Friday, October 16, 2015

Jack London's The Iron Heel

Confession: I do not think Jack London is great writer.  He inhabits a niche in American fiction, certainly, his story about lighting a fire in Alaska finds its way most anthologies of American short stories, but as an artist, I find him lacking.  On the level of language, he really does nothing new or exciting with English; his prose is often dull or commonplace; his characterization weak and underwhelming; his plots, unimaginative, and under stimulating.

So, this brings us to The Iron Heel.  Written in 1908, it is a dystopic novel which tells of the rise of an oligarchical class which seizes power in the United States, robbing the Socialists, backed by the working class, or their legally won seats in the House of Representatives.  This starts a repressive war which lasts for three hundred years.

But the reader must suffer through at least a hundred pages of flat Socialist hero characters making long speeches to cardboard capitalists, insisting that the rise of socialism is an evolutionary and biological inevitability.  This is old reading, more interesting for its naivete than its content.

The book gets up a head of steam when the actual armed conflict begins when the oligarchy, the Iron Hell, but this is well into the novel, and many readers won’t have the drive to get to this point. 

This novel bears the conceit of being a manuscript written by one of the Socialist hero’s wife.  It is annotated by a scholar after the Socialist revolution has brought back the Garden of Eden.  There are many obvious and cringe worthy footnotes about this heaven on earth set nearly four hundred years in the future.

The Iron Heel is a novel of great promise that ends in disappointment.  The story has an excellent setup without adequate execution or design.

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