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Arthur Morrison’s and Jack London’ Literature Comparison Essay

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Updated: Jul 31st, 2020


One of the most impressive features of modern society is the possibility to have different interests and follow them regardless of the already established norms and standards. Sometimes, people are not ready to comprehend each other and develop numerous discussions about the necessity or the absurdity of the decisions made. Sometimes, people are able to find support in order to try something new. The practice of slumming is one of the recent passions of modern society.

Though the phenomenon of slum tourism seems to be a relatively new concept, the evaluation of the past can prove the fact that the intentions to gaze at the poverty of the Others have a long history (Steinbrink 213). One of the best examples of the slum practice is the rediscovery of Pompeii and the opportunity to visit it during the Romantic period. Dark tourism that is another name for urban poverty tourism may gain different forms and lead to a variety of outcomes, including the rising of ethical questions (Hanrahan) and the necessity to change the representation of the slum areas and its inhabitants (“Slum Tourism”).

The identification of social upheavals in different periods is the possibility to understand why people want to visit other countries and observe poverty as the main sight. Dark tourism helps to cover social needs and interests, as well as makes people pay attention to economic issues, political concerns, and population challenges. In addition to the discussions of slum tourism in online journals and newspapers, much attention to this concept is paid in scholarly books and classic literature.

The genesis of urban poverty tourism cannot be ignored today because its understanding helps to reveal the main characteristics and changes of the phenomenon. People want to observe something new and consider cultural and social modes. Moral aspects also matter in dark tourism because they prove the importance of this concept in a modern world and the possibility to distinguish between what is allowed and what is expected. The practice of slumming discovers a new world where not many people are aware of the challenges and requirements, and, therefore, they find such worlds interesting and opportunities worth using.

In this paper, the phenomenon of slum tourism will be discussed in terms of two great literary works, Child of the Jago written by Arthur Morrison in 1896 and The People of the Abyss created by Jack London in 1903. Both novels discover the slum areas of the 19th-century London and its East End part, in particular. Morrison’s vision of slum life in London is a unique discussion of why there are so many grimy streets, called the Jago, and horrible fascination of the real people cannot avoid.

In comparison to other authors of his style and period, Morrison was ready to consider the role of each detail in the creation of the slum image, including “the hot, heavy air” and “rank oppression” (Morrison 11). In his turn, London introduced his ambivalent views, disappointments because of slums’ boorishness and mental inferiority, and unlimited sympathy towards the underclass (Diniejko, “Jack London’s Autobiographical Account”).

Taking into consideration the slum narratives developed by London and Morrison and the practice of slumming when people are eager to choose dark tourism instead of ordinary beach or mountain entertainments, it is possible to identify a contemporary relationship between the narration and practice as a possibility to inform people about the existing differences in the styles of life and the opportunities available to people, who live on the same planet. However, the information presented in the novels and the reality that can be observed in slum tours differs considerably not because the authors want to exaggerate the truth and cause different emotions in people, but because the reading and visiting may lead to different outcomes the importance of which is hard to foresee.

Background of Dark Tourism

Though many people have faced the idea of slum tourism not long time ago and continue discovering its strong and weak aspects, its available opportunities and evident threats, it is necessary to underline the fact that the history of dark tourism has long roots and considerable impact on people and the areas where poverty turns out to be a problem. The Middle Ages, the Romantic period, and the early 19th century events can be used to demonstrate how dark tourism was introduced and why it gained much power and impact.

For example, in modern practice, the rediscovery of Pompeii as one the “greatest thanatopsis travel destinations”, the place “wholly, or partially, motivated by the desire for actual or symbolic encounters with death… violent death” (Sharpley and Stone 15). In addition to an economic perspective of slum tourism that aims at improving the economic and financial situation of the region by means of sponsorship and paid visits of tourists, there is a behavioural perspective that proves how important this type of tourism can be.

People want to visit the places of individual or mass deaths in order to observe the changes, compare the information that is given online, in books, or journals with the real surroundings, and imagine the situations as a part of personal development and enthusiasm. Though people know how dangerous and tremendous the events of Pompeii were, not all of them realise the actual size of the place and the conditions under which people had to live and survived the day of the Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Annihilation of people and their property, the interruption of nature, and a considerable limitation of human powers were observed (Daly 255). Though no people actually live in the place where the disaster took place, the people around still face certain financial difficulties. Therefore, slumming turns out to be a facet of dark tourism and its spreading in modern society. It differs considerably from the writings and narratives devoted to that event when the writers tried to demonstrate their emotions, impose fears on the reader, and explain how complicated the situation was when people had to move and think fast if they should stay awake and indoor or try to move and save their lives (Pliny 144).

What Is Tourism?

To comprehend the contemporary relationship between the practice of slumming and slum narratives, it is necessary, to begin with, the basics with the help of which clear definitions can be given, and certain examples can be offered. When people think about tourism, they usually consider the possibility to look for new places, invent sights and sites which are marked as tourist attractions, and entertain discovering new styles of life (Steinbrink 213).

Tourism may be for pleasure or business. Sometimes, people use tourism as the possibility to satisfy personal needs. Still, the needs of modern people vary considerably, and it is not a surprise that people want to use different options and visit the places they can never live in or understand the nature of living at all. In other words, modern tourism is the discovery of new things, new emotions, and knowledge about other people, their traditions, and occupations.

History of Slumming

The concept of slumming is characterised by a long history and a number of social practices that demonstrate different attitudes to the places of the slum and the relations between people, who live in such places. In fact, the origin of this practice can be traced from the metropolises of Britain and the USA (Steinbrink 218). There are also many examples of slumming in London that is frequently discussed by writers and researchers in their works.

First, a slum was introduced as a slang expression to explain the existing individual lodgings (Steinbrink 219). With time, the same word gained a new meaning of backyards and urban quarters. The etymological aspect remains to be controversial even today. Today, many people understand slum as a dirty word that can be categorised due to the existing deficits in infrastructure, incomes, and social conditions (Jones 698).

The specificity of Slum Tourism

Many people are already aware of a new phenomenon of slum tourism as a trend that attracts people saves the economy, and protects the emotional well-being of people. In addition to the fact that slum tourism helps to discover new places, it also helps to discover a new aspect of life when it is normal for children to sleep on the streets and for tourists to pause and look at the malnourished appearance of the inhabitants, their “filthy clothes and glazed eyes” (Gentleman).

Slum tourism is not only about poverty. Its peculiar feature is the interest of people in the places where mass deaths because of natural disasters or human cruelty occurred. In most cases, the places of dark tourism are deprived of proper lighting, maps, and guidebooks (Lennon and Foley 2). People who live in such places do not even think about the necessity to attract tourist. Their main goal is to create more or less appropriate conditions for life and survive under them.

At the same time, a number of discussions and controversies occurred about the actual worth of slum tourism and its possible negative effects when people try to turn poverty into entertainment and neglect all rules and respect for people (Hanrahan). The point is that even if slum tours occur not regularly and not frequently, there are no proofs that residents are ready to accept the ways all tourism activities occur in their community (“Slum Tourism”).

In some cases, the communities gain no benefits, and in some cases, emotional and psychological disorders and concerns can be developed. Though the investments in different social projects are possible as soon as slum tourism is allowed in a country, there are no guarantees that ordinary citizens, who actually suffer from poverty and unstable economic or political situations, are ready to accept tourist in the ways these tourists expect. To avoid such complications and misunderstandings, it is possible to investigate the established modes of constructing, presenting, and to perceive slums as the places where tourism for one group of people is possible, and the life of inhabitants is not challenged.

Modes in Slumming

Social contextualisation is important in the analysis of tourism as an activity that may touch millions of lives. Slum tourism reveals the poverty of the Others, who live in the places where social concerns and fears are connected not only with sanitary issues, threats of epidemics, and poor hygiene, but also the worries of civilisation decline and poor or absent public control (Steinbrink 220).

London is the place described by many British and American writers as the place where slumming cannot be neglected because it predetermines the style of life and the divisions of the inhabitants in regards to their financial opportunities, social norms, and other abilities. During the last 150 years, the sphere of tourism was reconstructed a number of times. The majority of changes depended on historical events, new challenges, and social developed. Today, modes of constructing gain new forms and represent poverty at another level when people can use poverty as a means to improve the situation or help people understand the threats of poverty for inhabitants of particular territories.

At the same time, it is wrong to consider poverty as the only characteristic of tourism. Steinbrink offered to use the term “spatialisation” as a core aspect of endeavours in the field of tourism with the help of which it is possible to visualise and experience poverty and construct new forms of society. There are certain places and areas that can be used to introduce poverty. However, such an approach can be defined as wrong because poverty is not something that should be localised and showed to the public. Poverty is a challenge. It is a threat that causes a number of negative emotions that are properly described in the works of Jack London and Arthur Morrison.

Morrison and London are the writers, who chose London as the city for living for their characters. Still, in their work, not much attention is paid to such qualities as perseverance, accuracy, skilfulness, and the necessity to control anything even if it is a cup of tea in the morning or evening. The slum environment of the East End that is hard to observe with one feeling only was underlined and described using different literary techniques and writing methods (Diniejko, “Jack London’s Autobiographical Account”).

London saw the slums in the two different ways. On the one hand, there was “a new and different race of people, short of stature, and of wretched or beer-sodden appearance” (5). On the other hand, the people who had to live in the slums were all those “lost and hopeless wretches dying at the bottom of the pit” (London 20). London tries to create the image of the city where the reader is free to create an opinion and develop an attitude. Morrison did not want to provide the reader with a chance to think. The task was to introduce the situation as it was when the boy thought about winning the prize just in order to provide “freely and generously… some hope of hot supper by way of celebration” (Morrison 26).

The most terrible issue in constructing and perceiving the slums as the places worth touring was the fact that most people had been convinced to be poor and miserable on the streets of East End London as the representatives of a wilderness of slums “by what they had been told, by what they had read in charity appeals… by what they had seen in police-court and inquest report” (Morrison 20).

London Poverty Maps

In Morrison’s book, there is also proof that London of the 19th century was divided into areas where the Missionaries lived, and where the Elevation Mission lived. Though the Missionaries, who were young men “with the educational varnish fresh and raw upon them… equipped with a foreign mode of thought and a proper ignorance of the world”, were few (Morrison 19). These people did not know anything about anxiety and fears because their parents did everything possible to protect them against the harms of modern society and cruelty around. There were also the workers who did any available work and “vegetated throughout a passably comfortable existence, leading to a righteous and peaceful life in all piety and probity” (Engels 2).

Mayhew is a successful developer of the taxonomy that may be applied to the inhabitants of London in regards to their abilities, intentions, dreams, and actual activities. His book was defined as a “cyclopoedia” of street life where certain facts of people and their activities were gathered and used to create the source about people who lived, travelled, loved, suffered, and survived in London (Douglas-Fairhurst). For example, there were wandering tribes, costermongers, and street-folks who preferred to do ordinary things and live their own lives regardless of the threats, opportunities, and challenges that could occur around (Mayhew 7).

However, if the rich areas were closed outside and inside, the poor areas were characterised by a number of values being developed as the only means to survive. For example, poor people believed in friendship and said, “We stick to each other through thick an’ thin, an’ fights for each other, and shares each other’s bite and sup” (Wise 225). Rich people could hardly demonstrate the same attitudes and abilities to develop their relations and put the ideas of friendship in the first place.

Taking into consideration the differences and the poverty map of London, it is possible to say that there is one place in London that remains to be unknown because of the Others, the slums, live there. The construction of the boundaries was crucial in such territories in the 19th century because the differences in economic terms existed (Steinbrink 221). However, poverty was a strong concept and could spread over different fields of life in addition to the development of appropriate economic conditions.

Sometimes, in London, the word “slum” was compared to the word “dirt”, and the word “dirt” could be replaced with the word “filth” (Steinbrink 221). This connective line was hard to explain because different “dirt” was closely connected to the hygiene issues or was a part of a moral category. With time, poverty and dirt were compared with sin and inability. Finally, the connection was identified, and urban topography and morality were combined to create an effective moral topography of London.

There were slums and non-slummers with their own motives and reforms. The only thing that differentiated them was the attitude to the standards and reforms. Rich people were ready to recognise and follow them precisely even if they did not comprehend the essence, and poor people did not understand the importance of such rules because of the necessity to survive and continue making attempts and distinguishing themselves as a worthy part of society (Steinbrink 222).

However, it is also necessary to mention that the opinions about the slums and their inhabitants can be developed in another way, after reading a literary work or even several projects.

Morrison and London about Slums

The novels Child of the Jago by Morrison and The People of the Abyss by London are used as the examples taken from the genre of slum narrative in order to investigate how the authors introduce and develop the chosen theme, and if their methods can be defined as educative and informative. The peculiar feature of Morrison’s narrative is the intention to introduce what the inhabitants and tourists think about the places of the slum where people have to accept their “black inheritance” and to promote the determination among each citizen (Hunter 292).

Morrison sounded very strict and even angry in his narration about the slums and compared the people who spent their lives in such regions as rats that had to be caught, nourished, and returned to the nest in order to propagate their kind (Morrison 133). Such attitudes proved one simple truth that though society rejected the necessity to help its poor people and take some steps to change the situation, the same society was in need of the slums because they helped to create the balance between what was bad or wrong and good or appropriate.

London slums and their people are also properly and interesting discussed by Jack London in his People of the Abyss because of the fact that this author decided to visit the East End right before start writing about it. Victorian London was a classic site of the slum where people were challenged socially, emotionally, and economically (Yelling 1). His story influenced many people so that the terms “darkest London” or “urban jungle” were used to underline the unpredictability of the development of the events and the future of slum residents in London (Diniejko, “Jack London’s Autobiographical Account”).

As Morrison used the worst slum region of London (Diniejko, “Arthur Morrison’s Slum Fiction”), the same way was chosen by London. It was not enough for the writer to describe some people in some poor areas of London. It was necessary to find the worst place and concentrate on its people and their lives. However, London differed from other slum narrators because of his intentions to consider his unique experience and demonstrate his empathy to dwellers. People were not guilty. They were defined as the victims, who had to live in that “huge man-killing machine” (London 20). It was an abyss where many people could suffer and experience misery.

It was a black hole in the Empire that had been created during the centuries (Diniejko, “Jack London’s Autobiographical Account”). It was the mistake of the British system that deprived people of the opportunities to earn their living and promote equality.

Though London and Morrison wrote about the same place, they saw the same people in different ways. Morrison was ready to blame particular people because of their inability to move and think rationally. London accused the system under which the inhabitants could not exist or could live poorly. Slumming was a challenge in the 18th-19th centuries. People wanted to survive, but they did not have enough opportunities.

Using the information given by the slum narrators and the facts gathered about slum tourism and people’s intentions to visit poor countries and sights where death or misery occurred, it is hard to understand why people want to turn a tragedy of society into a place of interest, a spectacle that does not have a certain beginning and a clear end. A number of slum practices were observed during the era of industrialisation and urbanisation (Gandal 8). People should learn how to solve their problems, but not think about the economic benefits that can be achieved with the help of dark or slum tourism. London and Morris showed one of the ugliest aspects of slumming and helped to realise that people had to take clear steps and make decisions in order to save their lives.


In general, people like to think that they can control everything and gain benefits from any activity and any practice chosen. The practices of slumming have their own characteristics and outcomes on people. Today, people find it normal to learn slumming through such methods as reading specialised narrations or choosing dark tourism. Dark tourism, as well as dark abyss, cannot be properly determined and structured. When people are involved in it, they have to be ready to act, behave properly, and use the information in order to survive. Poverty and survival turn out to be two main concepts in the practice of slumming because they include the goals and outcomes of human activities.

In this paper, the attention was paid to three main points which were slumming, dark tourism, and slum narration in the form of London’s and Morrison’s novels. In the articles and books, it is possible to find much information about slumming and the practices people prefer today. However, the historical perspective helped to realise that human sufferings and deaths should have their ethical and cultural price. It is unfair to turn memorials into places of interests and sites. It is unethical to believe that slum tourism can help people to solve their economic problems.

There is a contemporary relationship between the practice of slumming discussed in different credible sources and the genre of slum narratives in Morrison’s and London’s works. It is the necessity to think about slum tourism not as a way to entertain and find out new places but as a threat that could challenge millions of people in a short period of time. The cultural practice of slumming as a form of dark tourism helped to conclude that urban poverty and other human problems should not attract people and make the places worth visiting. Slumming is a problem that has to be solved. Potential tourists may not influence the current development of the events or change the history of the place.

Still, they can demonstrate their intentions to help and support all those inhabitants who cannot reach rich areas and have to stay in slums without hope and opportunities.

Dark tourism is a controversial issue in terms of literature, society, economics, and politics. It is hard to give one certain answer to the question of its importance. However, it is easy to define the relation that exists between the narrations and practices because this combination is important for society regardless of its location.

Works Cited

Daly, Nicholas. “The Volcanic Disaster Narrative: From Pleasure Garden to Canvas, Page, and Stage.” Victorian Studies, vol. 53, no. 2, 2011, pp. 255-285.

Diniejko, Andrzej. “The Victorian Web. 2011. Web.

Diniejko, Andrzej. “” The Victorian Web. 2011. Web.

Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert. “The Guardian. 2010. Web.

Engels, Frederick. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844. BookRix, 2014.

Gandal, Keith. The Virtues of the Vicious: Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane, and the Spectacle of the Slum. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gentleman, Amelia. “The Guardian. 2006. Web.

Hanrahan, Mark. “Huffpost. 2013. Web.

Hunter, Adrian. “Arthur Morrison and the Tyranny of Sentimental Charity.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 56, no. 3, 2013, pp. 292-312.

Jones, Gareth, A. “Slumming about: Aesthetics, Art and Politics.” City, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 696-708.

Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley. Dark Tourism. Cengage Learning EMEA, 2000.

London, Jack. The People of the Abyss. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. Wordsworth Classic of World Literature, 2008.

Morrison, Arthur. A Child of the Jago. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Pliny, the Younger. Complete Letters. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Sharpley, Richard and Philip R. Stone. The Darker Side of Travel: The Theory and Practice of Dark Tourism. Channel View Publications, 2009.

Tourism Concern. 2014. Web.

Steinbrink, Malte. “’We Did the Slum!’ – Urban Poverty Tourism in Historical Perspective.” Tourism Geographies: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment, vol. 14, no. 2, 2012, pp. 213-234.

Widse, Sarah. The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of Victorian Slum. Random House, 2013.

Yelling, James Alfred. Slums and Slum Clearance in Victorian London. Routledge, 2015.

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