The Stories of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss

The story that stood out to me the most in Jack London’s The People of the Abyss was that of Frank Cavilla, the “gentle and affectionate husband and father” who lost his job and was unable to find employment. According to London, he “could not make both ends meet…[and] steady work could not be obtained” due to the conditions in the East Side. He was forced to watch his wife and four children starve before his eyes, and eventually fell ill himself due to malnutrition. After coping with this state of misery for eighteen months, he cut the throats of his wife and four children in order to save them from the horrific conditions in which they had been forced to live. Cavilla was arrested and taken to court, and soon after Jack London heard about his case. This story stood out to me because of the hopelessness that it portrays. Cavilla felt so sure that there was no possible way for their lives to improve that he killed his family in order to protect them from the horrible conditions, while allowing himself to go on living without having to provide for five additional people. This story was heartbreaking, and most definitely the one that stuck with me the most. I felt that it was one of the best portrayals of the desolate conditions—both physical and mental—that thousands of people were forced to endure in silence throughout the supposedly “prosperous” Victorian Era. As I put myself in Cavilla’s shoes and attempted to feel the emotions that he must have felt at the time in which he realized that things would never get better for him and his family, I realized how truly awful it must have been. For the people living in these horrific conditions, death often seemed a much better option than being forced to live a life full of misery, starvation, illness, and poverty. 

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