The Scarlet Plague Book Summary – Jack London

The Scarlet Plague Book Summary - Jack London
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The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic fiction novel written by American author Jack London. It was first published in the London Magazine in 1912. The book gained attention in 2020 for its striking resemblance to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering that Jack London wrote this story at a time when the world was not as interconnected through travel as it is today.

Summary Of The Scarlet Plague

The Scarlet Plague story is set sixty years after the Red Death, a pandemic that greatly reduced the planet’s population, in the year 2073. James Smith is one of the survivors from the era before the Scarlet Plague struck and he is one of the last surviving individuals in the San Francisco area. He travels with his grandchildren Edwin, Hoo-Hoo, and Hare-Lip. His grandchildren live as primitive hunter-gatherers in a world where the population has greatly diminished. Their minds are limited, and their language skills are also restricted. Edwin, who addresses Smith as “Granser,” asks him to provide information about the disease known as the red plague.

Smith recounts his life before the red plague, describing his time as an English professor. The year 2013 is depicted as a society driven by wealth, and Smith recalls, “Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Magnates Council.” The Red Death emerges and spreads rapidly throughout the world. Afflicted individuals experience a partial reddening of their faces and numbness in their lower extremities. Victims typically die within 30 minutes of experiencing the initial symptoms. Despite efforts by doctors and scientists, no cure is found, and those attempting to treat the disease also succumb to it. Smith’s grandchildren question his belief about whether the disease is caused by “germs” or by unseen entities.

While teaching, Smith witnesses the first victim of the plague, a young woman whose face suddenly reddens. She dies rapidly, causing panic on campus. He returns home, but his family refuses to accompany him out of fear that he is also infected. Shortly after, the outbreak overtakes the area, and residents rebel by looting and killing each other. Smith reunites with his colleagues in the chemistry building of his university and hopes to wait out the problem there. However, they realize they need to move elsewhere for their safety and begin traveling north.

Soon, all members of Smith’s group die, leaving him as the sole survivor. He lives alone with a pony and two dogs for three years. Eventually, the need for social interaction compels him to return to the San Francisco area where other survivors are rumored to exist. He discovers a new society formed by a few remaining individuals, but they are also divided into tribes.

Smith worries that he may be the last person to remember life before the red plague. He reminisces about the quality of food, social classes, jobs, and technology. Realizing his time is short, he attempts to impart the value of knowledge and wisdom to his grandchildren. However, his efforts are in vain as the children find his memories of the past entirely unbelievable.

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