What value does life have? Who measures life’s value? What significance does it have?
These are all questions proposed by Captain Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf. Wolf Larsen is one of the main characters in this novel. He is the captain of the ship known as “The Ghost”. In the novel, Larsen had one of the most fearful reputations on the sea. He earned this reputation because he does not respect human life and finds joy in killing people. Every sailor fears Wolf Larsen but what is so scary about a captain that even a whole crew of men would not dare to challenge him? Well the answer is Larsen’s physique and supreme mental strength. Although his real name is not told in the novel, we do know that his name is not Wolf. The Captain is called Wolf because of his vicious nature. Jack London describes Captain Larsen as a huge man with supreme strength and broad shoulders. The description of his appearance creates an intimidating image in the reader’s mind.
“He is described to be perfectly symmetrical and a perfect specimen of masculinity.”
One of the things that impressed me most as a reader was his intelligence. Sailors of this time period were definitely not educated so his ability to have intelligent conversations. I do not understand how someone is able to teach himself/herself math, literature, science, and philosophy with minimal education.
Wolf Larsen is described to have “sociopathic characteristics”. He is very demanding. Larsen does not hesitate to force others in order to satisfy his own needs. Throughout the novel, he would take men hostage and just kill some of his own crew members for defying him. Although Larsen was emotionally strong, there are slight slip ups that show some weakness in the tyrant. Sticking to the sociopathic traits, he has unpredictable rage episodes. These episodes are the reason that men fear him because he has no regard for human life. Wolf Larsen is also a little bit envious of his brother. Larsen is a complicated man but his brother, Death, is simple-minded and enjoys life. Perhaps Wolf is the way he is because he is jealous of Death. Regardless of all the “ifs” and “perhaps”, we, as the reader, can establish that these negative traits are the cause of his even more frightening and negative views.
Life has no value and it cannot be measured.
Now that we know a little bit about Larsen’s appearance and characteristics, we can enter his mind. Let us re-address the questions proposed at the beginning of this post:
1. What value does life have?
2. How can one measure life’s value?
3. What significance does life have?
Well to start off, Wolf Larsen’s view is that life has absolutely no value. Well this may or may not have a little bit of truth to it. Luckily, Larsen justifies his reasoning. He believes that life has no value because it is limitless and replenishable.
Water, land, and air are valuable because eventually they will run out. The same cannot be said for life.
The second question can easily be answered by the first one. If life has no value, then its value cannot be measured. If you have read the book or have the chance to do so, you will notice that Wolf Larsen and the other main character, Hump, often debate life. In one of these debates, they discussed how life is measured. Wolf Larsen came to the conclusion that life is not measurable. To argue this, Hump stated that the value of life is measured by the person himself. Both arguments have some major holes in them.
The value of life depends on how man sees himself.
Wolf Larsen effectively argued his point that answered the final question. What significance does life have? As you could have guessed, Wolf Larsen believes there is no significance in life. He justifies this by saying that life is too abundant.
“Why if there is anything in supply/demand, life is the cheapest thing in the world.” – Larsen pg 183
This is a fair point. If there are so many people, then why are you important? Larsen compares life to fish. He says that fish lay many eggs because they know that some wont hatch. Only the ones that hatch are the valuable ones but the ones that did not were worthless. What Wolf was trying to say was that life only has importance if you are in the spotlight. Being a seal hunter, you could see where his thoughts of worthlessness come in.
The human body traps the soul from escaping to paradise.
In fact, Larsen thinks that life is so worthless that all it does is prevent the soul from going to heaven. This would explain why he thinks he is putting his men out of their misery when he kills them.
To me, Wolf Larsen is the most interesting character in the book. He provides strange views on life that challenge what society thinks or pressures someone else into thinking. He is genuine and unique which makes him a good character in this novel.