Introduction: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
What is your call to the wild? What is your true nature?
There are many times in our lives when very bad things happen to us. We feel horrible, sometimes broken, and unsure if we’ll ever be whole again. Later when we look back with perspective, we realize that we had to go through the traumatic event to shape our lives because the best was and is yet to come. Our ability to adapt, and reinvent our lives when things fall apart will help us get through any negative event. The Call of the Wild by Jack London gives us a glimpse into how it is possible to live well after a life-changing even.
The Story: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Call of the Wild by Jack London is told from the perspective of Buck, a four year old, 140 pound, St. Bernard/Scotch shepherd dog.
Buck’s owner is a judge who loves hunting, and they go out together. As far as dogs are concerned, Buck is living a very privileged life, and over the years, his ancestors have been domesticated. He doesn’t know what it means to hunt for his own food, and he lives in Santa Clara where they have warm weather.
Manuel, the judge’s gardener is addicted to Chinese lottery, and cannot support his family and lifestyle on his meager earnings, so he has to figure out a way to feed his addiction. He comes up with the novel idea of selling Buck. The dog is very trusting, because he has never been given any reasons not to be. He has always been very well taken care of. When you think about it, in his short life, Buck has been treated royally.
When Manuel sells Buck to the stranger, the dog fights to get away, but a rope is tied around his neck, which immobilizes him. Never in his life has he ever been treated so shabbily. Buck is taken on a train, and the first chance he gets he attacks his kidnapper, but cannot get free.
He is put into a cage-like crate. Buck travels in his crate in a wagon, a truck and steamer and truck to his final destination over a period of two days. He works himself into a frenzy, and when he is finally released he tries to attack the man in the red sweater who opens the cage. He is hit several times with a club to break his spirit and subdue him. Although he is still incensed, he cannot fight because of the beaten he is subjected to.
Buck is broken but not beaten.
From his experience, he learns to become cunning and patient. More dogs arrive and the fierce ones like himself are beaten with the club. He learns the lesson that a man with a club is a law giver – a master to be obeyed. Some men arrive and purchase dogs and Buck is always happy when he is not chosen – he fears the unknown, at least he knows what to expect of the stranger in the red sweater. The day arrives when Buck, and Curly, a Newfoundland are chosen by Perrault (government courier) and turned over to Francois, a French-Canadian.
Buck and Curly are taken on the Narwhal, a ship, where they join two other dogs. When the dogs disembark from the ship, Buck gets his first sight and taste of snow. He quickly learns survival skills in the wild – learns how to make a home in the snow. Buck is very astute and learns by observing others.
Dave and Sol-leks are Buck’s teachers and mentors – they teach him the ropes. From their direction, he learns how to pull Francois’ sled. Each day, he gets a ration of 1 ½ pounds of sundried salmon, which is not nearly enough for a dog of his size. The other dogs that are smaller get less food.
Buck has no choice but to learn how to survive in the hostile Northland environment and Darwin’s survival of the fittest comes into play because it is in his genes to survive. He adjusts to trail life and adapts to his environment – he can eat anything, his tissues become tougher and his hearing is more acute. He also has keener sight and smell and is very attuned to his environment.
He loses his domesticity. There is a very big change occurring within Buck and he senses it. I read somewhere that all of us possess the knowledge of our ancestors, but I have no idea how we would tap into that ancestral knowledge. Out in the wild, suddenly Buck knows all that his ancestors knew and he now knows how to survive.
There is a great rivalry brewing between Buck and top dog Spitz. Buck threatens the other dog’s leadership. It’s the first time that a dog from a southern climate has had so much strength and tenacity. Spitz led the dogs with a high hand and they followed his lead out of fear. Buck refuses to capitulate when it comes to Spitz. There are many incidents between the two and on various occasions both get punished, depending on if they are seen by the humans. Francois knows that it is only a matter of time when a final showdown occurs between Buck and Spitz and only one will survive.
There is mutiny against Spitz and the other dogs start to rebel – no longer there is unity among them and it affects their work. The showdown between Buck and Spitz finally happens. Spitz is a practiced fighter but that doesn’t prevent Buck from going up against him. Buck is wounded but he prevails. He watches his opponent and changes his strategy accordingly.
Having defeated Spitz, Buck assumes that he has earned the leadership role, but Francois gives the role to Sol-leks. Buck is furious and refuses to cooperate – he stands up for what he believes in. They are delayed for over an hour and Francois rethinks his decision. Buck is a superior leader to Spitz and “whips” the other dogs into shape. The team recovers their solidarity.
The dogs get new owners, which run them ragged. They get less time to rest. In less than five months they have travelled 2,500 miles. During the last 1,800 they have had only five days of rest. Talk about cruelty to animals. Weary and tired the animals are discarded like old coats with holes. Hal and Charles, two Americans, buy the dogs for a cheap price. The new owners are not businesslike, and have no understanding of how to treat the dogs, and do not allow the dogs to rest before they embark on their journey. Initially, only Mercedes, Charles’ wife has any compassion for the animals. Hal and Charles overload the sled and whip the dogs when they cannot pull it. Others tell the two that they need less load and more dogs. They get six more dogs that are not up to snuff, for the two it is very much about saving money.
Hal and Charles are incompetent – they don’t know how to lead, and they bicker all the time. Hal clubs the tired animals mercilessly, until at one point Buck refuses to go further – he also senses danger. All the beating doesn’t budge him. A man by the name of John Thornton intervenes and threatens to kill Hal if he hits Buck one more time.
Hal, Charles, and Mercedes leave without Buck and shortly after they fall through the ice and die.
With his new owner, Buck grows stronger. Skeet, an Irish setter licks his wounds and helps to nurse him back to health. And Nig a huge black dog is less demonstrative, but friendly. The dogs are kind to Buck, just like their owner John Thornton. For the first time, Buck experiences what it is like to be truly cared for and loved, and because of that he never steals from Thornton. In Santa Clara, the judge didn’t mistreat Buck, but he didn’t love the dog – it was just an animal.
The primitive and the wild remains inside of Buck. Buck stays with Thornton and saves his life twice. In addition, while men were bragging, as they often do, Thornton bragged that Buck could pull a thousand pounds, and was called on it. He doesn’t know if Buck can actually do it, but the dog senses that something big is expected of him from his master and he delivers, earning his master $1600 for five minutes of work. Thornton is able to pay off his debts and he and his partners, Pete and Hans, along with Buck and six other dogs head east in search of A FABLED lost mine.
Buck is delighted with this excursion back into the wild. They trek for a long time, taking many well deserved breaks. They do not find the “Lost Cabin” that they are seeking, but instead find gold. They don’t go any further but work and pan the gold and put them in 50 pound sacks. While panning the gold, the dogs do not have much to do and Buck remembers all that he had been through. He yearns to go into the depths of the forest. He answers the call and goes away hours at a time.
On one such excursion, he encounters a wolf and they roam together for a while, but Buck returns to camp where John Thornton is. Buck is restless and starts roaming the forest for longer periods of time. He kills other animals to survive. While Buck is away, the Yeehats Indians attack the camp killing Thornton, Hans and Pete as well as the animals. In his fury, he starts killing them, and in the melee they start shooting arrows at each other. In the end, they flee thinking that Buck is an Evil Spirit. Thornton is dead so Buck is now free to accept the call of the wild. He meets the wolf and joins their pack and later they interbreed.
Conclusion: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
I recommend The Call of the Wild because there are many lessons that it can teach us about our nature.
Call of the Wild ( 2000 ) TV Movie
The Call of the Wild (Global Classics)White Fang (Dover Thrift Editions)The Sea Wolf Jack LondonJack London : Novels and Stories : Call of the Wild / White Fang / The Sea-Wolf / Klondike and Other Stories (Library of America)Jack London: An American LifeJack London Six Pack: The Call of the Wild, White Fang, A Day’s Lodging, John Barleycorn, Love of Life and Hobos in the NightThe Iron HeelThe People of the Abyss / The Road / The Iron Heel / Martin Eden / John BarleycornJack London, best novels