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The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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Chapter 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 from Jack London's novel The Call of the Wild.

The Call of the Wild | Chapter 1 | Summary



Because Buck can't read the newspaper, he doesn't know gold has been discovered in the Northland, making large dogs with "warm, long hair" like him highly sought after to toil in the cold climate. Buck lives on a wealthy Californian estate owned by Judge Miller. Although the estate has many dogs, Buck enjoys a special position, being neither a kennel dog nor a house dog. He is the hunting companion for the Judge's sons and plays with the judge's grandchildren. Buck feels he rules over the place as if he were a prince. However, one day a servant named Manuel, who is in need of money, takes Buck to meet a stranger by a flag station. The stranger hands Manuel some coins. Manuel puts a rope around Buck's neck, which the dog at first accepts. However, when the stranger takes the rope, Buck growls. The stranger then tightens the rope. Buck struggles furiously, to no avail. The two men then throw him into the baggage car of a train, and the train heads north.

On the train, Buck bites the stranger who captured him, and the man complains he isn't being paid enough. The man removes the rope from Buck and sticks him in a cage-like crate. The following morning, some men pick up the crate, which is then transported by wagon, truck, and finally, steamship. During this trip, the enraged Buck doesn't eat or drink. The crate is then sent by train to Seattle, where four men load it on a wagon. The men take the crated canine to a walled-in backyard. There, a man in a red sweater uses a hatchet to pry open the crate. Furious, Buck leaps at the man, who uses a club to strike Buck in midair. Stunned and confused, Buck lands on the ground and charges the man again. The man again whacks Buck with the club. Buck charges 12 times, and the man clubs him 12 times. Buck staggers in a daze, blood flowing from his nose, mouth, and ears. After this, the man "dealt him a frightful blow on the nose." Buck charges once more, and the man strikes him to the ground. Buck gradually regains his senses. The man in the red sweater tells Buck if he's a good dog he'll be treated well. However, if he's a bad dog, the man says he will "whale the stuffin' outa you." The man brings Buck water to drink and raw meat to eat.

Buck feels beaten but not broken. He has learned a man with a club must be obeyed. Eventually, two French-Canadian men, François and Perrault, buy Buck and take him and a Newfoundland named Curly on a ship bound for the Northland. Buck soon realizes François and Perrault are fair men and have knowledge about dogs. On the ship, Buck and Curly join a white dog who seems deceptively friendly. They also meet a gloomy dog named Dave who shows no interest in his surroundings. After the ship docks, François takes Buck to shore. There, Buck is mystified by a strange white substance called snow.


Jack London describes a civilized world in which the dog Buck enjoys a privileged life on a Californian estate. The author puts Buck in this luxurious setting to emphasize the dog's transformation from civilization to the wild. In this domain, Buck rules as if he is a prince and is treated with kindness by his master. Buck feels special and views himself as above the kennel dogs and house dogs, yet he deceives himself. He sees himself as a ruler because of his master's favor, not because of his own actions and abilities. In this setting, Buck is a dog who has lost touch with his primordial instincts. To regain a connection with these impulses, Buck must be torn away from what he finds comforting and familiar and thrust into the frightening unknown.

As Buck begins his journey of self-discovery, he moves from a sense of belonging to state of confusion and uncertainty. During the first four years of his life, Buck feels he belongs at the Judge's estate because this is the only life he has known. London compares Buck to country gentlemen who become convinced of the rightness of their privileged position because of "their insular situation." The author was a strong believer in environmental determination, the idea that one's surroundings shape one's personality. Buck's upbringing on the estate convinces him his lifestyle is natural and correct; he is unaware of the primitive drives lying dormant within him.

Greed changes Buck's life. The Judge's servant, Manuel, sells Buck to pay for his gambling debts. Money changes hands again when the dognappers sell Buck to gold prospectors who buy Buck for a dogsled team they hope will lead them to riches. These men parallel what Karl Marx saw as greedy capitalists, exploiting workers and keeping the surplus (the riches from gold) for themselves. When Buck is thrown into the chaotic environment of his capturers, he is outraged like an indignant ruler. Buck feels he does not belong in this situation and should not be treated this way. However, he needs to face this hardship to get in touch with his inner potential. Buck begins this process when faced with the man in the red sweater who uses a club to beat Buck into submission. Buck soon learns the new rules that govern this less-civilized world: "a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed." As Buck learns to adapt to this new environment, he begins the process that will lead him to embrace his primitive instincts. As he attains knowledge about his surroundings, he also becomes more powerful. Even in his confined situation, Buck's newfound knowledge helps him survive.

London also emphasizes that this new law and order is often backed by violence or the threat of violence. Throughout The Call of the Wild, the author shows violence in various situations; it's often used to enforce a harsh law or express passionate feeling. In this way, violence becomes a motif in the novel.

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