Humphrey “Hump” Van Weyden
Humphrey van Weyden starts the book weak of body but strong of mind. He grows stronger as the story progresses, physically through the manual labor, including his learning of the ship's workings and rivalry with ship's cook Thomas Mugridge and spiritually as he endures the various hardships, including his inconsistent relationship with Wolf Larsen. Upon meeting Maud Brewster, he realizes just how much he has changed, gaining muscle mass, a more rugged appearance, and a different outlook on life.
Van Weyden has a unique relationship with Wolf Larsen. Though he is in effect the captain's prisoner, Larsen shows him favoritism and occasionally acts as a father figure, giving advice on how to survive aboard the ship. Though Larsen claims to take van Weyden aboard primarily because he needed an additional hand, he also seems to genuinely believe he is doing something good for van Weyden. He claims that van Weyden has never "stood on his own legs", meaning he has never had to work and always relied on his inheritance from his father to survive. Throughout the book, Larsen compliments van Weyden on his growth, eventually telling him he is proud of him, and calling him a real man, able to stand on his own legs rather than a "dead man's (his father's)" legs.
Van Weyden has an ideology that is in sharp contrast to Larsen's. He believes in the eternal soul, inherent good, and that men should act justly under all circumstances. His views are constantly being challenged by Larsen, who encourages him to give in to his desires and behave in an amoral fashion. Van Weyden resists Larsen's influence and retains his original ideology. By the end of the story, Larsen is annoyed that van Weyden still clings to his beliefs and refuses to murder him, despite all the suffering Larsen has put him through.
Physically, Larsen is described as approximately five feet ten with a massive build: broad shoulders and a deep chest. He displays tremendous strength throughout the story. Van Weyden describes Larsen as beautiful on more than one occasion, perfectly symmetrical, a perfect specimen of masculinity. Yet, despite this, his true strength is described as something more primal, more primitive, and animalistic. This animalistic strength is representative of London's belief in Social Darwinism; Wolf Larsen's body had adapted so that Larsen could best survive on the sea and among sailors. He is extremely intelligent, having taught himself a variety of fields, including mathematics, literature, science, philosophy, and technology.
Larsen was born in Norway, though he is of Danish descent. He spent his entire life at sea: cabin-boy at twelve, ship's boy at fourteen, seaman at sixteen, able seaman at seventeen. It is unclear when he obtained the Ghost and became captain. He has several brothers, but only Death Larsen is mentioned.
Larsen displays characteristics similar to what would later be described as sociopathy. He has absolutely no qualms about manipulating and bullying people to better serve his needs. He routinely takes men hostage, castaways such as van Weyden and seal hunters from other ships, and uses them to fill his own ranks when needed. He murders and abuses people without hesitation, seeing no value in life. He enjoys the intellectual stimulation that van Weyden and Miss Brewster provide, but van Weyden describes their relationship as one between a king and his jester. According to van Weyden, he is only a toy to Larsen. The only other activities in which Larsen seems to find joy is facing death and being in extreme danger because it allows him to test himself; these dangerous situations range from storms on the ocean to tormenting or fighting his crew men.
Despite his immense internal strength, Larsen at times shows signs of weakness and depression. He is envious of his brother, because his brother is simple minded, and so is able to enjoy life unburdened. He also claims he is envious of Miss Brewster's and van Weyden's faith, but later says it is only his mind, and he knows he is better off without it. He also speaks of frustration that he never amounted to anything great. He claims that he had all the determination and will required, but was never given the proper opportunity.
Wolf is not Larsen's real given name, a fact known to the crew of the Ghost. His genuine given name is never revealed. Dialogue heavily implies that he is called "Wolf" because of his nature and viciousness, and, for similar reasons, his brother is called "Death".
London was an outspoken member of the Socialist Party. Wolf Larsen portrays capitalists as people who care only for themselves and are willing to destroy other people for personal gain. Larsen injures and kills his sailors without hesitation, except when the loss of a sailor would harm the productivity of seal hunting which would harm the profits for Larsen; this is a dramatic representation of capitalism and capitalists harming poor people.
The word "Wolf" has the highest number of occurrences in the novel, appearing 422 times. The name "Larsen" comes second, with 363 appearances.
Maud Brewster is "captured" by Wolf Larsen just as Van Weyden was. She is rich and her work involves writing: she tells Wolf and Humphrey that she earns 1800 dollars a year, but would need a typewriter, pen and paper to work on the ship. She is not accustomed to doing things for herself. She is twenty-seven years old and beautiful. As a captive on Larsen's boat, she uses her intelligence to survive. Miss Brewster has the ability to stare into people's eyes and tell their emotions.
Her beliefs are similar to Van Weyden, and she has read widely. It is the introduction of Ms. Brewster that causes the novel to change directions; van Weyden decides that Larsen is too dangerous and may harm Brewster. Van Weyden then makes an escape from the Ghost and Larsen with Maud Brewster.