I ‘ll put a SPOILER ALERT on this post although I’m not sure it’s necessary. I read Jack London’s short story, “Semper Idem” this weekend. It was only five pages and while the ending wasn’t exactly surprising, it wasn’t what I was expecting.
A man called Semper Idem is taken to the hospital after he tries to kill himself by cutting his throat. A calloused doctor at the hospital is able to “miraculously” heal the man. According to the doctor, his ability to heal the man was due to the position in which Semper Idem was standing when he committed the act. After Semper Idem regains consciousness, the doctor explains to him how he should have positioned himself to “finish the job”. Not long after Semper Idem is released from the hospital, he returns after another suicide attempt – this time he is dead.
At the beginning of the story another hospital staff is bemoaning the fact that a different patient had died. After Semper Idem returns to the hospital, the doctor tells the other staff member “We’re quits now”. As though there is some sort of competition between the two of them. The question arises to me as to whether they are competing to save patients or competing to kill them. I’m not sure.
The darkness in this story didn’t seem to work as well as the darkness of “Moon-Face”, the Jack London story I read last week. It still has many of the themes that have become familiar to me in reading London’s work. It just wasn’t as satisfying as “Moon-Face”.