The Call of the Wild: A Synopsis

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Jack London’s The Call of the Wild delves into the bond between man and dog as they confront the harsh wilderness. The narrative centers around Buck, the dog, and offers a distinctive perspective on the man-dog dynamic from the animal’s point of view. Throughout the novel, Buck experiences various owners, but only feels affection for the first and last individuals mentioned in the story. Under Judge Miller’s care, Buck experiences love as he receives all that a domesticated animal could desire. In contrast, his devotion to John Thornton arises from reciprocal respect and a mutually beneficial connection.

Buck develops a strong dislike for all other humans, which causes him to distance himself from his beloved master and align more with his wild instincts. The mistreatment from his human masters plays a significant role in Buck’s deterioration, surpassing even the influence of his fellow dogs. This mistreatment leads to his transformation from a domesticated pet into the dominant male of a wolf pack.

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Buck spends his youthful days on the estate of his master, Judge Miller. He is accompanied by the judge’s children and a few animals, but none of them influence his survival instincts. Buck remains physically fit by joining the boys on hunting and fishing trips, contrasting with the lazy family dogs. According to London, it appears that Buck is in control of the entire realm.

Living in a domesticated environment where there is little struggle, Buck has seemingly forgotten the instincts of his ancestors. For them, everything was difficult and every day was a battle. However, when he encounters a man he cannot trust, Buck’s inner wolf emerges and he abandons his life of luxury. This implies that his time at the Miller estate only momentarily subdued his primal instincts, as it didn’t take long for him to become hostile towards those who provoke him.

Buck’s introduction to the “Law of Club and Fang” was his first valuable lesson from humans, specifically the man wearing a red sweater who mistreated him. Prior to this incident, Buck had been obedient and had faith in all humans, as evidenced by his willing cooperation with his kidnapper. However, the man in red undermines his trust in human authority, causing Buck to undergo a transformation and gradually distance himself from his previously cherished life.

As he endures brutal beatings, he painfully discovers to distrust humans. By observing other dogs undergo the same fate, he realizes that obeying the law of club and fang is necessary for survival. Initially joining Francois’s and Perrault’s team as a sled dog, Buck is bewildered and terrified by his new existence. Within moments, Buck comprehends that he faces constant danger from both the elements and his fellow canines.

By observing the other dogs in the traces, Buck acquires various survival skills. For instance, he learns to keep warm during the night by burrowing under the snow and realizes that if he loses a fight, he will be attacked by all the dogs. Additionally, Buck discovers the art of pilfering extra food rations from his owners, whom he respects but remains wary of. Although he gains valuable knowledge from the other sled dogs, it is ultimately his human masters who exert the greatest influence on him, as all the dogs, including Buck, must submit to the crack of the whip.

As Buck adjusts to life as a sled dog, he gains more respect from Francois and Perrault, who encourage him to work harder. Buck truly begins to shed his excesses when he interacts with humans.

The comfortable life he had with Judge Miller is forgotten as Francois, Perrault, and the other dogs teach him to live simply. It becomes evident that the wild nature inside him had always been present, and it is the humans’ experiences that bring it out.

In the novel, a significant event occurs when Buck triumphs over his rival Spitz in a fight until one of them dies. This confrontation was bound to happen and hinted at beforehand. After the fight, Buck is resolved to become the leader of the dog team. When Francois tries to replace Spitz with another dog, Buck stands his ground and refuses to give in. Even when Francois threatens him with a club, Buck recalls a valuable lesson taught by the man in red. He cleverly manipulates the men into conceding the leadership position to him, a position he had rightfully deserved.

This demonstrates the extent of the impact that his interaction with humans had on Buck, and exposes his true nature as a “dominant primordial beast.” Just as Buck is starting to adapt to his new life, he is once again faced with another adjustment. Francois and Perrault sell him to a new set of owners – the incredibly foolish Charles, Hal, and Mercedes. Buck immediately becomes cautious of these clumsy humans who are even more ignorant about the wilderness than Buck was initially.

The three individuals are the result of an artificial and intricate society, unable to find a balance between their desire for material possessions and the need for simplicity in order to survive in the wilderness (Benoit). Among them, Mercedes is the most culpable, shedding tears when the men are forced to abandon her personal belongings to lighten the load on the sled. Initially, she is the only one who displays kindness towards the dogs, but that changes when her own survival becomes the top priority (Bolan).

She continuously complains until the men finally give in and allow her to ride on the already overloaded sled, further exhausting the sleep deprived dogs. Buck’s internal transformation continues, gradually developing a stronger hatred towards humans as he spends more time in their presence. He is repulsed by their ignorance, as they clearly lack the knowledge of how to effectively manage a sled dog team. Before long, it becomes evident that the team is destined for failure, and Buck ultimately collapses while pulling the sled, refusing to continue. Despite enduring a brutal beating from Hal’s club, Buck remains determined not to proceed any further: “It was a heart-wrenching sight, although Buck’s spirit remained unshakable.”

The man in the red sweater had proved that” (51). As Hal continues to mercilessly strike Buck’s body with the club, another human enters Buck’s life. John Thornton, who will soon become Buck’s new and last owner, rescues him and cares for him until he recovers, while the rest of the team rides away and perish at the hands of nature’s unforgiving forces. Observing the downfall of the three inexperienced humans who died because of their own foolishness only increases Buck’s isolation from society.

After being swallowed up by earth, Charles, Hans, Mercedes, and the rest of the dogs, Buck starts to develop affection for his new master. The only man Buck truly loved was Thornton, as his relationship with the judge’s sons was merely a “working partnership” (56). Additionally, Buck experiences separation anxiety whenever Thornton is too far away because the “transient masters since he had come into the Northland had bred in him a fear that no master could be permanent” (58). Buck has been abandoned by all the other men in his life, leading him to constantly fear that a similar fate awaits him with Thornton.

Buck’s only remaining connection with humans is his deep love for his master. The beckoning shades in the forest draw him farther away from mankind each day. Whenever he hears the thrilling and enticing call, he feels obligated to leave the fire and the familiar ground behind, and venture into the forest. He is unaware of his destination or purpose, but he follows the imperative call that resonates from the depths of the forest.

As frequently as he reached the soft unbroken earth and the green shade, his affection for John Thornton compelled him to return to the fire once more. Thornton solely held his allegiance. All other humans were insignificant. (59) This signifies Buck’s ultimate regression. The only remaining connection is John Thornton. With the call of his ancestors growing stronger each day, Buck has no other motive to remain except for his master. Because of his intense love for Thornton, Buck is able to push himself to levels of exertion never previously reached, as exemplified by his pulling of the thousand pound sled in order to win a wager for his master.

Despite Buck’s love for Thornton, he still longs to be free from domestication and return to his wild wolf ancestors. When Buck discovers Thornton’s death upon his return to the camp, it breaks the final link that kept him tied to civilization. Something inside him snaps and he unleashes his fury upon the Yeehat tribe, who killed his beloved master. In that moment, Buck realizes that he has taken a life, going against the laws of nature. He understands that he has killed a human, the most noble prey, and he has done so in defiance of the primitive laws of survival.

From that moment on, Buck no longer feared man. In fact, man and the claims of man no longer bound him at all. Finally, he was ready to obey the calling of his ancestors (82).
Works Cited Benoit, Raymond. “Jack London’s ‘The Call of the Wild’. ” American Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, Part 1 (Summer, 1968, pp. 246-248. Johns Hopkin University Press. http://www. jstor. org/stable/2711035. Bolan, Chloe. Overview of “The Call of the Wild,” Novels for Students, Vol. 8, The Gale

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