Jack London’s “Koolau the Leper” (1912) tells the story of a leprous Hawaiian who refuses to be reallocated to Molokai by the American government. During Koolau’s last stand, he keeps the American army at bay despite their superior weaponry. The story ends with Koolau dying from leprosy a free man on Kauai, his island home. Critics have long debated what this story reveals about London’s viewpoint on American imperialism and colonialism. I would like to augment this understanding by suggesting that London’s critique of American imperialism is in itself an act of imperialism. I propose that Jack London’s “Koolau the Leper” is an act of cultural dominance as he took the true story of Kaluaiko`olau, a political and cultural hero to native Hawaiians, and altered it in such a way as to present a traditional American hero: independent, rebellious of authority figures, and individualistic; by taking a Hawaiian story and transforming it to fit American sensibilities, London’s story becomes an instance of imperialism, a demonstration of America’s cultural dominance. London replaces Hawaiian values with American ones when he supplants the real Koolau’s story with his fictitious, highly exaggerated one. His fragmentation and reinvention of the real story of Koolau showcases a modernist response to the creolization of differing cultures and values and may even celebrate the convergence of cultures that occurs through imperialism.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
"The American Hero in a Hawaiian Myth: Convergence of Cultures in London’s “Koolau the Leper”,"
Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism: Vol. 10:
1, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/criterion/vol10/iss1/6