Jack London’s The Call of the Wild explores the relationship between man and dog as they struggle to survive the unforgiving wilderness. The protagonist being Buck the dog, the story reveals the man-dog relationship uniquely through the eyes of the animal. Throughout the novel, Buck has many different masters, yet he only feels love towards the first and last one mentioned in the book. With Judge Miller, he feels love because his owner gives him everything a domesticated animal could ask for, while Buck’s loyalty to John Thornton is based on mutual respect and a symbiotic relationship.
For all other humans, Buck holds a deep hatred, and because of this hatred he eventually drifts further away from his beloved master and closer to his roots in the wild. In fact, Buck’s downward spiral of devolution can be attributed more to the treatment he endured from his human masters more than anything else, even his canine peers whom he emulates in his transformation from a house-pet to the alpha male of a pack of wolves.
Buck spends the halcyon days of his youth on the blissful estate of his master Judge Miller, where his only companions are the judge’s children and a few other animals, none of which possess the necessary survival instincts to influence Buck’s own instincts. However, he does accompany the boys on hunting and fishing trips, and this helps keep him physically fit, unlike the other dogs of the family who lounge around all day. It seems almost as if Buck is the master of the domain, as London clearly states that the “whole realm was his” (2).
Living in a domesticated environment where he hardly has to struggle for anything, Buck has apparently forgotten the instincts of his ancestors, to whom nothing comes easy and every day is a struggle. Nevertheless, his first encounter with a man whom he cannot trust brings out the inner wolf in him, and at this point he leaves his entire life of royal treatment behind him. This suggests that the lifestyle he led at the Miller estate only temporarily moderated his primal instincts, since it only took him a short time to become aggressive toward those that antagonize him.
Buck’s first real lesson taught to him by humans was the “Law of Club and Fang,” which came from the first human to mistreat him, the man with the red sweater. While up until this point Buck is obedient and trusting of all humans, as demonstrated by the fact that he went so willingly along with his kidnapper, the man in red immediately subverts his trust in human masters. This is where Buck starts his transformation, and where he begins to gradually drift away from the life that he held so dear.
As he is cruelly beaten, he learns painfully to distrust all humans, and from watching other dogs undergo the same fate, he learns that he must face the challenge and obey the law of club and fang if he expects to survive at all. When Buck initially joins the ranks of the other sled dogs in Francois’s and Perrault’s team, he is confused and horrified with his new life. It only takes a few moments for Buck to understand that he is in constant peril not only from the elements, but from his fellow dogs as well.
He picks up many different survival techniques from the other dogs in the traces, such as how to stay warm at night by burrowing under the snow, and that if he goes down in a fight he will be beset upon by all the dogs. He even learns to steal extra food rations from his owners, who he respects but does not trust. While he definitely gains valuable knowledge from the other sled dogs, it is really his human masters who have the most effect on him, since all the dogs including Buck must succumb to the crack of the whip.
As Buck adapts to the life of the sled dog, he begins to receive more respect from Francois and Perrault, who continue to push him to greater efforts. It is with his interaction with man that Buck really begins to “shake the superfluities from himself” (Benoit). The luxurious lifestyle he lived with Judge Miller is quickly forgotten as Francois and Perrault and the other dogs show him the ropes of living in simplicity. Soon it becomes clear that the inner beast within him was there the whole time, and it is only through the experience that the humans put him through that brings it to the surface.
A very noteworthy occurrence in the novel takes place when Buck defeats his rival Spitz in a fight to the death. The clash was inevitable and foreshadowed, and once it is over Buck is determined to take over as the lead dog of the team. When Francois attempts to replace Spitz with a different dog, Buck refuses to back down. Even when Francois brandishes the club at him, Buck remembers the lesson taught to him by the man in red and uses his cunning to manipulate the men into giving up the lead position to Buck, which he had rightfully earned.
This shows just how much of an affect his encounter with man had on him, and reveals the true “dominant primordial beast” within him. Just when Buck is finally getting used to the new life that was thrust upon him, he already has to get used to another. Francois and Perrault sell him to a new group of owners, the unbearably foolish Charles, Hal, and Mercedes. Buck instantly becomes wary of these bumbling humans, who are more ignorant of the ways of the wild than Buck himself was at the start.
The trio of humans “are products of artificial and complex civilization” who cannot reconcile their need for material belongings with the necessity of simplicity in order to survive in the wild (Benoit). Mercedes, one of the few women in the book, is most guilty of them all, crying when the men have to discard her personal items to lessen the load on the sled. She is at first the only one of the three to show any signs of benevolence towards the dogs, that is, “until her own survival takes precedence” (Bolan).
She pathetically whines until the men give in and allow her to ride on the already overloaded sled, further exhausting the sleep deprived dogs. Buck continues to change inwardly, hating humans more and more with every moment that he is in their company. He is disgusted by their stupidity, as they clearly have no idea how to successfully run a sled dog team. Soon it becomes apparent that the team is doomed, and Buck collapses in the traces, refusing to go on. He endures a savage beating from Hal’s club, yet he is resolved to go no further: “It was heartbreaking, only Buck’s heart was unbreakable.
The man in the red sweater had proved that” (51). As Hal continues to ruthlessly pound Buck’s flesh with the club, yet another human enters Buck’s life. John Thornton, who is soon to be Buck’s new and final master, rescues him and nurses him back to health, while the rest of the team rides off into the horizon and be killed by the unforgiving forces of nature. Witnessing the demise of the three inexperienced humans who died as a result of their own folly only furthers Buck’s alienation from civilization.
After Charles, Hans, Mercedes, and the rest of the dogs are swallowed up by earth, Buck begins to grow quite fond of his new master. Thornton is the first and only man that Buck truly felt love for, since even with the judge’s sons it was merely a “working partnership” (56). Also, Buck began to develop separation anxiety whenever Thornton was too far away. This was due to the fact that the “transient masters since he had come into the Northland had bred in him a fear that no master could be permanent” (58). All the other men in his life had abandoned him, and Buck is constantly afraid that the same thing will occur with Thornton.
The deep love that Buck has for his master is at this point the only connection he has left with human beings: So peremptorily did these shades beckon him, that each day mankind and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.
But as often as he gained the soft unbroken earth and the green shade, the love for John Thornton drew him back to the fire again. Thornton alone held him. The rest of mankind was as nothing. (59) This is the final stage of Buck’s devolution. The only link remaining is John Thornton. The calling of his ancestors growing stronger every day, Buck has no other reason to stay but his master. Because of his burning love for Thornton, Buck is able to push himself to such efforts as he had never pushed himself before, as demonstrated when Buck pulls the thousand pound sled in order to win his master a wager.
Yet, despite all the love for Thornton, Buck nevertheless finds himself yearning to shed the yoke of domestication from himself completely and to rejoin his wolf ancestors in the wild. Therefore, when Buck returns to the camp to find Thornton dead, the final link was broken. Something deep within him snapped, and he became the “fiend incarnate,” slaying many members of the Yeehat tribe, the ones responsible for the murder of his beloved master. With that, Buck comes to the realization that “he had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the law of club and fang” (81).
From that moment on, Buck would no longer fear man. In fact, “man and the claims of man no longer bound him” in the slightest bit, and 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