Told in the Drooling Ward

London, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Oct-17-1996
  • Last revised: Sep-12-2006


The story is told by a man living in "the drooling ward," part of a California mental institution. The narrator has been in the ward over 25 years; he helps feed and care for the others. He calls himself a "feeb"--feeble minded--but believes himself to be better than the droolers and certainly better than the stuck-up "epilecs" who though they seem normal throw such terrible fits. He feels as if he could get released from the hospital at any time, but he would rather stay. He tells of the two times he left the hospital. The first time, he was adopted by a couple that ran a ranch. He was forced to do many chores and the man beat him. He snuck off and returned to the home. The second time, he ran away with two "epilecs," but they were hungry and afraid of the dark so returned.


London’s attempt to get inside the mind of his narrator is intriguing. The narrator evokes both sympathy and laughter. London can’t quite make him a serious character. The reader is positioned as an interpreter of the narrator. We know better than to say "epilecs" or "droolers" and feel skeptical of the narrator’s claims that he could leave at any time. London’s tale of mental retardation is thus different from other, similar tales that make the patient’s view the limit of knowledge, in which there is no outside, rational view available. See, for example, Bessie Head’s novel, A Question of Power (annotated in this database). Though London attempts to get inside the mind of his narrator, he remains aloof and judgmental.


First published: 1910

Primary Source

Short Stories of Jack London



Place Published

New York




Earle Labor & Robert C. Leitz & I. Milo Shepard