Call of the Wild

By Jack London

Plot Summary

Buck, a physically impressive dog, is living the good life in California when he gets stolen and put into dog slavery. For him, this means pulling a ridiculously heavy sled through miles and miles of frozen ice with little or nothing to eat and frequent beatings. As the definition of a domestic dog, Buck is out of his element until he begins to adapt to his surroundings, and learn from the other dogs. Buck also starts having strange dreams about the primitive days of dogs and men, before the advent of cities or houses or culture. There are no rules or morality here (interesting, since Buck’s first owner was a judge), save for what is called "the law of club and fang," a kill-or-be-killed, ruthless way of thinking. Buck becomes involved in a struggle for power with another dog, Spitz. They end up fighting and Buck wins, taking over as leader of the sled dog team. The team changes human management (new drivers) and the new people don't seem to be very competent. They’re bad drivers and end up killing everyone, including themselves. Fortunately, Buck is saved by a kind man named John Thornton, moments before the group death in an icy river. Buck becomes attached to Thornton and even saves his life several times. Buck sets off on a journey with his new master and several other men, loving his new life, except for the need to run off and kill things in the woods every once in a while. Buck fights with temptation: stay with Thornton, or kill things? Be civilized, or be wild? And naturally there are several missed phone calls from The Wild and a lot of angry messages ("Where are you already?"). At the end of Call of the Wild, Thornton is killed by the Yeehat tribe, on which Buck later extracts vengeance. Buck is then free to run with the wild dog packs, but only on the condition that he is leader.

Character analysis

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.


John Thornton

Buck’s final master, a gold hunter experienced in the ways of the Klondike. Thornton saves Buck from death at the hands of Hal, and Buck rewards Thornton with fierce loyalty. Thornton’s relationship to Buck is the ideal man-dog relationship: each guards the other’s back and is completely devoted to the other. The strength of their bond is enough to keep Buck from acting on the forces he feels are calling him into the wild.

About the author

Jack London was an American novelist, journalist, social-activist and short-story writer whose works deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. At his peak, he was the highest paid and the most popular of all living writers. Because of early financial difficulties, he was largely self educated past grammar school. London drew heavily on his life experiences in his writing. He spent time in the Klondike during the Gold Rush and at various times was an oyster pirate, a seaman, a sealer, and a hobo. His first work was published in 1898. From there he went on to write such American classics as Call of the Wild, Sea Wolf, and White Fang.

Recommendation

This is the first book I've read of his. His description of the Alaskan terrain is incredible. I have never been to Alaska but when I read this book I could picture it in my head very clearly. However, that does not take away what I think of the story itself. It wasn't bad. It was interesting, but I could not seem to grasp exactly what London's point was. Was it animal cruelty? Was it the wild should be kept wild, or is there some hidden social message? There are numerous other themes that I could guess at but I couldn't pinpoint the particular one London was trying to express. It did get me thinking but in more of a jumble of thougts instead of just focused on one. I would praise this book because I am a dog lover, and I would recommend this book to whoever likes dogs.