The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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Chapter 6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 6 from Jack London's novel The Call of the Wild.

The Call of the Wild | Chapter 6 | Summary



As John Thornton waits for his partners to arrive by raft from Dawson, he nurses Buck back to health. Thornton's dogs, Skeet and Nig, befriend Buck. Buck develops a deep bond of love toward Thornton. The narrator states, "Love, genuine passionate love, was his [Buck's] for the first time." Thornton returns this love, treating Buck as if he were one of his children. Buck becomes so attached to Thornton that he always follows the man around. Even so, Buck maintains a strong connection with the wild. Trained by the brutal "law of club and fang," Buck relies on his primitive instincts when dealing with dogs other than Skeet and Nig. The narrator claims, "He [Buck] must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness." While sitting by the fire near Thornton, Buck dreams of half-wolves and wild wolves and "the wild life in the forest." During the day, Buck often hears the call from the wilderness, and in response he runs deep into the forest. However, the dog's love for Thornton always draws him back to his master's fire.

When Thornton's partners, Hans and Pete, arrive, Buck tolerates them because they are Thornton's friends. But Buck's love for Thornton continues to grow. Once, as an experiment Thornton orders Buck to jump off a cliff. Without hesitation Buck attempts to carry out the command and is stopped only when Thornton and his partners drag the dog back from the edge of the precipice. Later in a bar in Circle City, an ill-tempered man named "Black" Burton treats Thornton roughly. In a flash, Buck attacks Burton and rips his throat. During the fall, Thornton has a boating accident, falling in dangerous rapids. Risking his own life, Buck plunges into the swift current and saves his master.

In a bar in Dawson, Thornton and other prospectors brag about how much weight their dogs can pull. In a rash moment, Thornton brags about Buck being able to pull a sled loaded with 1,000 pounds. A man named Matthewson bets $1,000 that Buck cannot pull this weight 100 yards. Not having this money, Thornton asks an old friend to loan him the amount. The friend agrees. The numerous occupants of the bar empty onto the street to watch this exploit. Matthewson insists Buck must break the sled's runners out of the ice. No one believes Buck can win the bet for his master, and even Thornton has doubts. The odds go to three to one. Matthewson wants to raise the bet. Thornton, Hans, and Pete pool all their funds, about $200, and lay it against Matthewson's $600. When the crowd sees Buck, they are all impressed by his size and fitness. Soon the odds go down to two to one. Thornton attaches Buck to the harness of a sled loaded with 20 fifty-pound sacks of flour. He then whispers to Buck, "As you love me, Buck. As you love me." Buck strains the traces and breaks the runners from the ice. Then with a tremendous effort, Buck begins to jerk the sled forward, one inch, two inches. The sled gains momentum and begins to move steadily with Buck straining every fiber in his body. Buck and the sled cross the firewood, marking 100 yards. The jubilant crowd throws hats in the air. Thornton kneels by Buck and caresses him. The onlookers gaze respectively at them from a distance.


Jack London explores the theme of law and order by creating a dichotomy within Buck. A dichotomy is a contrast between two opposing elements or ideas. For Buck, the dichotomy consists of the "law of club and fang" versus the "law of love and fellowship." As the previous chapters show, Buck has learned the brutal "law of club and fang" and excels at enforcing it. However, in this chapter, Buck learns a very different law through his love for Thornton. This law, in its own way, is just as fierce as the law of the wild. Because of his love, Buck does not hesitate to attempt to jump off a cliff, swim dangerous rapids, or drag 1,000 pounds on a sled. Buck had never experienced this love before. Back on the Judge's estate, Buck had a bond of friendship, not love, with the Judge and his offspring. Even so, this love is most often found in the civilized world. Buck's love for Thornton "seemed to bespeak the soft, civilizing influence." So, the dichotomy within Buck can be seen as a contrast between civilization and the wild.

With such opposites struggling inside Buck, the reader might wonder why the dog doesn't become anxious or neurotic. After all, Buck's essential nature has become one with the primitive instincts of his wolf ancestors, despite his love for Thornton. Buck "retained his wildness and wiliness." Because of this, Buck continues to steal food from humans, except for Thornton. With other dogs, except for Thornton's pets, Buck is more than willing to "kill or be killed, eat or be eaten." The author emphasizes Buck's connection to the primitive through the motif of visions. The dog dreams of his wolf ancestors and the sound and smells of the wild. Because of this connection, Buck takes every opportunity to escape the confines of Thornton's comfortable camp and run wild in the forest. Even so, the dog always returns to Thornton's fire.

Buck does not become anxious because of his strong bond with Thornton. Indeed, this bond is stronger than life itself. Buck shows this with his willingness to jump off a cliff because Thornton commands it. Buck practices the "law of club and fang" to survive, to live. But at this point, the dog's law of love for his master supersedes the law of survival. So, Buck does not become anxious; he has no doubt his desire to obey and please his master is the most important thing in his life.

For Buck, the "law of club and fang" and "the law of love and fellowship" share a common trait: unabashed surrender. Buck's ability to survive in the Northland comes from his willingness to let go of his civilized upbringing and surrender to and embrace his primordial instincts. In a similar way, Buck completely surrenders to his love for Thornton. The narrator states, "But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse." In fact, Buck's unabashed surrender is so intense, it becomes more important than his primitive instincts.

Through his interactions with Thornton and his friends and dogs, Buck also shows his ability to adapt and change to belong to a community. For example, Buck would normally treat Skeet and Nig harshly, especially if they disobeyed. But because they are Thornton's dogs, Buck treats them with tolerance and friendship. Buck also tolerates Hans and Pete because they are his master's friends. Normally, Buck would have nothing to do with them. Because Buck loves Thornton, he wants to be part of his community and is willing to change to fit in.

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