelve years later, in 1906, his life had turned around spectacularly and he used his nightmarish adolescent adventures as the basis for “The Apostate,” which originally carried the subtitle “A Child Labor Parable.” He had become one of the highest paid writers in the world; Woman’s Home Companion paid him $767.30 for this 7,673-word story. As The World of Jack London website points out, the boy who once toiled for ten cents an hour was now a young man earning ten cents a word.
* * *“If you don't git up, Johnny, I won't give you a bite to eat!” . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!
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