In London’s “The Law of Life,” Koskoosh accepts being left behind by his tribe to die. He realizes that it is the “law of life” that “all men must die” (1054). It certainly is true that everyone eventually dies, but most people want to avoid death and even after a long life do not accept the fact that death comes. Most people are not as understanding of the nature of life as Koskoosh; perhaps since he lived his tribal life more in tune with nature he had a more accepting view toward death. London writes that Koskoosh “had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him. It was the law of all flesh. Nature was not kindly to the flesh” (1054). Koskoosh had seen death throughout his life as he lived “close to the earth,” so he understood that every living thing must eventually die; it was a law of nature.
As Koskoosh waits for death to take him, he reflects on his youth and remembers an old moose he had seen killed by wolves. The moose was targeted by the wolves because he was “an old one who [could not] keep up with the herd” (1055). The moose, even though he was old and had difficulty keeping up with his herd, made a stand; he did not want to die. In many ways, the moose is like Koskoosh; both are old and left behind by their herd/tribe. However, Koskoosh has accepted his fate, while the moose fought for life as many are likely to do even after a long life. All living creatures are programmed instinctively to cling to life. At the end of the story, wolves come up to Koskoosh, picking up on prey separated from the herd. Koskoosh initially waves a torch to keep the wolves away, but he knows eventually the fire will burn out. He knows death is coming, and he asks himself “why should he cling to life?” (1057). And, he gives up and succumbs to his fate, the “law of life.” In this he differs from the moose; when faced with the wolves the moose made a stand: “he had done his task long since, but none the less was life dear to him” (1056). Like Koskoosh, the moose was old and had accomplished the task of life: “to perpetuate” (1054). Yet, the moose still valued life and fought for it instinctively while Koskoosh recognizes the “law of life” and yields.
Koskoosh’s acceptance of this law is even more intetesting due to the fact that the moose still clung to life. Most people would not accept death as Koskoosh did, but the assumption that he had lived “close to earth” and seen death as a natural thing and was thus able to accept it does not hold up as well. Granted, the moose is an example of the nature being unkind to the flesh, but the moose did not accept death. Koskoosh was able to accept death even when he had seen an animal instinctively cling to life.
London, Jack. “The Law of Life.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Ed. Nina Baym, Jeanne Campbell Reesman, and Arnold Krupat. Vol. C. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1052-1057.