Book Review: “The Game” by Jack London (1905)

Image result for the game jack londonI have to admit that I went into this short tragedy confused, hoping by the title, The Game, that it was the story of the man who hunts humans for fun. That story, however, is called The Most Dangerous Game, published by Richard Connell in 1924. After getting over my early disappointment about two pages in, though, I got caught up in this little high-school drama rich in adult overtones and themes.

The story follows a sheltered and innocent young lady who’s fallen in love with her total social opposite, an active young man who moonlights as a highly successful boxer. As the woman grows closer to her boy toy, she becomes emotionally distraught, for she finds that, while she loves the boy with all her heart, he loves her back with only half, reserving the rest of his love for “the Game.” While she strives to understand his passion, she feels unable and lost in innocence and femininity. London summarizes her desperation thus:

“She was stunned by the awful facts of this Game she did not understand–the grip it laid on men’s souls, its irony and faithlessness, its risks and hazards and fierce insurgences of the blood, making woman pitiful, not the be-all and end-all of man, but his toy and his pastime; to woman his mothering and caretaking, his moods and his moments, but to the Game his days and nights of striving, the tribute of his head and hand, his most patient toil and wildest effort, all the strain and the stress of his being–to the Game, his heart’s desire.” (47)

Of course, the young lady is not the only member of this couple struggling internally with love’s imbalance. Hoping for just one last fight, the boy finagles a way to let his girl see him battle just once, to smell the sweat and blood, and to watch his glory through the haze induced by countless smoking and screaming gamblers. With thoughts of leaving this vicious world behind in favor of adulthood and marriage, “He was beginning to see, though vaguely, the sharp conflict between woman and career, between a man’s work in the world and woman’s need of the man.” (10) The only question (answered bluntly in the end) is whether he’ll be able to resolve that conflict.

The Game is a powerful and seemingly timeless anecdote of men’s love of sport as balanced with his love for woman. But that’s not all. London also writes as though females have no innate desire for either watching or engaging in sports, save for what sexual undertones they can decipher along the way, and in doing so, he likely alienates a good portion of his modern reading audience. Nevertheless, this story contains a strong analysis of human nature and would be an interesting pastime study for any sports fanatic, especially a married one.

London’s style is thoroughly engaging, though this should come as no surprise. His blend of words, unnatural as prose at times—as if his words were flowing direct from brain to page—entices the reader on. His description of youthful human passions is raw and therefore perhaps not entirely for the young. In looking at her boy’s naked chest as he fights, for example, “She knew only that it was sin, and she lifted her head proudly, recklessly resolved, in one great surge of revolt, to sin to the uttermost.” (29) Quite a role model.

As any conscientious parent must admit, it’s the suggestive nature of entertainment (including literature) that makes it more dangerous to the imagination than most real-life experiences. That is, unless (ironically) those experiences “leave nothing to the imagination,” as my mom would say. So keep this one off your tween’s bookshelf, but otherwise enjoy its peek into the heart of man.

©2016 E.T.

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