The Call of the Wild

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The Call of the Wild is a 1903 novel by Jack London which depicts the struggles of Buck, formerly a domestic dog, to adapt to the harsh, unforgiving environment and life of a sled dog in Alaska. The story-line is employed as a mechanism for examining the interplay between nature and nurture as Buck's primitive, instinctual nature reasserts itself and gradually comes to the fore.

The book proved extremely popular at the time and, together with the companion work White Fang, issued a few years later, helped cement author Jack London's reputation as a master adventure storyteller. The work has retained its popularity over the years and is considered among the best works of 20th century American fiction literature. The deeper meaning of the story as a classic quest tale belies its reputation in some quarters as a mere adventure tale for adolescent boys.

In writing the book, the author drew upon his own experiences during his quest for gold in Alaska at the time of the gold rush of 1897-98.

Plot summary

Buck is a big, strong dog living comfortably, but vigorously, in a loving and carefree domestic situation in the mild climate of California. One day, he is taken by his owner's hired gardener and sold to pay off a gambling debt. He is then turned over to a dog trainer who beats the angry Buck into submission, after which he is taken by train northwards to await deployment to a dog team pulling sleds during the Alaska gold rush of 1897-98.

Buck is acquired by a pair of French-Canadian mail couriers who are assembling a dog team for a run to Dawson. Once in the traces, Buck undergoes a period of mental and physical adjustment to his radically changed environment. Buck has been suddenly and cruelly ripped out of the only home he has ever known, in a mild environment characterized by love and friendship, and delivered to a harsh, hostile world where the only law is that of the "club and fang". He is aided in this transition by the first stirrings of the primitive instincts of his distant ancestors which are still coursing in his blood.

During the exhausting and dangerous journey to Dawson, tension develops between Buck and the bullying and treacherous lead dog Spitz, who sees Buck as a potential rival. On several occasions, they squabble and it becomes evident that they are headed for an all-out showdown. Meanwhile, the ancient primeval yearnings continue to well up within Buck while, simultaneously, the niceties of his former civilised life and ethics fade into memory. Then one day, on the return trip from Dawson, the final showdown between Buck and Spitz takes place, with Buck emerging victorious.

Upon returning to camp, Buck refuses to take a place in the traces until he is given the lead position, which he feels he has won by right of combat. Once this is done, the team is whipped into shape and, led by Buck, they complete the return run from Dawson in record time. Parting company with their drivers, the team turns around and, with a new driver, makes another round trip to Dawson and back.

The team arrives at their destination completely worn out and badly in need of rest. Within a few days, they are sold once again. The new owners are greenhorns, inexperienced in the ways of either the Northlands or the dogs. They leave immediately, without allotting to the dogs sufficient time for recovery and, as a result, they make poor time, run short of rations, and drive the dogs into a deplorable state, losing most of the team on the way. Halfway through their journey, they arrive at John Thornton's wilderness camp and are advised not to proceed due to poor ice conditions. They decide to leave anyway, and when Buck refuses to take his place in the traces, he is savagely beaten to the very point of death until he is rescued by Thornton. The rest of the team is whipped into proceeding, but the ice gives way and all - the remaining dogs, the sled, and the drivers - are lost.

Buck's wounds heal and he recovers his strength. He develops a deep affection for Thornton, the man who saved him. Still, the call of the wild persists and gains in intensity with his feelings for Thornton being the only thing which continue to tie him to the civilized life. Later, on a trip with Thornton's partners carrying a load of logs to Dawson, Buck saves Thornton's life after the latter falls into the river. Once in Dawson, Buck wins a sled-pulling bet and a considerable sum of money for Thornton.

With the winnings from the bet, Thornton and his partners go in search of a fabled lost mine. Buck, feeling the pull of the wild and primitive as never before, begins to spend time and even sleep away from camp, sometimes for days at a stretch. One day, upon returning to camp, Buck finds the camp occupied by Yeehat Indians who have despoiled the camp and killed all the occupants. Buck, in a wild rage, attacks them and drives them off. But now all ties holding Buck to the settled life are broken and he returns to the forest, taking up the leadership of a pack of timber wolves. Stories about him abound, and he has finally become transformed into the legendary "Ghost Dog of the North".