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.
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.
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