Thursday, December 10, 2015

Call of the Wild
Jack London was born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876, the illegitimate son of Flora Wellman, the rebellious daughter of an aristocratic family, and William Chaney, a traveling astrologer who abandoned Flora when she became pregnant. Eight months after her son was born, Flora married John London, a grocer and Civil War veteran whose last name the infant took. London grew up in Oakland, and his family was mired in poverty throughout his youth. He remained in school only through the eighth grade but was a voracious reader and a frequent visitor to the Oakland Public Library, where he went about edu-cating himself and laying the groundwork for his impending literary career.In his adolescent years, London led a rough life, spending time as a pirate in San Francisco Bay, traveling the Far East on sealing expeditions, and making his way across America as a tramp. Finally, temporarily tired of adventure, London returned to Oakland and graduated from high school. He was even admitted to the University of California at Berkeley, but he stayed only for a semester. The Klondike gold rush (in Canada’s Yukon Territory) had begun, and in 1897 London left college to seek his fortune in the snowy North.
The gold rush did not make London rich, but it furnished him with plenty of material for his career as a writer, which began in the late 1890s and continued until his death in 1916. He worked as a reporter, covering the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s; meanwhile, he published over fifty books and became, at the time, America’s most famous author. For a while, he was one of the most widely read authors in the world. He embodied, it was said, the spirit of the American West, and his portrayal of adventure and frontier life seemed like a breath of fresh air in comparison with nineteenth-century Victorian fiction, which was often overly concerned with what had begun to seem like trivial and irrelevant social norms.The gold rush did not make London rich, but it furnished him with plenty of material for his career as a writer, which began in the late 1890s and continued until his death in 1916. He worked as a reporter, covering the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s; meanwhile, he published over fifty books and became, at the time, America’s most famous author. For a while, he was one of the most widely read authors in the world. He embodied, it was said, the spirit of the American West, and his portrayal of adventure and frontier life seemed like a breath of fresh air in comparison with nineteenth-century Victorian fiction, which was often overly concerned with what had begun to seem like trivial and irrelevant social norms.
The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, remains London’s most famous work, blending his experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness with his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence. He drew these ideas from various influential figures, including Charles Darwin, an English naturalist credited with developing theories about biological evolution, and Friedrich Nietzsche, a prominent German philosopher. Although The Call of the Wild is first and foremost a story about a dog, it displays a philosophical depth absent in most animal adventures.
London was married twice—once in 1900, to his math tutor and friend Bess Maddern, and again in 1905, to his secretary Charmian Kittredge, whom he considered his true love. As his works soared in popularity, he became a contradictory figure, arguing for socialist principles and women’s rights even as he himself lived a materialist life of luxury, sailing the world in his boat, the Snark, and running a large ranch in northern California. Meanwhile, he preached equality and the brotherhood of man, even as novels like The Call of the Wild celebrated violence, power, and brute force.
London died young, on November 22, 1916. He had been plagued by stomach problems and failing kidneys for years, but many have suggested that his death was a suicide. Whatever the cause, it is clear that London, who played the various roles of journalist, novelist, prospector, sailor, pirate, husband, and father, lived life to the fullest.
Plot Overview
Buck, a powerful dog, half St. Bernard and half sheepdog, lives on Judge Miller’s estate in California’s Santa Clara Valley. He leads a comfortable life there, but it comes to an end when men discover gold in the Klondike region of Canada and a great demand arises for strong dogs to pull sleds. Buck is kidnapped by a gardener on the Miller estate and sold to dog traders, who teach Buck to obey by beating him with a club and, subsequently, ship him north to the Klondike.Arriving in the chilly North, Buck is amazed by the cruelty he sees around him. As soon as another dog from his ship, Curly, gets off the boat, a pack of huskies violently attacks and kills her. Watching her death, Buck vows never to let the same fate befall him. Buck becomes the property of Francois and Perrault, two mail carriers working for the Canadian government, and begins to adjust to life as a sled dog. He recovers the instincts of his wild ancestors: he learns to fight, scavenge for food, and sleep beneath the snow on winter nights. At the same time, he develops a fierce rivalry with Spitz, the lead dog in the team. One of their fights is broken up when a pack of wild dogs invades the camp, but Buck begins to undercut Spitz’s authority, and eventually the two dogs become involved in a major fight. Buck kills Spitz and takes his place as the lead dog.
With Buck at the head of the team, Francois and Perrault’s sled makes record time. However, the men soon turn the team over to a mail carrier who forces the dogs to carry much heavier loads. In the midst of a particularly arduous trip, one of the dogs becomes ill, and eventually the driver has to shoot him. At the end of this journey, the dogs are exhausted, and the mail carrier sells them to a group of American gold hunters—Hal, Charles, and Mercedes.
Buck’s new masters are inexperienced and out of place in the wilderness. They overload the sled, beat the dogs, and plan poorly. Halfway through their journey, they begin to run out of food. While the humans bicker, the dogs begin to starve, and the weaker animals soon die. Of an original team of fourteen, only five are still alive when they limp into John Thornton’s camp, still some distance from their destination. Thornton warns them that the ice over which they are traveling is melting and that they may fall through it. Hal dismisses these warnings and tries to get going immediately. The other dogs begin to move, but Buck refuses. When Hal begins to beat him, Thornton intervenes, knocking a knife from Hal’s hand and cutting Buck loose. Hal curses Thornton and starts the sled again, but before they have gone a quarter of a mile, the ice breaks open, swallowing both the humans and the dogs.
Thornton becomes Buck’s master, and Buck’s devotion to him is total. He saves Thornton from drowning in a river, attacks a man who tries to start a fight with Thornton in a bar, and, most remarkably, wins a $1,600 wager for his new master by pulling a sled carrying a thousand-pound load. But Buck’s love for Thornton is mixed with a growing attraction to the wild, and he feels as if he is being called away from civilization and into the wilderness. This feeling grows stronger when he accompanies Thornton and his friends in search of a lost mine hidden deep in the Canadian forest.
While the men search for gold, Buck ranges far afield, befriending wolves and hunting bears and moose. He always returns to Thornton in the end, until, one day, he comes back to camp to find that Yeehat Indians have attacked and killed his master. Buck attacks the Indians, killing several and scattering the rest, and then heads off into the wild, where he becomes the leader of a pack of wolves. He becomes a legendary figure, a Ghost Dog, fathering countless cubs and inspiring fear in the Yeehats—but every year he returns to the place where Thornton died, to mourn his master before returning to his life in the wild.

Buck  -  A powerful dog, half St. Bernard and half sheepdog, who is stolen from a California estate and sold as a sled dog in the Arctic. Buck gradually evolves from a pampered pet into a fierce, masterful animal, able to hold his own in the cruel, kill-or-be-killed world of the North. Though he loves his final master, John Thornton, he feels the wild calling him away from civilization and longs to reconnect with the primitive roots of his species.


Although The Call of the Wild is told from the perspective of an anonymous third-person narrator, the events that are recounted are those that the dog Buck experiences directly. As such, it is not unreasonable to call him the only fully developed character in the story. He is the only character whose past we know anything about, and London is careful to emphasize the human qualities of his protagonist, enabling us to empathize with the animal. Filtered through the third-person omniscience of the narrator, Buck comes across as far more than a creature of instinct, since he has a sense of wonder, shame, and justice. He also possesses a capacity for mystical experiences and for great, unselfish love, as his relationship to Thornton amply demonstrates. He may be a dog, but he is more human than many of the people around him.
Buck’s story is cyclical: he is introduced as a pampered prince, and the story concludes with Buck as a veritable king of beasts. In between, Buck undergoes experiences that provide him with greater insight about the world. Buck begins as a spoiled regent, strutting proudly over his soft, sun-kissed domain, but he abruptly sees everything taken away from him. He is reduced to nothing, beaten and kicked and forced to pull sleds through the Canadian wilderness. This experience, though, far from destroying him, makes him stronger, and he wins back his kingdom—or rather, he wins a new kingdom, a wild one that better suits his true destiny as a wild animal. The Call of the Wild is, as its title suggests, a celebration of wildness, of primitive life, and even of savagery. Buck’s rise to greatness is not an easy path; it is a struggle, a course strewn with obstacles, from the long duel with his rival Spitz to the folly of Hal, Mercedes, and Charles. But these obstacles, London indicates, are to be rejoiced in rather than avoided: life is ultimately a long struggle for mastery, and the greatest dogs (or men), the Bucks of the world, will always seek out struggles in order to prove their greatness. Thus, when Buck goes from being a moral, civilized pet to a fierce, bloodthirsty, violent wolf-dog, we are glad rather than shocked, because we know that he is fulfilling his highest -possible destiny.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols

John Thornton

The Call of the Wild is, first and foremost, the story of Buck’s gradual transformation from a tame beast into a wild animal. But even as the novel celebrates the life of a wild creature, it presents us with the character of John Thornton, whose connection to Buck suggests that there may be something good and natural in the human-dog relationship, despite its flaws. Thornton, a seasoned gold prospector, saves Buck from being beaten to death by the odious Hal and then becomes Buck’s master. From then on, a deep and abiding love blossoms between man and dog. Their relationship is a reciprocal one—Thornton saves Buck, and Buck later saves Thornton from drowning in a river. It is clear that Buck is more of a partner than a servant to the prospector. This mutual respect, we are assured, is characteristic of all Thornton’s relationships to dogs—every one of his animals bears an abiding love for him, which is returned in kind. Even as Buck is increasingly drawn to a life away from humanity, a life in the wild, his affection for Thornton keeps him from making the final break. Indeed, so strong is their bond that it is broken only when Thornton dies, and even then Buck makes an annual pilgrimage to his last master’s final resting place.

Hal, Charles, and Mercedes

These three can be analyzed in a group, because London never develops them beyond our initial impressions of them, which are strikingly similar: Hal and Charles are foolish and callow; Mercedes is spoiled and sentimental. Taken together, the trio serves as a vehicle through which London attacks the debilitating effects of human civilization and warns of how little use such civilization is in the wild. From their first appearance, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes are woefully out of place in the untamed North. Both Hal and Charles display “a callowness sheer and unutterable,” while Mercedes is spoiled and unreasonable—“it was her custom to be helpless,” London notes. As a group, the three have no experience in the wild, and, thus, they make mistake after mistake, overpacking the sled, allowing Mercedes to ride instead of walking, and miscalculating how much food they need for the journey to Dawson. When their mistakes become apparent, instead of taking action, they begin bickering and feuding, fighting over old grudges and trifles rather than dealing with the problems at hand.
The civilized world tolerates and even smiles on such absurdity, London suggests, but the wild has no such mercy. In the cold of the Klondike, incompetence is deadly, not only for the three foolish Americans but also for the team of dogs, for the humans’ poor planning has brought them to the brink of starvation. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes are weak and foolish figures, and their folly has its own reward—death in the icy waters of a northern river.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Indispensable Struggle for Mastery
The Call of the Wild is a story of transformation in which the old Buck—the civilized, moral Buck—must adjust to the harsher realities of life in the frosty North, where survival is the only imperative. Kill or be killed is the only morality among the dogs of the Klondike, as Buck realizes from the moment he steps off the boat and watches the violent death of his friend Curly. The wilderness is a cruel, uncaring world, where only the strong prosper. It is, one might say, a perfect Darwinian world, and London’s depiction of it owes much to Charles Darwin, who proposed the theory of evolution to explain the development of life on Earth and envisioned a natural world defined by fierce competition for scarce resources. The term often used to describe Darwin’s theory, although he did not coin it, is “the survival of the fittest,” a phrase that describes Buck’s experience perfectly. In the old, warmer world, he might have sacrificed his life out of moral considerations; now, however, he abandons any such considerations in order to survive.
But London is not content to make the struggle for survival the central theme of his novel; instead, his protagonist struggles toward a higher end, namely mastery. We see this struggle particularly in Buck’s conflict with Spitz, in his determination to become the lead dog on Francois and Perrault’s team, and, at the end of the novel, in the way that he battles his way to the leadership of the wolf pack. Buck does not merely want to survive; he wants to dominate—as do his rivals, dogs like Spitz. In this quest for domination, which is celebrated by London’s narrative, we can observe the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the late nineteenth century. Nietzsche’s worldview held that the world was composed of masters, those who possessed what he called “the will to power,” and slaves, those who did not possess this will. Nietzsche delighted in using animal metaphors, comparing masters to “birds of prey” and “blonde beasts” and comparing slaves to sheep and other herd animals. London’s Buck, with his indomitable strength and fierce desire for mastery, is a canine version of Nietzsche’s masterful men, his Napoleon Bonapartes and Julius Caesars. Buck is a savage creature, in a sense, and hardly a moral one, but London, like Nietzsche, expects us to applaud this ferocity. His novel suggests that there is no higher destiny for man or beast than to struggle, and win, in the battle for mastery.
The Power of Ancestral Memory and Primitive Instincts
When Buck enters the wild, he must learn countless lessons in order to survive, and he learns them well. But the novel suggests that his success in the frozen North is not merely a matter of learning the ways of the wild; rather, Buck gradually recovers primitive instincts and memories that his wild ancestors possessed, which have been buried as dogs have become civilized creatures. The technical term for what happens to Buck is atavism—the reappearance in a modern creature of traits that defined its remote forebears. London returns to this theme again and again, constantly reminding us that Buck is “retrogressing,” as the novel puts it, into a wilder way of life that all dogs once shared. “He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had drawn,” we are told. “He linked the past with the present, and the eternity behind him throbbed through him in a mighty rhythm to which he swayed as the tides and seasons swayed.” Buck even has occasional visions of this older world, when humans wore animal skins and lived in caves, and when wild dogs hunted their prey in the primeval forests. His connection to his ancestral identity is thus more than instinctual; it is mystical. The civilized world, which seems so strong, turns out to be nothing more than a thin veneer, which is quickly worn away to reveal the ancient instincts lying dormant underneath. Buck hears the call of the wild, and London implies that, in the right circumstances, we might hear it too.
The Laws of Civilization and of Wilderness
While the two lives that Buck leads stand in stark contrast to each other, this contrast does not go unchallenged throughout the novel. His life with Judge Miller is leisurely, calm, and unchallenging, while his transition to the wilderness shows him a life that is savage, frenetic, and demanding. While it would be tempting to assume that these two lives are polar opposites, events later in the novel show some ways in which both the wild and civilization have underlying social codes, hierarchies, and even laws. For example, the pack that Buck joins is not anarchic; the position of lead dog is coveted and given to the most powerful dog. The lead dog takes responsibility for group decisions and has a distinctive style of leadership; the main factor in the rivalry between Buck and Spitz is that Buck sides with the less popular, marginal dogs instead of the stronger ones. Buck, then, advocates the rights of a minority in the pack—a position that is strikingly similar to that of his original owner, the judge, who is the novel’s most prominent example of civilization.
The rules of the civilized and uncivilized worlds are, of course, extremely different—in the wild, many conflicts are resolved through bloody fights rather than through reasoned mediation. But the novel suggests that what is important in both worlds is to understand and abide by the rules which that world has set up, and it is only when those rules are broken that we see true savagery and disrespect for life. Mercedes, Hal, and Charles enter the wild with little understanding of the rules one must follow to become integrated and survive. Their inability to ration food correctly, their reliance upon their largely useless knife and gun, and their disregard for the dogs’ suffering all attest to laws of the wilderness that they misunderstand or choose to ignore. As a result, the wilderness institutes a natural consequence for their actions. Precisely because they do not heed the warnings that the wild provides via one of its residents, John Thornton, they force the team over unstable ice and fall through to their deaths. The novel seems to say that the wild does not allow chaos or wanton behavior but instead institutes a strict social and natural order different from, but not inferior to, that of the civilized world.
The Membership of the Individual in the Group
When Buck arrives in the wild, his primordial instincts do not awaken immediately, and he requires a great deal of external help before he is suited to life there. Help arrives in realizations about the very different rules that govern the world outside of civilization, but also in the support of the pack of which he becomes a part. Two dogs in particular, Dave and Sol-leks, after having established their seniority, instruct Buck in the intricacies of sled pulling. Furthermore, the group members take pride in their work, even though they are serving men. When they make trips in good time, they congratulate themselves—they all participate in a common enterprise.
At the same time, however, one of the most valued traits in the wilderness is individualism. If The Call of the Wild is a story about ultimately achieving mastery over a foreign, primal world, that mastery is achieved only through separation from the group and independent survival. Throughout much of the story, Buck is serving a master or a pack; even as a leader he is carrying out someone else’s commands and is responsible for the well-being of the group. In many ways, then, when John Thornton cuts Buck free from his harness, he is also beginning the process of Buck’s separation from a pack mentality. Although Buck continues to serve Thornton, his yearnings for a solitary life in the wild eventually overcome him.
The balance between individual and group is disrupted once more, however, toward the end of the novel, when Buck becomes the leader of a wolf pack. Although the pack is much different from the dog pack whose responsibility was to serve humans by pulling sleds, the message seems to be that, while encouraging the skills to survive on one’s own, the wild ultimately requires the cooperation of a group in order to ensure individual survival.


Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Violent Struggle
Life-and-death battles punctuate The Call of the Wild’s narrative, serving as reminders of the dangers of life in the Klondike, but more importantly as markers of Buck’s gradual integration into his new environment. When Buck first arrives in the north, he watches a friendly dog named Curly brutally killed by a husky. Soon, he finds himself in a rivalry with Spitz that ends with the two of them locked in single combat, a battle from which only Buck emerges alive. Having established himself as a dominant dog with this victory, Buck must continue to prove himself in battles with other creatures—with a bear, with a moose, and, finally, with humans. When Buck kills the Yeehat Indians who have killed John Thornton, he is fighting for his life against mankind for the first time, a sure sign of his final assimilation into the wild.
One of the themes of The Call of the Wild is “atavism,” or an animal’s (in this case, Buck’s) recovery of the instincts of his wild ancestors. For Buck, this recovery involves repeated visions of his primitive past, which usually occur late at night when he is lying alongside a campfire. He sees the men around him as primitive men, draped in furs and wary of the prehistoric dark around them, and then he has visions of himself as a primitive, wild creature, hunting his prey in the primeval forests. Each of these visions brings him closer to his destiny, which is the return to his ancestors’ ways and becoming a wild animal himself.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Mercedes’ Possessions
Mercedes loads the sled up with so many of her things that the dogs cannot possibly pull it; later, she herself gets on the sled, making the load even heavier. Her insistence on having all of her possessions with her emphasizes the difference between the wild, where the value of an object lies in its immediate usefulness, and civilization, where the value of an object lies in its ability to symbolize the wealth of its possessor. Material possessions and consumerism have no place in the wild, and it is at least partly Mercedes’ inability to recognize this fact that leads to her death when the overburdened sled falls through the ice.
Buck’s Traces
The significance of Buck’s traces—the straps that bind him to the rest of the team—changes as the plot develops. The novel initially charts his descent from his position as the monarch of Judge Miller’s place in civilization to a servile status in which it is his duty to pull the sled for humans. But as he becomes more a part of the wild, Buck begins to understand the hierarchy of the pack that pulls the sled, and he begins to gain authority over the pack. After his duel with Spitz, he is harnessed into the lead dog’s position; his harness now represents not servitude to the humans but leadership over the dogs. Finally, however, John Thornton cuts Buck free from his traces, an act that symbolizes his freedom from a world in which he serves humans. Now a companion to Thornton rather than a servant, Buck gradually begins to enter a world of individual survival in the wild.
Buck’s First Beatings with the Club; Curly’s Death
When Buck is kidnapped, he attempts to attack one of the men who has seized him, only to be beaten repeatedly with a club. This moment, when his fighting spirit is temporarily broken, along with the brutal killing of Curly by a group of vicious sled dogs, symbolizes Buck’s departure from the old, comfortable life of a pet in a warm climate, and his entrance into a new world where the only law is “the law of club and fang.”
Buck’s Attack on the Yeehats
In the closing chapters of the novel, Buck feels the call of life in the wild drawing him away from mankind, away from campfires and towns, and into the forest. The only thing that prevents him from going, that keeps him tied to the world of men, is his love for John Thornton. When the Yeehat Indians kill Thornton, Buck’s last tie to humanity is cut, and he becomes free to attack the Yeehats, killing a number of them. To attack a human being would once have been unthinkable for Buck, and his willingness to do so now symbolizes the fact that his transformation is complete—that he has truly embraced his wild nature.Suggestions for Further Reading
KERSHAW, ALEX. Jack London: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
LABOR, EARLE. Jack London. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.
LONDON, JACK. The Call of the Wild and White Fang.London: Bantam Books, 1981.
NUERNBERG, SUSAN M., ed. The Critical Response to Jack London. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994.
TAVERNIER-COURBIN, JACQUELINE. THE CALL OF THE WILD:A Naturalistic Romance. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.
———. Critical Essays on Jack London. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.
WATSON, CHARLES N. The Novels of Jack London: A Reappraisal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,1983.

No comments:

Post a Comment