Jack London’s The Law of Life
depicts the indifference of nature to the approaching death of an old man. Abandoned in the snow by his tribe, nearly blind and lame, old Koskoosh lies beside a fire with only a handful of twigs to keep him from freezing. He is aware of his imminent end, but calmly accepts the fact that all men must die. In the few remaining hours of his life, he reflects on the never ending cycle of life and death, on how even the most vigorous animal would fall prey to old age and its predators. In all this, he concludes that nature did not care whether a man lived or died: the perpetuation of the species was all that mattered. Koskoosh recalls how the Great Famine ravaged his tribe, against which they were all helpless. Here, London brings into focus an indifferent nature, heedless of the wailings of the villagers until nearly all of them starved to death. Koskoosh also remembers how the times of plenty awakened the blood lust in his people until they revived ancient quarrels and waged war on their enemies. In this case, the brute within man, another frequent theme of the naturalistic work, is awakened and unleashed.
Leaving a sick member of the family to die alone in a harsh environment may seem cruel to the more civilized peoples of the world, but to the native tribe of Koskoosh, inured by times of great famine and constant struggle with wind and snow, such custom is not only imperative, but an act of kindness: a man who has outlived his usefulness does not have to endure the humiliation of being a burden to his kin, who are themselves struggling to survive. In his final moments, the old man remembers a moose that fought off wolves until it was overpowered and fell on the bloody snow. That recollection is a foreshadowing of his own death: wolves are closing in on him as his small fire is almost extinguished. But unlike the moose which fights to the very end, Koskoosh calmly awaits the inevitable.