The Call of the Wild

Introduction to The Call of the Wild

This adventurous novelette, The Call of the Wild, written by Jack London was controversial at first. It was published in 1903. The novella was about a sled dog, Buck. During the 19th century, Yukon Goldrush Jack traveled to acquire the gold. Even though he didn’t succeed, he used his experiences to write the story that gained him a reputation. The setting is of the Klondike region of Canada when such dogs were hauled to the region from entire North America to be used for hauling sleds working on the gold mines. Animal smugglers kidnap Buck, carry him to the far-off areas from the Santa Clara Valley where he stays with his owner, a judge, and taken him to Yukon in Canada. Buck, later, joins the pack of wolves and leads them from the front to avenge the death of his owner. The story was recently adapted as a movie to be screened in cinemas across the country.

Summary of The Call of the Wild

Miller’s mixed-race dog, Buck, enjoys life on his ranch in the Santa Clara Valley in California, leading a very comfortable life. When the Klondike region witnesses a gold mining boom, the demand for such powerful and strong dogs rises sharply. One night the assistant gardener kidnaps Buck to clear his gambler debts and sells him to dog traders. They carry Buck to a dog tamer who thrashes Buck to make him submissive.

When Buck reaches the dog tamer, he faces heavy thrashing and clubbing before he comes to his senses and understands that a club-wielding man is a law unto himself and that he must not attack such a man. After being tamed, he joins Curly, another such stolen female dog, and when they get off from the ship, they are violently attacked by huskies in which Curly loses her life. That was the time Buck determines not to lose life like Curly.  Buck is determined to save his life at every cost and soon finds himself handed over to Perrault and Francois, a duo working for the Canadian government. Both carriers adjust Buck to haul their sled and he submissively accepts his fate to work for them. During his hauling work, he comes to know the primitive life of might is right and scavenging for food in which he proves his mettle. Coming to his hauling tasks, he soon comes to know about the survival of the fittest and starts competing with Spitz, another sturdy lead dog, whom he kills during an invasion of the wild dogs and ensuing fight.

After killing Spitz, he also comes to know that he has become the leader of the pack of Perrault and Francois and soon breaks all records of hauling not only in timing but also in pulling the heavy loads. When he sees the lame or injured duck among them being shot at by the driver, he again testifies his idea of surviving against the life-threatening challenges and evaluates his case as being the fittest in the circumstances. By the end, he sees some of his pack being sold again to the American hunters, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. However, the hunters prove themselves quite inexperienced. They not only do they overload the dogs but also show their immaturity in understanding the journey which takes its toll on the dogs, causing food shortage among them, leading to consequential bickering and neglect. In this scenario, the dogs become the ultimate victims facing starvation.

Only halfway through the journey, there’s a food shortage and slowly the weaker ones in the pack begin to die. The owners shoot the incapable dogs and continue the journey with heavy loads. Once on a pitstop, they come across Thornton, an experienced outdoorsman who advises the owners regarding the ice that is going to melt soon and the dogs’ poor condition to move any further. The arrogant owner disregards Thornton’s suggestions and tries to continue. However, Buck refuses to start foreseeing the loss of life of his valuable pack. Hal beats Buck, Thornton stops and free Buck cuts Hal’s hand. Although Hal starts the journey anyway and halfway through, the ice drowns with others and the dogs.

By understanding Thornton’s suggestions, Buck accepts his mastership and devotes his life to serve his new master. This companionship benefits both the master as well as the animal, and Buck starts staying loyal to Thornton saving his life in every risky situation like saving him from drowning in the river and attacks the man who tries to fight Thornton in the bar as well as winning great wagers for his master by pulling heavy loads. Simultaneously, he sees the attraction of the wild growing in him which becomes stronger over time.

While the greed for gold intensifies, so does Buck’s attraction for the wild and he soon befriends a pack of wolves and starts hunting wild animals. However, his adventures occur simultaneously to return to his master at the end of the day. Once, when Thornton and his friends go on their gold quest in the deep Canadian forest and camp there. Buck leaves the camp to meet the pack of wolves and when he returns sees the Yeehat Indians dance near the campfire and assume that they attacked and kills his master with others. Later, leaves for the wild to lead his wolves, becoming a legend of a ‘Ghost Dog’. Yet, every winter he does not forget to visit the site where Thornton breathes his last and avenges Yeehats for his master’s death.

Major Themes in The Call of the Wild

  1. Survival of the Fittest: Despite the presence of the theme of wild, the novel, The Call of the Wild, shows the major theme of the survival of the fittest through Buck who learns that whatever he may do, he cannot overcome the man with a red sweater, wielding a club. Wielding a club becomes a symbol for him to show submissive behavior, teaching him the golden rule of “the survival of the fittest,” making it the primary reason to thrive and always keep himself fit. His entire journey from the ranch of the judge, Millier, from Santa Clara Valley to the Klondike region in Canada shows that he fits this quote as he is not only fit but also strong enough to survive the heavy odds including heavy thrashing with the club.
  2. Power of Wild: The theme of the power of the wild emerges when Buck realizes that he belongs in the wild and not under any human authority. He comes to know about it when Thornton saves him from the likely devastation during a heavy snowstorm and his former owner, Hal, insists on leaving. He, then, starts, visiting a pack of wolves and soon takes the lead in their hunting expeditions. When he sees that Thornton has become the victim of the Yeehat Indian attacks, he kills all of them as an act of revenge and leaves for the wild to live and lead the wolves forever.
  3. Loyalty: The novel shows the theme of novelty through Buck who stays loyal to Miller, the judge, who is his former owner until the gardener steals him to sell to the dog traders. However, when he sees no chance of going back. After several ordeals, he becomes loyal to Thornton who saves his life during an expedition in the Klondike region. This loyalty lasts until the last days of Thornton who faces a bloody attack of the Yeehats and loses his life in the fight.
  4. Companionship: Buck’s initial and final love with human beings shows that animals have always been companions of human beings, especially, dogs. When the first news of the gold rush comes to the Santa Clara Valley, the first stir in the society is to find out strong dogs that could haul heavy loads in the Klondike region of Canada. Buck wins the race but faces heavy abuse and beating to become a companion of some other fellow until he reaches Thornton who saves his life. He stays with his companion until he is alive. This shows a man’s need for a loyal companion and a dog’s loyalty toward a good human companion.
  5. Humanity: Jack London’s other point of contention in The Call of the Wild is the idea of humanity and the virtue of humanity. His is the idea that man is not blessed with inner virtue that he should act virtuously in all circumstances. He views that like Buck, humans can also face an irresistible attraction from the wilderness and when laws are absent, they immediately become wild. He also stresses the point that Buck represents humanity who learns the rule of law through clubs and not through debates or simple enforcements.
  6. Conflict: The conflict between vice and virtue or wilderness and civilization is the fundamental theme of The Call of the Wild. When Buck stays at the ranch of the judge, Miller, he stays civilized as he is living with a civilized person in the Santa Clara Valley. However, as soon as he departs with his abductors to the Klondike region to Canada, he naturally becomes fierce and finally accepts the wilderness when he sees that he could save himself with the pack of wolves. However, he has not forgotten his last link with the civilization, his owner, Thornton, who once saved his life.
  7. Pursuit of Mastery: Buck learns that the greatest mystery is how wilderness and lawlessness test a dog and a man. He faces a rival in the shape of Spitz and when he confronts him and dislodges him from his position, he comes to know the mystery of power. He soon learns that wilderness provides him a chance to lead the pack of wolves and be his own master instead of serving human beings.
  8. Force of Law: The Call of the Wild also presents the rule of law and the force behind the law. When Buck faces a read-sweatered man clubbing down his every attack, he comes to know the rule of law that he has accepted in the civilized world. The law is that a man with a club must not be attacked. The same goes about the law that when its protection is universal, nobody dares break it, for it always has a club of law enforcement behind it.

Major Characters The Call of the Wild

  1. Buck: Buck is the protagonist of the story as the story revolves around his life. His life changes from a comfortable pet dog with the judge to the wild hunter in the jungle. It proves a struggle that life is really a tale of the survival of the fittest. A mixed-race dog, Buck’s journey starts when he is serving Miller, a judge from the Santa Clara Valley. He is abducted by a gardener to be smuggled to the Klondike region in Canada to work on the gold mines. During his long journey when he reaches Thornton who saves his life. He also learns that there is no lost love or rule of law or altruism. You either perish, or you survive if you have guts, nerves, and stamina to tolerate others. When he passes through the grueling training under the read-sweater man, he comes to know the power of the club. Later, when Thornton saves his life, he devotes himself to serve his master and joins the wild wolves in the nearby forest when his master gets killed by the invading Yeehat Indians. He finally gives in to the wild instincts and leaves the civilized world, but comes every year to mourn the death of his master.
  2. Red Sweater: Also famous as a man with a club, or the club-man in the dog circles, the man with a red sweater wields a club and works as a dog tamer. He domesticates the fierce dogs and then hands them over back to their masters to use them for work. When Buck comes to him, he thinks that the club-man could easily be subdued without knowing the power of the club but later he learns that club is a law unto itself. Therefore, he makes a rule to be subdued before the club-man.
  3. Hal: Hal arrives when Buck is almost used in the government contractual system and he is put on auction. Hal, then, purchases Buck, seeing in him a streak that no other dog exhibits. He knows how to manipulate such dogs but later proves quite wrong when he also mistreats the dog to use the last drop of energy from them.
  4. John Thornton: When Buck is severely abused by Hal, Thornton comes to his rescue when he cuts his cord to let him go free. He seems to be an admirable character on account of his understanding of dog life and dog taming. He not only uses the dogs with kindness but also befriends them so much so that when the Yeehat Indians attack Thornton and kills him along with others, Buck tries his best to save his master and kills all the Invading Indians in this attempt. He finally leaves the civilized world for the forest when he sees his master no more but remembers to return to his grave every year to mourn his loss.
  5. Spitz: Spitz is a heavy and strong dog useful for dogsled teams. He is a husky which gives him a plus point. However, his cleverness and experience prove a match for Buck who competes with him until Buck kills him after an attack.
  6. Francois: A Frenchman from Canada, he is also attracted to the gold rush for which he is after the heavy and strong dogs for dogsleds. He is now working as a driver on account of his good knowledge of dog handling and dog psychology. However, his strictness proves too much for Buck, though, he gets rid of him later.
  7. Perrault: A friend and partner of Francois, Perrault works for the Canadian government to carry mail services. He is also an expert in dog taming and driving but Buck is afraid of him for his tail blazing work in such a fearless situation of frosty weather. However, Buck is all praise for him for his fearlessness.
  8. Curly: The character of Curly is significant in the course of the novel, for she belongs to the Newfoundland race and is a very sweet companion. She helps Buck after he lands in the carriage when he is being smuggled to Canada. She gets killed while befriending another dog on the way to Canada.
  9. Dave: Dave is known for his first acquaintance with Buck, the protagonist of the novel. He is the experienced one who tells other dogs about his experience in hauling dogsleds and takes pride in his work.
  10. Skeet: The Irish settler works on dogs to make them able to work for long hours. She takes care of Buck when he is not well and allows him to work for Thornton, his last master.

Writing Style of The Call of the Wild

As Jack London is popular for his descriptive writing, The Call of The Wild also shows his expertise as he describes the characters of Buck, Miller, Thornton, Spitz, and several other dogs and men to make them unique figures in his story. Despite using the third-person narrative, he seems to keep his objectivity intact. Critics mostly call this a naturalistic style that seems close to nature. Sentences are neither long nor short, while his diction suits the fiction. For literary devices, Jack London often uses metaphors, similes, and irony at various places.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Call of the Wild

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the whole life of Buck until he leaves civilization and enters the wild. The falling action occurs when he faces the wrath of the man in the red sweater when the latter attacks him. The rising action occurs when he attacks the Yaheet Indians who invade the camp and kill Thornton.
  2. Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora as given below,
    i. Manuel had one besetting sin. He loved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in his gambling, he had one besetting weakness—faith in a system; and this made his damnation certain. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death. It marked further decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. (The Law of the Club and the Fang)
    iii. But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse. (For the Love of Man)
    iv. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sounds, and in that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would reverently exclaim, ‘God, you can all but speak!’ (For the Love of Man)
    The above sentences show the repetitious use of “He”, “It marked”, “that was” and again “he.”
  3. Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions as mentioned in the examples below,
    i. “Old longings nomadic leap,
    Chafing at custom’s chain,
    Again from its brumal sleep
    Wakens the ferine strain.”
    ii. Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller’s place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides. (Into The Primitive)
    iii. And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when the Klondike strike dragged men from all the world into the frozen North. (Chapter-III)
    The first example shows the reference to the poem “Atavism” by John O’ Hara, the second to a place and the third to an event.
  4. Antagonist: Nature is the primary antagonist of the novel as it appears to test the mettle of Buck, the dog, as well as human beings.
  5. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Buck, the dog drivers, and the dog tamers and the internal conflict is going on in the mind of Buck about his attraction to primitiveness and civilization.
  6. Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The dog, Buck, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel when he leaves civilization and enters the wild world. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Mr. Miller, Francois, Perrault, Curly, and other dogs.
  7. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Mr. Thornton cuts the cord and saves the life of Buck from Hal’s cruel treatment.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows. For example,
    i. Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. Buck’s first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every hour was filled with shock and surprise. (Chapter-II)
    The mention of Buck’s situation in the first and second both show that he is going to pass through difficult periods of his life in the near future.
  9. Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles as given below,
    i. He had never seen dogs fight as these wolfish creatures fought, and his first experience taught him an unforgetable lesson. (The Law of Club and Fang)
    ii. So sudden was it, and so unexpected, that Buck was taken aback. He saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of laughing; and he saw François, swinging an axe, spring into the mess of dogs. (The Law of Club and Fang)
    iii. His new-born cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himself to the new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but he avoided them whenever possible. (The Dominant Primordial Beast)
    All the above examples exaggerate the thoughts of the dog as if he is a human being and is deliberately thinking on these lines.
  10. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. The next he knew, he was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting and that he was being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarse shriek of a locomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. He had travelled too often with the Judge not to know the sensation of riding in a baggage car. He opened his eyes, and into them came the unbridled anger of a kidnapped king. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. It was beautiful spring weather, but neither dogs nor humans were aware of it. Each day the sun rose earlier and set later. It was dawn by three in the morning, and twilight lingered till nine at night. The whole long day was a blaze of sunshine. The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life. This murmur arose from all the land, fraught with the joy of living. (The Toil of Trace and Trail)
    These two examples show images of feeling, color, weather, and sight.
  11. Metaphor: The Call of the Wild shows good use of various metaphors as given in the below examples,
    i. He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge’s sons; he escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge’s daughters, on long twilight or early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge’s feet before the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge’s grandsons on his back, or rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wild adventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, and the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king,—king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. Buck could see many gleaming coals, two by two, always two by two, which he knew to be the eyes of great beasts of prey. (Who Has Won the Mastership)
    These examples show that several things have been compared indirectly in the novel such as Buck with a bodyguard, a carrier, a friend, and then a king. In the second, the eyes have been indirectly compared to coals.
  12. Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with quite a somber and bitter mood but turns out to be highly exciting at times and tragic when it reaches the end when Thornton dies, and lugubrious when Buck returns every year to mourn his master.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Call of the Wild, are snow, ice, violence, club, and fang.
  14. Narrator: The novel is narrated from the third-person point of view who happens to be the author himself but from the point of view of the dog.
  15. Parallelism: The novel shows the use of parallelism as given in the below examples,
    i. Among the terriers, he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king,—king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included.
    ii. Strangling, suffocating, sometimes one uppermost and sometimes the other, dragging over the jagged bottom, smashing against rocks and snags, they veered into the bank.
    Both examples show the use of parallelism such as adjectives in the first and then participles in the second.
  16. Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications as given below,
    i. It stood back from the road, half-hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four side. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. A dozen times he charged, and as often the club broke the charge and smashed him down. (Into the Primitive)
    These examples show as if the ranch and the club have emotions and life of their own.
  17. Protagonist: Buck is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the world and moves forward as he grows young, helps his owner, is abducted, and learns to live on his own in the wild.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel is the Santa Clara Valley in California and the Klondike region in Canada during the gold rush era.
  19. Simile: The novel shows the use of various similes as given in the below examples,
    Buck’s feet sank into a white mushy something very like mud. (Into the Primitive)
    ii. Driving snow, a wind that cut like a white-hot knife, and darkness had forced them to grope for a camping place. (The Dominant Primordial Beast)
    iii. Joe was snapping like a demon. (The Dominant Primordial Beast)
    These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.