“Numbing of the Heart”: Negotiating with Humanity in the Wake of the Pandemic in Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague

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Dibyajyoti Das


As the world progresses in its fight against COVID-19, the human civilization finds itself fighting against more than just a mere pathogen. Besides being an unprecedented health emergency, the pandemic has caused breakdowns in many other fronts as well. One of the very alarming issues is the incidents of inhumanity, callousness and deliberate cruelty by people towards their fellow-sufferers, which may incite far-reaching complications in the human society.  In the worst case scenario, civilization could go either way- to become more united than ever or to fall to pieces with the extinction of human values- depending on our response in the wake of the pandemic. Plague and pestilence have ever been a popular topic in literature. Here, I take the case of Jack London's The Scarlet Plague for a study of the reversion to cruelty of all humans in the face of the plague and also what are the exceptions that have been admitted by the author to suggest how the retention of the ideals of human bonding and empathy can help us stand a chance in the hour of doom. This short novel has particular relevance to the present scenario for its temporal resemblances to the present outbreak, for London's preoccupation with naturalism in his fantasy and for his reliance on the latest scientific discoveries in virology and other modern technologies. The novel is also full of tropes that suggest that the germs of destruction are borne by the sociological framework and the ideologies that go into the foundation of the society.


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Dibyajyoti Das. “‘Numbing of the Heart’: Negotiating With Humanity in the Wake of the Pandemic in Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague”. The Creative Launcher, vol. 5, no. 3, Aug. 2020, pp. 61-72, doi:10.53032/tcl.2020.5.3.09.


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