Jack London’s The Call of the Wild Essay
World literature consists of numerous examples when prominent writers turn to animal characters who are hardly distinguishable from human protagonists. The idea of such a trick is to convey a stronger message to the audience, as people relate to animals because they depict many human traits. Jack London is not an exception in this context, as he truly loved the idea of having dogs as main characters (Tichi, 2015). The purpose of the essay is to summarize the story of The Call of the Wild, describe its characters and themes, express the opinion regarding the background story behind key characters’ relationship, and get an understanding of the nature of living creatures.
The story takes place in the Yukon Territory, the area between north-western Canada and Alaska, during the Klondike gold rush. Jack London, in his callow years, was one of those who rolled the dice and went to the North to get rich fast. Jack was a highly independent person, and around the time of The Call of the Wild publication, he “was surging with self-confidence” (McAleer, 2016, p. 9). Not only people were involved in the Klondike enterprise but also dogs like the protagonist of the book. Buck is a mixed-breed dog; his father is St. Bernard, and his mother is a Scotch shepherd dog. He lives in a sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley with his master Judge Miller. However, his peaceful life ends when miners in the North discover a yellow metal called gold.
Buck is a muscular creature who is neither house nor kennel dog, and he trusts the people he knows. Although he has never experienced people’s cruelty, one day, the gardener Manuel, who is a gambler, kidnaps him and sells to dog dealers. One of them clothed in a red sweater becomes dog’s handler and grossly mistreats him, later on, this man re-sells Buck to a Canadian government official named Perrault. Buck reaches the Dyea beach, where he immediately learns club and fang law. Being forced to become a slave, he adjusts to a new life and steadily starts acting like a wolf. He takes the role of the leader of a dog team after he has killed his mortal foe Spitz and proves to be worthier than several other dogs (Zeng, 2018). When human management of the team changes, Buck soon finds a new master whose name is John Thornton. Buck gets attached to John, so he even can risk his life for the man’s sake. When the Yeehats kill Thornton, Buck gets mad and kills people of this tribe. The book ends with a legend of Buck being the leader of the wolf pack who keeps on daunting the Yeehats.
The description of the main characters of the book should start with the protagonist. The development of Buck is tremendous throughout the entire book, as he steadily turns into the opposite of himself. At the start, Buck enjoys his lush life in sunny Northern California, and in the end, he is presented as a fierce, vengeful, and greedy leader of the pack. It is almost unbelievable that Buck is a dog because London overly humanizes him. He has emotions, feelings, affections, so the fact that Buck is a dog can be overseen. He, as any living creature, is torn between various temptations making his life quite thorny and complicated.
On the one hand, he has always perceived himself as a civilized dog who is alien to brutality. On the other hand, he is deceived by the wild, which feels like home to him. Even though he happens to meet a master who is kind and fond of the dog, Buck doesn’t want to be just a man’s best friend anymore.
The central human character is John Thornton, who is the last master of Buck. London doesn’t give any details of Thornton’s life because his primary role is to reveal Buck’s character to an even greater extent. Thornton’s presence in Buck’s life is also a challenge: the dog loves the master so much that he even risks the life for Thornton’s sake, but he also wants to go into the wild. Another dog character is Spitz, who is Buck’s most despised enemy and rival. Spitz is the catalysator, which lets Buck understand what an amoral creature is, but he also pushes Buck to the dueling to decide who is worth the status of a leader. There are more characters in the book, but most of them play episodical roles in the biography of Buck.
The themes of the book represent a wide range of topics from the struggle for mastery to the binary relations between civilization and wilderness. Obtaining master status doesn’t seem to be the biggest goal of Buck when a reader first meets him. However, as everything in this book evolves fast, so does the mastery. Buck understands quite early that he has to become a master because this is the law of his ancestors (Zeng, 2018). He doesn’t want to be weak because he knows what happens to those who cannot fight their vulnerabilities. He struggles to become a super creature who is the master of his own. Another theme, binarity of wilderness and civilization, is also of significant interest in the book. It is very relevant at all times, as London once again demonstrates how thin the invisible line is between two concepts. Buck is undoubtedly not the only one who surrenders to the temptation of the instincts and acts like a wolf in the world of barbarity. He learns new things fast, but he also forgets the old ones even faster.
In my opinion, there is an obvious thread of personal history going through the entire book. In reality, the relationship between Thornton and Buck is based on the ties between London and his foster dad, John London. The character and foster parent of the author do not solely share the same name, but also the idea of adopting creatures who desperately needed to be taken under their wings. The relationship between Buck and John is intrinsic for the message of the book because Thornton manages to “awaken the sleeping love in Buck’s deep soul” (Yang, 2015, p. 44). My other thought is that the relationship between the two characters is based on London’s daydreaming. London was not able to compensate for the debt he owed to his foster dad, so he made the tribute possible in the book. In the story, Buck manages to save his master and even wins money for the enterprise of Thornton’s dream. The theme goes beyond the book, as it concerns the relationship between the foster parent and the adopted kid. From my point of view, the book shows different sides of this type of traumatized love experienced by both Buck and its creator Jack.
Having discussed the content, characters, and themes, one can state that this is a book about a confident character. On the one hand, there is a certain sense of respect for Buck, while, on the other hand, it is not clear whether he is better than the characters he despises in the beginning. The book sends a clear message that many factors should be taken into consideration when one tries to understand the nature of a living creature. It is not as black and white as it may seem since life is a continuous change.
McAleer, J. (2016). Call of the Atlantic: Jack London’s publishing odyssey overseas, 1902-1916. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Tichi, C. (2015). Jack London: A writer’s fight for a better America. Chapel Hil, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Yang, H. (2015). Psychoanalysis of Jack London’s The call of the wild and White fang, English Language Teaching, 8(11), 42-46.
Zeng, X. (2018). On the reflection of naturalism in the main character in The call of the wild. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 8(11), 1530-1534.
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