Told in the Drooling Ward


London, Jack


Short Story


Known best for his novels The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf (1904), and White Fang (1906), Jack London was one of America’s pioneering and most beloved adventure writers. Born in Oakland, California, London worked various jobs – including newspaper deliveryman and in a cannery – around the San Francisco Bay area. It was not until London went north to join the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska that he turned to writing. After he failed to strike gold, London was at the forefront of American adventure fiction within a few years.

“Told in the Drooling Ward” is quite different from most of London’s fiction. Instead of the frontier, the setting here is the confines of a state mental institution. Told from the point of view of a patient, the story follows a narrator that questions his place in the institution, flees, returns, and tries to find his place in the world. What informs our perceptions of the disabled? How do we identify who is disabled? How can care be offered to the disabled without impeding their independence?

Full Text*

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Originally published in the June, 1914 edition of The Bookman




Ability and Disability

Big Questions

What are the limits of "accessibility"? Should there be limits?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the narrator point out that he is "not a drooler" at the beginning of the story?
  2. Why does the narrator prefer the Home to the world outside? What does it give him that the outside world cannot?
  3. What does the narrator mean when he says, "Nobody has a right to call anybody a feeb that ain't"? Why does the narrator think he has this right?
  4. What role does the narrator think he plays in the Home? What role do others see him playing?
  5. Why does the narrator insist on staying with little Albert?
  6. How can care be provided to those in need without blocking their ability to make decisions for themselves?
  7. In you work, how do you determine where to place limits on emotional investment with patients?
  8. Why does the narrator feel the need to escape? Why does he come back?
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