Published in 1908, That Spot by Jack London makes use of his experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush during the 1890s to create a fictional tale. Through this plot, the narrator explains his hatred for his former best friend, Steve. A troublesome dog makes their lives miserable and causes a lot of damage. The narration is sometimes humorous and sometimes disturbing. It explores the themes of friendship, survival, and hate.
That Spot | Summary
This story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator. He talks about his ex-friend Steve with whom he used to have a deep friendship, he even loved him more than his own brother but now he hates him. Steve has done something outrageous that makes the narrator loathe him now. He goes on to explain what happened. He talks about the events of a time when they were travelling together along Alaska, during the Klondike gold rush.
On their way to Chilcoot Pass from Klondike, they buy a dog to help them sled through the ice. The dog is exceptionally well-looking, he had a good build and he looked intelligent too. He was also a unique breed which made them buy it. However there was a problem, the dog never worked. He had a big spot on him which made his owners call him “spot”. Then the narrator describes how spot made their lives miserable. One of his unique habits was to steal food, he stole their meat which made them nearly starve and he also stole from others for which his owners had to pay.
The narrator and Steve both tried to kill that spot but both failed. The narrator says he saw something move in the dog’s eyes but then explains that he sensed something move, some otherworldly feeling caught hold of him and he couldn’t kill that dog. His eyes were challenging him as if a man’s eyes. Then they even tried to sell the dog but he came back each time. They made quite a profit by selling him again and again but they didn’t want to keep him. People were happy to lose the dog that they didn’t ask for their money back, he was that bad.
They then tried to leave him tied up, they moved by water so that he can’t trace their tracks but still he found them, no matter what they did or where they went he still found them. Once they saw him drown and it made them very happy but he somehow survived and returned to them. He got in fights with other dogs but got out unharmed, he caused more trouble as he ate their food, and they nearly starved while they were at Steward because of that dog.
Once they send him away with an outfit but he managed to come back anyway. The narrator started to become superstitious of that spot and even a little afraid. The way the dog found them no matter how far they went was intimidating. Then one day the narrator decides to sneak out alone. He left the dog with Steve with a letter. He came back home to his wife and became his old self again, he was happy and healthy for a few years then one day Steve returned the dog to him and left. This is what broke their friendship for the narrator this was a cruel act on Steve’s part. Again the dog caused a lot of trouble for the narrator killing the hens of his neighbor and this was affecting the narrator’s health again. This made him hate Steve more than anything he wonders how someone can be so unkind to do such a thing as Steve did. He realizes that that spot will remain with him till he dies.
The Spot | Analysis
The entire narration is about how the dog, “spot” was bad luck for his owners. The narrator tries to justify his hatred for his friend Steve who left the dog with him, however ironically he did the same thing to Steve when he first left the dog with him and escaped alone. The narrator at first talks about his destroyed friendship with Steve then creates suspense by talking about their past travels and “that spot”. In the end, he reveals why their friendship broke.
Friendship is one of the themes of this story; the narrator and Steve were very close friends. They travelled together and even starved together, they shared a lot of struggles together. The narrator took care of Steve when he had typhoid and Steve saved the narrator’s life once as well. They had a strong companionship that was broken due to the dog. The first act of selfishness was committed by the narrator when he first left that spot with Steve and then Steve did the same to him. The main cause of their friendship ending was their hatred for the dog and their desire to survive.
The narrator feels intense hatred for that spot. All throughout the narration he only talks about how much trouble the dog caused him and Steve. That dog even made him hate his best friend. They hated him so much that they tried to kill him, they rejoiced when they thought he had died but somehow the dog managed to survive all the possible deaths. When the narrator was away from the dog he was free he was happy and healthy but when Steve returned the dog to him his life was dreadful again. He became miserable again. Maybe they loved that dog at first but when he made things hard for them they despised him.
The narrator is mostly apathetic towards his friend and the dog. Both Steve and the narrator seem to hate the dog too much, wishing he would die. The narrator even tries to kill that spot but out of fear stops. The story is written in a way as if to justify that hate and why the dog was such a burden. There’s not much to the narrator and Steve’s character that they both struggled a lot and in the end, tried to save their own neck by causing their friend trouble.
The Spot | Themes
Theme of Survival
The way the spot survived all the near-death experiences is symbolic of how people survive in hardships. During the Klondike gold rush in the wintry forests, it was difficult to survive, food was minimal and people had to go days without eating. The narrator and Steve are also shown to struggle a lot, they almost starved and had to kill their pet dogs and eat them in the shortage of meat to eat. They tried to kill spot first to eat him but he sensed it and escaped. They suffer from poor economical and social conditions. The narrator was so worn out that he abandoned his best friend, leaving him alone with the awful dog to suffer. He wanted to survive and for a while, he was able to escape all that. Then the dog came back to him, it could symbolize that one’s suffering never ends. Even if he got out of the elemental struggles he still had to struggle in his daily life to survive. The dog is a symbol of survival at the same time the one that challenges the survival of its owners.
That Spot | About the Author
John London (1876-1916) was an American writer. In his career, he published fifty fiction books, many short stories, a number of non-fiction and also wrote for magazines. He was a social activist who held socialist beliefs. He was one of the first American authors to become an international celebrity and one of the most extensively translated of American authors. His popular works include “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” which are based on his experience in the Klondike Gold Rush and explore the theme of elemental struggles for survival.