The Sea-Wolf Themes & Symbolism

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Social Darwinism

The term "Social Darwinism" was not coined until 1944 and thus does not appear within the novel. The term, however, is an appellation given to the philosophy espoused by Wolf Larsen as justification for his tyrannical domination of others. Larsen's library is noted to contain works by Darwin, Malthus and Spencer - all seminal theorists of the concept. Darwin himself rejected the concepts of Social Darwinism even though his biological theories were generally used to support and inform the sociological concept that social inequality is the inexorable result of meritocratic division of available resources. The same basic premises have been used to justify laissez-faire capitalism and racism - concepts that Wolf Larsen would almost certainly espouse.

Larsen summarizes the concepts of Social Darwinism in his extended analogy of a yeasty ferment of existence. For Larsen, all of life can be viewed as a boiling ferment...

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