Summary of War by Jack London

In Jack Lon­don’s “War,” the nar­ra­tive focus­es on a young scout and his encounter with an ene­my sol­dier, the man with the gin­ger beard, set against the back­drop of an unnamed con­flict. This suc­cinct tale delves into the expe­ri­ences of war, high­light­ing the per­son­al cost of conflict.

Summary of War by Jack London
Sum­ma­ry of ‘War’ by Jack London

Main Characters

  • The Young Scout: Described as “a young man, not more than twen­ty-four or five,” the pro­tag­o­nist is char­ac­ter­ized by his alert­ness and the ten­sion he embod­ies as he nav­i­gates through the dan­ger­ous ter­rain on his scout­ing mis­sion. His role is to gath­er intel­li­gence and avoid detec­tion by the ene­my, a task that Lon­don illus­trates with vivid descrip­tions of the scout’s cau­tious move­ments and the con­stant threat he faces.
  • The Man with the Gin­ger Beard: This ene­my sol­dier emerges as a cru­cial fig­ure in the sto­ry’s cli­max. He is depict­ed with “a face cov­ered with sev­er­al weeks’ growth of gin­ger-col­ored beard.” His encounter with the young scout by a stream and lat­er, his fatal shot, define the sto­ry’s ten­sion and trag­ic resolution.

Plot Summary

The sto­ry unfolds as the young scout moves through a haz­ardous land­scape, con­stant­ly on the look­out for ene­my sol­diers. Lon­don paints a pic­ture of the scout’s soli­tary mis­sion with phras­es like “his black eyes roved every­where” and “so tense­ly was he strung,” cap­tur­ing the pal­pa­ble ten­sion of his jour­ney. The nar­ra­tive pro­gress­es with the scout’s care­ful nav­i­ga­tion through the envi­ron­ment, from the dense brush to the open fields and a desert­ed farm­house, each set­ting detailed with the imme­di­a­cy of the war’s dangers.

A piv­otal moment occurs when the scout, in his quest for water, encoun­ters the man with the gin­ger beard across a stream. This silent con­fronta­tion, marked by a momen­tary pause in their mutu­al quest for sur­vival, sets the stage for the sto­ry’s dra­mat­ic con­clu­sion. Lon­don uses this encounter to under­score the arbi­trary nature of con­flict and the shared vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of human beings on oppos­ing sides of a war.

The cli­max is reached when the young scout, after a brief respite in an orchard near the farm­house, attempts to return to his own lines. Detect­ed by ene­my sol­diers, includ­ing the man with the gin­ger beard, he makes a des­per­ate bid for escape. Lon­don cap­tures this moment with ten­sion-filled prose, cul­mi­nat­ing in the man with the gin­ger beard tak­ing “a long shot” that fatal­ly strikes the scout. The sto­ry con­cludes with the trag­ic image of the scout’s body on the ground, sur­round­ed by the spilled apples he had col­lect­ed, a poignant sym­bol of the life and poten­tial cut short by the sense­less­ness of war.


Jack Lon­don’s “War” is a stark, evoca­tive explo­ration of the indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences with­in the broad­er can­vas of con­flict. Through exact word­ing and vivid imagery, Lon­don crafts a nar­ra­tive that is both a per­son­al tragedy and a com­men­tary on the inhu­man­i­ty of war. The young scout and the man with the gin­ger beard embody the uni­ver­sal sol­diers, caught in the web of con­flicts beyond their con­trol, their brief encoun­ters high­light­ing the fleet­ing con­nec­tions and ulti­mate sep­a­ra­tions that define the wartime experience.


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