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The Call of the Wild | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

After killing Spitz, Buck wants to take the position as the lead of the dog team. However, François has other ideas and puts Sol-leks at the lead. This infuriates Buck, who chases Sol-leks away and then takes the lead position. At first amused by this, François soon becomes upset at Buck's stubbornness. He grabs a club, but Buck scampers away to avoid being hit. François gets the sled ready and calls to Buck, but the dog stays a short distance away. Holding the club, François approaches Buck who retreats a few steps. This happens several times. Buck feels the leadership of the team is his by right. Both François and Perrault chase Buck but can't catch him. Finally, François admits defeat and allows Buck to be the leader. The dog happily takes his position at the front of the team.

Buck leads the team well, and the sled makes record time to Skaguay. In town, fellow mushers admire François and Perrault and buy them drinks. However, the French Canadians soon get new work orders and must leave Buck and the other sled dogs. A Scotch half-breed and his friend take charge of the dog team. Buck and his fellow canine teammates find themselves pulling a sled heavy with mail. They do not enjoy this task as much as transporting dispatches but still perform their job well. The dogs fall into a routine, which involves getting up at a certain time in the morning, eating breakfast, pulling the sled, eating supper, and then lounging by the fire before sleeping. Buck enjoys lying by the fire the best. During this time, he imagines past events, such as Curly getting killed and his fight with Spitz. Also, Buck taps into the memory of his ancient ancestors and has a vision of a primitive man by the fire afraid of the dark.

One day, Dave becomes morose and irritable, as if something is hurting him inside. The Scotch man and the other men check the dog for broken bones but don't find any. They wonder what could be causing Dave's pain. They decide to let Dave out of his harness so he can trot freely along with the sled. However, Dave hates this and keeps trying to join the team again. The Scotch man tries to drive Dave away with a whip, but it doesn't work. Eventually, Dave bites through Sol-leks's traces and stands in front of the sled in his usual spot. The men give in and allow Dave to pull the sled with the rest of the dogs, despite his pain. Dave tries his best but falls down several times and "once the sled ran upon him so that he limped thereafter in one of his hind legs." The next morning, Dave is so weak he has to crawl to the sled. The sled-dog team goes ahead without Dave. Then they stop, and the Scotch man goes back to the camp and shoots Dave.

Analysis

The tightly knit community of the dog team emphasizes the theme of belonging. Even though Buck and his team don't enjoy pulling the heavy load of mail as much as the lighter load of dispatches, they still take pride in working well as a unit and performing their task well. As the leader, Buck enforces discipline when members of the team slack or make mistakes. The degree to which the dogs are bonded to the team is emphasized with Dave. Even though this dog is in agony, he still wants to take his part in the team and pull his weight. The Scotch man uses a whip in an attempt to keep Dave away from the team, but even the "law of club and fang" doesn't work. So, here, Jack London shows another example of a drive that supersedes this law. In the previous chapter, the author shows through the starving wolves that the basic instinct of hunger can be stronger than the violence of club and fang. The drive to belong to a community can also be stronger. In fact, it might even be stronger than the need to eat. Dave would probably still want to be part of the team, even if he were starving to death.

Buck's insistence about being the leader of his team shows his desire to belong to the community in his proper place, even though François at first objects. Buck uses the knowledge he has learned about the "law of club and fang" to avoid being clubbed by François and to get his way. The skills he has learned in the traces enable Buck to be an excellent team leader. Even though the mutiny against Spitz has made the team unruly, "Buck proceeded to lick them into shape." Once again, knowledge leads to power.

Also, in this chapter London introduces another motif, namely visions. For Buck, these visions form a link back to his ancient ancestors. Lying by the fire, Buck envisions a primitive man with long, matted hair and "his head slanted back under it from the eyes." The primordial instincts of this man are acute. He has a "quick alertness as of one who lived in perpetual fear of things seen and unseen." Buck relates to this man. In the Northland, Buck is going through a process called atavism. This process involves reversing the evolutionary processes and thereby regaining primitive, instinctual traits. As a result, Buck imagines being with a primitive man, sensing his fear of the dark, and listening keenly to the sound of beasts of prey in the wilderness. The narrator states, "the instincts ... which had lapsed in later days, and still later, in him [Buck], quickened and become alive again."

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