Brian's Reviews > The Iron Heel

The Iron Heel by Jack London
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Jan 08, 11

Read in January, 2011

It is not difficult to imagine why this work does not share the same recognition as White Fang or The Call of the Wild. London, through the character of Ernest Everhard, makes no apologies for his relentlessly honest assessment of contemporary capitalism and the society it is producing. In the story, the "Iron Heel" of the title is a title commonly applied to the capitalist "Oligarchy" that rises out of the numerous contradictions in capitalist society that were so starkly visible in the early twentieth-century---and, in a number of instances, appear to have once again resurfaced in the twenty-first. London tells the story of a socialist uprising that is ultimately crushed by the fearsome Iron Heel from the vantage point of Avis Everhard, a revolutionist recruited from the intelligentsia by her husband and lover, Ernest Everhard. Through a creative literary device, London frames the narrative as an ancient manuscript, discovered sometime in the twenty-seventh century---four centuries after a global revolution has brought the world together in a universal "Brotherhood of Man"---and the footnotes inserted by these twenty-seventh-century scholars allow London to reinforce the message of his narrative with actual events and add a number of frequently humorous commentaries on capitalist society.

Many have described The Iron Heel as a prescient account of the rise of fascism, and the narrative does indeed foretell many of its features. Fascism's demise in the Second World War, however, has done little to precludes the contemporary rise of an "Oligarchy" similar to that described in London's story, particularly under the world's current circumstances. While it certainly has not taken the form of the feared and ruthless "Iron Heel," many of the world's prison inmates, poor and working poor, immigrants, and "suspected terrorists," could identify a number of common features in the "Iron Heel" and the contemporary "security state." Just as the fictional revolution in London's narrative takes four centuries to reach fruition, so to may its real-world counterpart still be long in coming. That some form of revolt will eventually arise, however, is a virtual certainty.
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