The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

As Buck learns about his new life pulling sleds, he focuses mainly on adjusting his behavior as needed. Because of this, he doesn't concern himself with the leader, Spitz, who feels threatened by Buck and often tries to pick fights with him. Buck, though, succeeds in avoiding such a fight. However, one evening Spitz occupies Buck's sleeping nest, which is too much for Buck to bear. Furious, he leaps at Spitz, surprising him. Buck and Spitz face off for a fight to the death. Then a pack of about 50 ravenous wolves enter the camp and desperately start to devour any food they can find. François and Perrault try to beat them off with clubs, but the blows have no effect. The dogs also attack the wolves, starting a fierce melee. Taking advantage of the confusion, Spitz attacks Buck. Meanwhile, the other dogs start to run away from the fierce wolves. Buck joins the fleeing dogs. Later, the dogs gather in the forest, all of them suffering from severe wounds. The dogs head back to camp, only to find the wolves have eaten all the food and left. Cursing their bad luck, François and Perrault get the wounded team harnessed and head toward Dawson, about 400 miles away.

During the first six days, the sled-dog team faces treacherous terrain with large areas of thin ice and temperatures dropping to –50 degrees Fahrenheit. Buck and Dave break through the ice and nearly drown. Later, Spitz and the other dogs, except for Buck and Dave, plunge through the ice. Buck, Dave, and François strain to pull them out. Eventually, the ice improves, and they make better time. One morning, a dog named Dolly goes mad, foaming at the mouth. Dolly chases Buck for a while, and then François crashes an ax on Dolly's head. Exhausted, Buck heads for the sled. Spitz attacks him, but François breaks them apart. Buck knows the fight with Spitz for the leadership of the pack will eventually come, and welcomes it. As the sled-dog team continues its journey to Dawson, Buck shows no fear of Spitz. Once, Buck comes between Spitz and another dog Spitz was picking a fight with. Buck's mutiny against Spitz causes the entire dog team to get unruly.

Soon, the sled-dog team heads into Dawson and gets a much-needed rest of one week. During the night, Buck joins the howling of the huskies, feeling stirred by this ancient song. François and Perrault head out on another dispatch run with the same team of dogs. Buck agitates Spitz but does so secretly so the Canadians won't catch him. Sensing the conflict between the leader Spitz and the upstart Buck, the entire dog team continues to be unruly, causing much frustration for François and Perrault. One evening, the dogs spy a rabbit and chase after it. Soon, they are joined by about 50 huskies owned by the North West Police. Buck heads the chase. In contrast, Spitz sneaks around the chase and cuts off the path of the rabbit, killing it. The pack of chasing dogs all stop, except for Buck, who charges at Spitz. Buck and Spitz begin a fight to the death. Spitz fights deftly, biting Buck as he attempts various charges. Finally, Buck grabs Spitz's foreleg and crunches it. Then Buck breaks Spitz's other foreleg, leaving him crippled. Spitz sees the circle of dogs closing in on him. Buck knocks Spitz over, and the circle of dogs close in on the lame animal and kill him. Buck, "the successful champion," stands by and looks on.

Analysis

Jack London explores the theme of the wild and the theme of law and order by immersing Buck and his fellow members of the sled-dog team in harsh, wilderness conditions. The "law of club and fang" applies both to the uncivilized world of the Northland people and their dogs and to the wild. However, the motivation becomes more intense and instinctual in the wild. This idea is clearly shown when the ravenous wolves attack the camp to get food. Both the members of the sled-dog team and the wolves are ruled by the "law of club and fang." They each use brute strength and violence in an attempt to achieve their goals. However, the wolves are starving to death. Because of this, their instinctual drive reaches an apex the members of the sled-dog team cannot match. As a result, the narrator states, "the club fell upon them [the wolves] unheeded." The wolves don't care how much they are beaten; they must get food to survive. This encounter introduces Buck more fully to the wild.

After the wolf attack, the sled-dog team faces severe weather conditions and treacherous terrain as they head back to Dawson. During this journey, Buck becomes more in touch with his primitive nature. Soon, he becomes confident enough to taunt the dangerous Spitz. When the sled-dog team reaches Dawson, Buck joins in with huskies as they howl during the night, expressing the fear and mystery of the dark. The narrator states, "and that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages." Later, Buck's strong connection to his wild instincts comes to the fore when he chases the rabbit. Buck shows his ability to work with the pack.

Buck becomes a superior animal not only because of his connection to his primordial instincts, but also because of the knowledge he has learned and how he uses his imagination to implement this knowledge. The "law of club and fang" has taught Buck to be cunning and patient. For example, Buck makes sure to harass Spitz only when François and Perrault are not looking. Later, Buck combines his knowledge and imagination to defeat Spitz. Buck uses a creative strategy, enabling him to cripple his opponent. The narrator states, "But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness—imagination. He fought by instinct, but he could fight by head as well." So, knowledge combined with imagination has empowered Buck to victory.

London emphasizes the theme of belonging through the pride Buck and his fellow dogs take in their work. Because of this pride, Dave and Sol-leks transform from bored creatures to alert ones when they pull the sled. Spitz takes pride in being the leader who disciplines the dogs in his team when they make mistakes. So, all of the dogs take pride in the roles they perform for the benefit of the team. For these dogs, therefore, working as a well-functioning community is of primary importance. The reason again is survival. An efficient team of dogs has a better chance of surviving than an unruly team. So, the "law of club and fang" is not used for individual triumph but for the good of the community. Buck and Spitz fight because each believes he is better suited to be the leader of the team. In fact, when this leadership is questioned, the team of dogs become unruly, much to the consternation of François and Perrault. The team must have a strong leader to function well.

This idea of the good of the community again shows Charles Darwin's influence on London. Along with his principle of natural selection, Darwin argues that throughout the evolutionary process, animals have developed "social instincts" and a "moral sense" for the "general good of the community." For animals, a strong community is vital to survival. Marx's socialism also featured that cooperation among a group is the best approach.

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