Analysis of the book “The people of the abyss,” by London (1904)

What does the author say?

In this source, London (1970) explains his exploration mission in London, England. His main message is centered on his important mission of experiencing the lives and people of London. Throughout his mission, London tries to identify the political, economic and social influences of the lives of people living in London. He recognized and concluded that whatever adds more to life and makes life both physically and spiritually healthy is good while whatever is painful and adds less to life is bad. In his mission, London realized that people of London were experiencing abject poverty where individuals were not able to access basic necessities of life such as food and shelter. This was the case in time when the political system was unfair and oppressive. It is in this regard that this paper contends that political systems which often cause injustice and negative impact on societies as was prevalent in London in 19th century is not good for the society’s living standards while a good social system brings about growth in the society.

Jackson’s exploration began at London east end where he proved his assertion that London experience poverty beyond measure. He could note old men and women searching for food and materials in garbage thrown on muddy grounds. The author observes a room he rented at East London standpoint as being the most comfortable in London yet it is an equivalent of an uncomfortable small room in America. Indeed, this was one of the most undesirable places the author ever visited. Single rooms in East London accommodated a whole family and one or more visitors. Furthermore, the rooms had no bathtubs. The entire sanitation was also very poor. Most of the men with whom the author interacted had not gone to school, and were illiterate for that reason. Young men also preferred living without families because they feared the obligations that come along with families. They were so poor that they couldn’t raise families. The author suggests that it seems not only unwise but also criminal for people of the abyss to marry (Jackson, 1904).

The poor conditions evident in London those days were considered by the author as self-inflicted problems. He notes that the dwellers of East London manifested rude family lives where religion is neglected, materialism is by and large the order of the society and there was no progress. This is why the author terms those people as abyss – the people of lowest class in the society. Labour force in London experience poor working conditions and don’t get any initiative or motivation to work, so they just remain to be poor workmen. The workmen are often weak morally and physically and are not able to perform their duties productively, so they are reduced to nothing but just abyss. Women preferred engaging in prostitution to working because the work was too big and the pay was little. Diseases were also fatal in London since there were poor sanitation and little healthcare facilities. Despite these misfortunes of the abyss, London observes that the powers of leaders gave ridiculous decrees aimed at oppressing the abyss. The powerless that have no homes are driven out of parks and rooms, hence depriving them of their sleep. Instead of offering the poor with the means by which they can live, the political system in London inflicts more pain on them through their oppressive motives.

Historical context: Does the book fits into the context?

London was turned into the largest city in the world and the capital of Britain. The city grew in population within the same period and its wealth capacity expanded. However, the people living in the city still lived in extreme poverty with a large proportion of the city dwellers living in overcrowded slums with very poor sanitation. From historical books, researchers have been able to explain the state of London in the late 19th century when London observed the lifestyles and the state of the people of the abyss in the same year.

Rosenbaum (2002) explains different events in the 19th century from where London drew his observations. He explains series of events since the onset of the Victorian era in 1837 to the late 19th century. This paper indicates that there was a transactional aspect which appeared to influence the wealth of the society of London in the 19th century.  These transactions involved an improvement on excise office and customs, increased wealth expenditure, increase of tea and coffee consumption as well as investment in riding horses and private carriages among others.

These activities led to the growth of wealth in London over the 19th century. It was in this period that London started to grow in wealth and the political system and population growth influenced the wealth growth of London negatively until the city experienced development of slums with poor sanitation and undesirable lifestyles. Within the beginning and mid 19th century, economic growth of London increased due to the above transactions and industrial revolution of 1760-1830. However, there was also population growth of about 1.4% per annum in the 19th century, especially in the first four decades (Rosenbaum, 2002). Within the same period of population growth, there was also a sprawl of crime across London. Political reforms were experienced when the Great reform act of 1832 led to the increase of electorates by 70% (Rosenbaum, 2002). Later the political system followed a capitalistic trend and poor governance took a center stage in the political system of London.

Matthus (2003) also observes the lifestyles of the people of the abyss in 19th century in Western Europe where London is located. Generally, Matthus (2003) argues that the private lives of people of the Western Europe in 19th century exhibited privatization, emotionalism and domestication. Through an observation of marriage and family lives of the people of Western Europe in 19th century, Mathus (2003) finds out that the evolution of demographic and sociological features of people living in Western Europe in 19th century exemplifies a society with high regard to family systems. Intimate family time was considered as equally important as the time spent at work. Instinctive involvement became crucial within families and sense of belonging and continuity was established through families. However, gender inequality was still experienced as women engaged in most household duties especially on Sundays. Mathus (2003) also provides that Western Europe experienced economic modernization in the 19th century. There was a transition of the economic system from a traditional agricultural society to a centralized and mechanized industrial society. Cultural and economic systems interchangeably influenced the lives of the people of Western Europe so much that the degree and direction of privatization changed from one individual to another depending on the socio-economic status of an individual in the society (Mathus, 2003).

Finally, Gillis (1990) provides a contextual insight into the economic, political and social settings of people of Western Europe in 19th century. He observes that privatization and economic growth was experienced in Europe in 19th century. Like Mathus, Gillis also contends that from the mid 19th century onwards there was an increasingly crucial aspect of family systems and socialization within Western Europe’s societies. People no longer acted individually but grew in family ties and believed in an economic system empowered by strong family and social systems. However, women were marginalized in labour systems and political systems were also flawed.

Therefore, it is clear that the book “the people of the abyss” by Jackson London fits into the context provided by world history as studied by many researchers of history (Gillis, 1990; Mathus, 2003 and Rosenbaum, 2002). As provided by this piece of historical literature, London’s book explains events as they were in the 19th century as provided by world history. London (1904) explains the political system of people of the abyss in the context of events that actually took place in the period within which he carried out his mission. World history from our literature indicates that the economic condition of London grew substantively in the 19th century but population growth grew as well. This led to growth of slums and the worsening of economic conditions of people as they moved from rural areas to the urban centers such as London. This is observed by London when he says that the slums of London exhibited poor sanitation and poor working conditions. London also explains the influence of poor political system which includes police frustrating homeless people in the streets of London. The literature covered in this paper also contends that the political system caused problems to the economic and social system of Western Europe in general, including London in particular.

As we learn world history, we get to learn various aspects of lives of people in the past and how their systems worked. From the book “the people of the abyss” by Jackson London, for instance, we get to understand the political, social and economic situations inherent in the society of London in the 19th century. We get to understand the tribulations people underwent socially, economically and politically, in London in 19th century as compared to the current in London.

We learn that during the time of the people of the abyss, London was not a good place to sustain a good living, but things have changed since then. This enables us to use our past in the prediction of our future. From the book, we realize that growth began in 19th century but due to poor political systems and economic policies problems emerged significantly. Though London still experiences a few political problems, there is a significant improvement as compared to London’s observations. This can further be improved by avoiding what caused the problems of the 19th century since, as London (1904) says, they were self-inflicted.

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