The Harsh Realities In The Call Of
The Wild Essay, Research Paper
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild displays the harsh realities of life for sled dogs in the Klondike during the gold rush by conveying the aspect through the main character Buck. The story is about “the magnificent lone dog Buck, king of the Alaskan wilderness” (”Jack London,” Cyclopedia of World Authors, p. 1091) who had to adapt to the new environment that he was placed in. In the Cyclopedia of World Authors it is stated that the story is “characterized by color, vigor, and brutal directness” (”Jack London,” Cyclopedia of World Authors, p. 1091).For Buck the setting makes a drastic change in the beginning of the book when he is put into the Alaskan wilderness. The gardener named Manuel who “had one besetting sin. . . . He loved to play the Chinese lottery”(p.3) sold Buck to pay off his gambling debts. Buck was put in a cage and hurled into the baggage car of a train. For days he was he did not eat nor sleep and became crazed. The men who saw him, taunted him until he gave up. Buck’s life is turned upside down: He has been suddenly jerked form the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial. . . . There was imperative need to be constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang (p.13).Because of the setting London “works out in the course of the story, ideas on the need for adaptation to survive and on the influence of heredity” (Herzberg, p.45). Buck was not used to the life of a sled dog and the type of dogs that accompanied him. He had to learn how to live the life of a wilderness dog or “wolf” to survive. Buck pushed on even when he didn’t want to, braving the frontier. Allen said in her essay entitled “The Wisdom of the Dogs: Jack London”: “…the story is faithful to the accurate behavior of a dog. . . . Buck’s point of view soon becomes acceptable, unobtrusive. He is forever a real dog while most of his emotions, particularly his passion for freedom, are convincingly drawn. Buck is that classic American frontier hero – rugged, male, celibate, and free” (Allen, p.275).Buck was used to the easy life, hunting or around the pool at Judge Miller’s home, (his first owner) often “. . . he plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge’s sons; . . .” (p.2). Due to all the setting and situations in the story, Barltrop believes that the story is a “departure from the convention of sentimentality in animal stories” (Barltrop, p. 260). The main character of the story is a strong dog named Buck. Goring describes buck as “A St. Bernard for whom existence in the harsh unforgiving climate of the Klondike is savage and brutal, both man and environment conspiring to make his life miserable” (”Buck,” Dictionary of Literary Characters, p. 102). Buck existed “. . . unrestrained by human emotions . . .” (”Jack London,” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, p.254) which gave him a unique personality. In The Call of the Wild he is considered “two devils” by Francois because of his cold heartedness and primordial nature that he had to gain to survive in the wilderness of the Klondike. Soon Buck’s attitude turns into the “. . . the figure of the wolf-a kind of presence, an image, a symbolic and very personal representation of a mythological human being . . . “(Dickey, p.266). Buck was taken through many trials throughout the book. In one instance Buck “struggled in a fury, his tongue lolling out of his mouth . . . ” (p.4) as he was choked by the baggage man. All of Buck’s troubles started when he was hurled from “. . . a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley” (p. 1) into the Harsh climate of the Klondike. The toil of the trail was very hard “every muscle, every fiber, every cell was tired” (p.51), but he pushed on. At first He showed timidity because he was in a situation that he had never been in before, but soon he “found laws operating in the vast spaces of the far north: the law of natural selection, the law of Eskimo and Indian . . . , the law of the white man, enforced by stalwart Mounted Police” (Knight, pp. 41-42). A man known simply as “the man in the red sweater”(p.7) was one of Buck’s first tormentors and teachers. This man began Buck’s first lesson on “The Law of Club and Fang” with his club. Buck learned this law quickly when he “. . . received a shock that checked his body and brought his teeth together with an agonizing clip”(p.8). He also had to learn about: digging out a place to sleep, eating his food quickly, stealing other dogs’ food even if he wasn’t starving, how to fight, and how to kill. Buck was forced to “revert to the Darwinian survival of the fittest and the Nietzschean superman principles for his own protection . . . a call to brute force” (”The Call of the Wild,” Masterplots, p. 748). Throughout the book Buck fought to stay alive, in one such instance he had the final battle with Spitz, the leader of the sled team, which ended in the bloody destruction of Spitz.
Buck had a hard life due to his owners, but his last owner gave him a good life. Buck was added to a sled team drove by two French-Canadians named Francois and Perrault. They were all right, but demanded much from the team. Later two men named Hal and Charles bought the sled team and soon Mercedes, “Charles’s wife and Hal’s sister”(p.53), came into the lives of the dogs. These three were unprepared and inexperienced. Thus, they did not know what they were doing. They beat the dogs under a “rain of blows” (p.59) whenever things did not operate smoothly. In a way it was unfortunate, Buck’s new owners and his team mates met an untimely end, by falling through the ice of a frozen lake. After this, John Thornton, Buck’s last owner and “the one human to show him kindness” (”Buck,” Dictionary of Literary Characters, p. 102) took him in. Once, Hal was ready to kill Buck, so “Thornton stood between him and Buck and evinced no intention of getting out of the way”(p.66), this was the start of their close relationship. Buck considered him “the ideal master”(p.69). During his time with “call” was still calling to Buck. When Thorton was killed, Buck left to answer “the call of the wild” and become free to run with the spirit of his ancestors. This was the start of Buck’s new life and freedom.
Allen, Mary. “The Wisdom of the Dogs: Jack London.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 15. Eds. Dennis Poupard and James E. Person Jr. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985. pp.273-276.Barltrop, Robert. “Jack London: The Man, the Writer, the Rebel.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 15. Eds. Dennis Poupard and James E. Person Jr. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985. pp.260-262.”Buck.” In Dictionary of Literary Characters. New York: Larousse, 1995. p.102.”The Call of the Wild.” In Masterplots. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1976. pp.748-750.Dickey, James. “Jack London.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 15. Eds. Dennis Poupard and James E. Person Jr. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985. pp.265-267.Herzberg, Max. “Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature.” In The Call of the Wild. New York: Washington Square Press, 1903. p.45.”Jack London.” In Cyclopedia of World Authors. ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1974. pp. 1090-1091.”Jack London.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 15. Eds. Dennis Poupard and James E. Person Jr. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985. pp.253-254.Knight, Grant C. “The Strenuous Age in American Literature.” In The Call of the Wild. New York: Washington Square Press, 1903. pp.41-42.London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. New York: Washington Square Press, 1903.