Analysis of Buck’s Character Development in “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London
In the novel The Call of the Wild written by Jack London, Buck was stationed as a compelling leading character who undergoes multiple character developments throughout the novel due to nature and nurture. London’s approach of characterizing Buck has been highly recognized by Donald E. Pease in his essay “Psychoanalyzing the Narrative Logics of Naturalism: The Call of the Wild” as to explain Buck’s transformation due to the changing environment he is surrounded by. While Barbara Hardy Beierl, in her essay “The Sympathetic Imagination and the Human–Animal Bond: Fostering Empathy through Reading Imaginative Literature” reflects the idea that the gain and loss of human-animal connections act to pressure Buck’s character change. I intend to show that Buck’s character development in the novel is the consequences of naturalistic behaviour as this is what Jack London conveys most clearly in regard to his use of character progression.
London’s work takes on influence from the works of The Theory of Evolution as he portrays the ideals that Buck is influenced by the surrounding environment. In particular, we see that with the harshness of the north: “[h]is development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became hard as iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain”. London clearly instills this adaptability in Buck to hint out his capability to survive. Buck is molded by the changes in his environment, thriving because he possesses the necessary genetic gifts of strength and intelligence to adapt to his volatile circumstances. The physical transformation of Buck has given rise to his change of character, as he became more ambitious for leadership. Thus, London demonstrates where his stance is put on the nature vs nurture debate as through the strengthening of Buck through the aforementioned events, we see him change to adapt to these. It seems Pease has similar conclusions regarding Buck’s transformation stating: “the agent of the free indirect discourse appeared to have been acted upon by Buck’s innermost sensations so as to transcribe Buck’s drives and bodily intensities”. The “free indirect discourse” mentioned by Pease is a type of third-person narration that acts to manipulate a character’s consciousness. London’s pursuit of manipulating Buck’s character mirrors the great impact of Darwin’s evolutionary theories. London takes into account that Buck who once lived in “the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley”, was provided with the domestic comforts of Judge Miller’s estate. Buck quickly learns the brutal world of dog-sledding — the “law of club and fang” in the hostile environment of Northland. This reflects that the fundamental deciding factor of how individuals change, in London’s mind, is the hardship they endure that allows their true character to show. Indeed, London’s belief lies in that Buck is further developed as a character through the unlocking of his innate savage through environmental pressures and that he has always bared these traits within him.
London has placed Buck in conflicts with human beings, to enact further character change through guiding him to a more civilized state; however, this does not play the same fundamental role as his environment. Throughout the story, Buck has multiple masters, one that provokes a dramatic change in the novel is John Thornton. No one had given Buck “[l]ove, genuine passionate love” like this, “it was his for the first time”. This affection from Thornton does not contribute to the development of Buck rather, this passage’s sole purpose is to establish the human-animal bond that humanizes the relationship between Buck and his owner. The introduction of love’s existence in Buck’s world of mental state is solely just a feeling. It does not induce any change in Buck’s character; further proving the point that London’s fixation on personal development is seeded more heavily in their genes rather than how they are treated. This is exemplified by the fact that in this sentence, there are only intangible words such as love and genuine passion. To London, these are mere abstractions that are independent to the physical change brought about in Buck. In effect, these feelings of love, and the warm affection he receives from his companions, human, and dog, do not have any bearing on his survivability in the Arctic. Indeed, Thornton was “the ideal master”, he “had saved his life” (London 60) for which Buck greatly appreciated. However, London instilled a strong personality that is difficult, nigh impossible to change through emotional connection. What really initiates Buck’s character transformation is the urges of his inner being. The “call of the wild” that guides Buck through multiple character developments, resurfaces his innermost true form. Without hindrance of social constraints of his owners or others of the pack, Buck is truly able to succumb to the full power of his “primordial beast”. London illustrates that Buck prioritizes nature more than even the only human that ever showed him affection he could understand. When Buck was brought to the wilderness along with Thornton, “[h]e no longer marched”, he “became a thing of the wild”. London also portrays Buck’s reaction towards nature as an “instant and terrible transformation” which turned him into an untamed beast. Buck has great dedication and remarkable for Thornton, yet still, he unleashes his true identity simply through exposure to wilderness. We must come to realize that Buck’s transformation was driven by his natural instincts, while his master shows no control over his thirst for blood and freedom.
London embraces the freedom and pride one can obtain as a pathway for Buck’s character development. Referring back to the scene when Buck’s loving master, Thornton, is killed by the Yeehats, “it left a great void in him”, yet this experience had a smaller bearing than we would expect on Buck. London saw the opportunity to emphasize that even in the heart of the most emotional event in the entire book, Buck’s natural power was exaggerated, leaving “carcasses” (83) about in a savage manner. Many could argue that this was in order to enact revenge on those that killed his closest friend, yet, when specifically analyzing the word carcasses it does not have connotations connected to revenge. Rather this word engages the reader in feelings of primordial carnage, the true nature of Buck, the wild savage wolf, is able to escape free from the shackles domestication. Buck felt “great pride” in the killing, “a pride greater than any he had yet experienced”, in killing man the highest prize. Although this can be taken as revenge on the life of Thornton, the emphasis on the killing changes the argument once more to the fact that London is allowing Buck to take hold of his most primitive urges. The “law of club and fang” no longer constricts Buck’s naturalistic being, Buck is freed from the chain of command comprises of men and clubs. London leads Buck’s character change in a climactic order, where men play the part to forbidden this dramatic change by asserting dominance through the “club”. London celebrates the fact that reward comes in the way of those who conquer their fears, in a very similar way, Buck attained pride from conquering and the freedom to unclothe his the wild and savageness that is stored within him. With this, London’s stance on nature vs. nurture is settled as in London’s eyes a score must be settled first with overcoming obstacles in your surroundings to become the animalistic being you were genetically coded to be. Heredity is more important than the way Buck was treated and it was only a matter of time as well as hardship that allowed him to pursue this side of him.
The Call of the Wild utilizes the development of Buck from tame house-dog to fierce wolf pack leader to describe the effects of naturalism and how its effect is felt much stronger than the effects of the comfort and preferential treatment he receives. London suggests that readers should draw a connection between the divided nature of Buck’s primordial state and the nurture he receives from his masters. It all draws to a simple conclusion that animals and humans share common traits and experiences because of their evolutionary connection and this is much more influential than the care given in Jack London’s eyes. London’s use of evolutionary principles has further proven the effect of nature on Buck’s character development in the story. After considerable thought about this, The Call of The Wild is not a story of how events transformed Buck, turning him rabid, rather this is a story of how these conditions allow an individual to revert to their state determined from birth.
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