The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel by American writer Jack London, first published in 1908. Generally considered to be "the earliest of the modern Dystopian," it chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. It is arguably the novel in which Jack London's socialist views are most explicitly on display.
To understand the full impact of the dystopia it is essential to contextualise the work within a historical framework. Jack London’s novel, The Iron Heel was written during America’s Technological Revolution, or Second Industrial Revolution, a second technological innovation in industries such as steel production, petroleum and electricity. These technological innovations, however, came at human expense and detriment. In the early twentieth century, the workplace was a dangerous place for the working classes. At the turn of century, life expectancy for the average male was only forty-nine years old. From 1906 to 1907, 526 workers died in “work accidents”; 195 of whom were steelworkers in a single county, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As a result, a proliferation of socialism occurred across Europe and the United States, an ideology which is unmistakable throughout his text.
Real-life historical ideas, events and movements are represented in London’s text through his use of faction, the blending of fact and fiction in literature. Many of the events mentioned dated before 1908, the time of The Iron Heel’s writing and publication are factual (though London’s interpretation places upon them subjective and political bias), providing the modern reader with a factual framework in which to contextualise the novel. For example, London cites Census figures from 1900 and references Robert Hunter’s book Poverty to evidence the poverty of 10 million people in America. London seeks to prove to the masses that the existing society already bears the dystopian tropes of mass poverty and life-threatening factory conditions.