"The Sea Wolf" is written in the traditions of the sea adventure novel. Its action unfolds within the framework of sea voyage, against the backdrop of numerous adventures. In "The Sea Wolf" London sets a goal - to condemn the cult of power and worship towards it, to show in the real light people who stand on the positions of Nietzsche. He himself wrote that his work is an attack on Nietzschean philosophy.
The very beginning of the novel introduces us into an atmosphere of cruelty and suffering. It creates a mood of intense expectation, prepares for the onset of tragic events. The captain of the schooner "Ghost," Wulf Larsen created on his ship a special world, living according to his laws. Sailors hate Larsen for being rude and cruel to them. Headed by Johnson and Leach, they make an attempt to kill him. Kok Mugridge, because of the cruelty of the captain, loses his legs. He swears to take revenge on him. The hunters support Larsen, but they always are quarreling with each other.
The situation is further complicated by the appearance of Maud Brewster. Van Weyden has open resistance to Larsen, ready to commit violence against the girl. The central role in the novel is played by Wolf Larsen, a man of enormous physical strength, unusually cruel and immoral. His philosophy of life is very simple. Life is a struggle in which the strongest wins. Weakness has no place in a world where the law of power reigns. "The law is in force, that's all," he says, "the weak is always to blame. To be strong is good, but weak is bad, or even better, it's nice to be strong, because it's profitable, and it's disgusting to be weak, because you suffer from this " Larsen is guided by these principles in his actions.
Some critics saw in the image of Larsen the glorification of the Nietzschean "superman". But with this opinion it is difficult to agree. London does not admire Larsen, but discredits him. It is the debunking, the condemnation of Nietzscheanism and the associated permissiveness, arbitrariness, cruelty "The Sea Wolf" is devoted to. Focusing attention on Larsen, London always emphasizes his internal deep failure. Vulnerable Larsen’s point is the endless loneliness.
Extreme individualism erects a barrier between him and other people. He arouses in them a sense of fear and hatred. Enormous opportunities, indomitable force, embedded in him do not find the right application. Larsen is unhappy as a person. He is rarely satisfied. His philosophy makes you look at the world through the eyes of a wolf. More and more often his black melancholy overcomes him. London reveals not only the internal inconsistency of Larsen, but also shows the destructive nature of all his activities, Larsen, the destroyer by nature, sows evil around him. It can destroy and only destroy. It is known that Larsen used to kill people "and when Johnson and Leach flee the Ghost, he does not just kill them, but laughs, puts on people doomed to death. Pity and compassion are alien to him. Even stricken with a serious illness, waiting for the approach of death, Larsen does not change. The virtue of the novel is thus not in glorifying the "superman", but in a very strong artistic realistic depiction of it with all its inherent characteristics: extreme individualism, cruelty, destructive character of the activity.
The author's position in the novel is very clear. London as a humanist brings a guilty verdict to Larsen, as an exponent of his harmful nature, his hostility to humans. In this sense the writer took a certain step forward in comparison with the "Daughter of the Snows" and some northern stories ("The Son of the Wolf").
In artistic terms "The Sea Wolf" is one of the best marine works of American literature. In it the content is combined with the romance of the sea: beautiful pictures of violent storms and fogs are drawn, the romantic of man's struggle with the severe sea elements is shown. As in the northern stories, London is here the writer of "active action". He does not downplay the dangers that are encountered at sea. His sea is not a quiet, calm water surface, but an enraged, raging element, that crushes in its path, is the enemy with whom a man waged an unceasing struggle. The sea, like the northern nature, helps the writer to reveal the human psyche, to establish the strength of the material from which man is made, to reveal his strength and fearlessness.