Over the last three decades, serious scholarship on Jack London has continued to expand and deepen. His rank as a major American author is secure, though most American critics would not place him in the top tier of American authors. At the same time, a substantial number of scholars from countries such as France, Chile, Germany, Japan, and Russia regard him as a prominent writer and political thinker. International readers also incline to see him as an archetypal American writer. London was, after all, the first notable US writer with legitimate street credibility.
Following London's death, however, literary modernists in the 1920s, who catered to a culturally elite audience, were wary of his popular accessibility and largely ignored his writing. Still, he significantly influenced many writers of the next generation including Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Orwell. Intransigent political currents and the non-contextual emphasis of New Criticism continued to minimize London's contribution to American literature well into the 1970s. Many of these earlier critics disparaged him as a ‘writer of dog stories’, but with the emergence of eco-criticism and animal studies, this longstanding slight is morphing into an asset. The case is similar with the revitalized interest in London's radical politics. Even though some reactionary assessments of London's work persist, Paul Lauter convincingly argues that ‘as the conditions of class disparity, and … conflicts of the early 21st century come in critical ways to resemble those of the early 20th century, London comes to resonate increasingly with us’.1 Previous detractors viewed London's principal subjects as topical or passé – more germane to his own historical moment and personal obsessions than to a shared or ongoing cultural condition. But his major concerns – generating consolatory value in an increasingly posttheistic world, remedying exploitive socioeconomic systems, and achieving a more nuanced understanding of our psychobiology – remain central to societal, political, and intellectual debates worldwide. If anything, London's work is important because he provocatively frames a consideration of these perplexing and troubling matters in ways that have stayed imaginatively engaging and socially relevant.
Additionally, because London often highlights race, class, and gender, the cultural-theoretical turn that shaped most scholarly discourse by the early 1980s initiated a more comprehensive re-evaluation of his writing.