A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog.

dog

They give, and they withhold never, from what they need for themselves

The very poor can always be depended upon. They never turn away the hungry. Time and time again, all over the United States, have I been refused food by the big house on the hill: and always have I received food from the little shack down by the creek or marsh, with its broken windows stuffed with rags and its tired-faced mother broken with labor. Oh, you charity-mongers! Go to the poor and learn, for the poor alone are the charitable. They neither give nor withhold from their excess. They have no excess. They give, and they withhold never, from what they need for themselves, and very often from what they cruelly need for themselves. A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog.

by Jack London (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916)
from The Road, 1907
chapter – Confession
image – chubstock

Life on the Road

Today is Jack London’s birthday. In his honor, I dug up the text surrounding one of my favorite quotes. This rings very true to my ears, as if it is mine: “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog.” The rest is a peek into someone else’s life.

The Road is London’s detailed story of his time as a tramp in 1893 and 1894. In 1893 banks were failing and jobs were scarce. A failing bank in those days meant the money was gone – there was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, no Federal Reserve System. The depression of 1893 was the worst the US had experienced. Public sentiment had been that no American suffers from poverty unless it’s his own fault. By 1894 unemployment was close to 20%, and shame associated with poverty began to break down. Men like London hit the road, living on handouts and luck, hopping freight trains and dodging police.

In The Road, 18 year-old Jack London is living by his wits, sometimes working, often begging, constantly telling tales meant to get the sympathy of whoever could offer food, clothing or shelter. This was life on the road as a “hobo,” on the road in a time of change, fifty years before Jack Kerouac’s On the Road made it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

In the late 1800’s, many saw Socialism as a socially responsible solution to poverty and despotism. Jack London’s youthful socialist zeal gives a sense of mission to The Road, in the same way that respect for the relentless and terrible beauty of wild places breathes life into his most famous works, The Call of the Wild and White Fang.

London’s stories of the North were also based on experience. When news of the Klondike Gold Rush first reached the lower 48, Jack London sailed to Alaska. He didn’t strike it rich, but he did have serious scurvy and scarring frostbite. He walked the walk of the old-timer in To Build a Fire. He lived hard and big.

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2 Responses to “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

  1. clarissa mcfairy Says:

    This is so true, Elizabeth, what Jack London wrote, and your comments. And I can’t help thinking about the bone you share with us. Your Quote Snack. I think you are AS hungry as some of those who enjoy Quote Snack for these inspirations, which I suppose are food for the soul. And it is your hunger that created it, made you pack it into small parcels to share with others. Ofcourse that is an entirely different type of hunger, but I do think that in a world of fast food info, a hunger is created for something a little deeper and more edifying.

  2. Juanita Says:

    What an interesting quote and story!