The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Thornton, Hans, and Pete use their winnings from the bet to finance an excursion in search of a lost mine in the far North wilderness. Buck leads the sled-dog team, which also includes Skeet, Nig, and six other dogs. Buck enjoys this journey because it involves fishing, hunting, and exploring the unknown. The trek lasts through summer, fall, and winter. In the spring, the expedition discovers a shallow stream with abundant gold. Thornton, Hans, and Pete set up camp and pan for gold in the stream. Buck has nothing much to do and spends time gazing at the fire. He imagines moving through the forest with the primitive man, both of them alert to the smells and sounds of the wild. At times, Buck senses a call from the forest and tries to follow it, as if in search of something tangible. One evening when Buck senses this call, he dashes into the woods and encounters a "long, lean, timber wolf." The wolf flees and Buck chases it. Buck corners the wolf, who snarls at him. Eventually, the wolf realizes Buck intends no harm and the two sniff noses. They begin to run "side by side through the somber twilight." Buck is happy because he knows he is answering the call. Then Buck remembers John Thornton, turns around, and heads back to the camp.

Buck stays in the camp for two days, but then he feels restless and wanders again into the forest. He stays in the wilderness for days, searching for his wolf friend, and there he transforms into "a thing of the wild." Buck survives by killing prey along the way and feels proud of his ability to survive "by virtue of his own strength and prowess." He combines the cunning of the wolf and the intelligence of the St. Bernard, making him a formidable predator. During the fall, Buck stalks a moose that has been wounded by an arrow. After days of harassing the moose, Buck pulls down the weakened animal and kills it.

Sensing new life coming into the valley, Buck is filled with foreboding. As he reaches the outskirts of camp, Buck finds Nig and Hans killed by arrows, and then he hears chanting coming from the camp. When Buck sees Yeehats dancing in the camp, he attacks them with fury. The Yeehats shoot arrows and throw spears wildly at Buck and then flee with Buck in pursuit. Eventually, Buck returns to the camp and finds Thornton dead by a pool. Feeling an aching void, Buck mourns his master. During the night, Buck hears the call of the wild. Now that Thornton is gone, Buck no longer has a tie with humans, so he is free to follow the call. Buck heads into the forest and meets a wolf pack in a clearing. When the pack leader attacks, Buck quickly kills him. Then the whole pack attacks, but Buck deftly defends himself. Buck's wolf friend advances in a friendly manner and touches Buck's nose. Buck sits down with the pack, and they all begin to howl. Buck then joins the pack as they head into the woods.

Over the following years, the Yeehats tell a story about a Ghost Dog that "has cunning greater than they ... slaying their dogs and defying their bravest hunters." When the Yeehats hunt moose, they refuse to enter a certain valley because of an Evil Spirit who lives there. During the summer, however, this valley has one visitor, a "gloriously coated wolf, like, and yet unlike, all other wolves." This creature has been seen leading a pack of wolves and singing "a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack."

Analysis

The narrator describes the last stage of Buck's transformation, as the dog moves from the uncivilized world of the Northland people to the wild. Buck has entered an intermediate stage, ruled by the "law of club and fang," but he is not completely immersed in the wild. After all, Buck spends most of his time with people, including periods in boomtowns. In this stage, Buck forms a fierce bond of love with Thornton. Buck's relationship with Thornton does not constitute a new stage because it does not change Buck's essential nature. Buck remains connected with his primitive instincts no matter how much he loves Thornton. However, Buck has intentionally decided to suppress his nature because of his love.

As Buck stays with Thornton and his friends in the remote wilderness, the dog's sense of the wild and connection with the primitive blossoms. The dog spends days wandering in the forest, hunting prey. Buck puts the knowledge he has gained in the uncivilized world to full use, thereby gaining power. For example, Buck kills a moose after tracking it for days. As the dog accomplishes these feats, he becomes proud and confident of his ability as a predator. He reaches his full potential in this final stage.

As Buck comes into his own, he begins to feel more stress in his relationship with Thornton. In the previous chapter, Buck's love for Thornton dominates his call to the wild. In this chapter, more of a struggle develops in Buck between the "law of club and fang" and the "law of love and fellowship." Because of this, Buck at times becomes restless in the camp and often bolts into the wild with a sense of urgency. Indeed, Buck could be seen as developing two personas or identities. In camp, Buck is a loving, affectionate dog. However, in the wild, a dramatic change happens. The narrator states, "They [Thornton, Hans, and Pete] saw him marching out of camp, but they did not see the instant and terrible transformation which took place as soon as he was within the secrecy of the forest. ... At once he became a thing of the wild, stealing along softly, cat-footed, a passing shadow that appeared and disappeared among the shadows."

Buck's dilemma can be seen as being caused by his belonging to two communities. Buck feels he belongs with Thornton, as is shown by his strong loyalty to this man. Even though Buck loves hunting in the wild, he keeps coming back to the camp to be with Thornton. However, Buck's friendship with the wolf shows the dog's yearning to belong to the wolf pack. Thornton's death solves Buck's dilemma. The narrator states, "The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him." Freed from the last connection with the human community, Buck eagerly joins the wolf community. As for man's greed for the riches of the gold, the gold is absorbed by nature as "a yellow stream flows from rotted moose-hide sacks [which men used to carry the gold] and sinks into the ground." Thus, man's quest for riches at the expense of community and the common good come to nothing, as nature absorbs human concerns with material things, much as socialism describes.

The reader might well wonder whether Buck would have remained connected with Thornton if Thornton had lived. Evidence could be found for a "yes" answer. After all, because of Buck's fierce love for Thornton, the dog attacks the Yeehats. On the other hand, the call of the wild is becoming stronger and stronger within Buck.

As noted in Jack London's biography, the author was strongly influenced by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his ideas about the overman or superman. According to Nietzsche, the overman learns to harness his or her strong passions and use them creatively to achieve higher goals, thus becoming a superior human. In a way, Buck could be seen as a model of the overman. When Buck attacks the Yeehats, "for the last time in his life he [Buck] allowed passion to usurp cunning and reason." Throughout the novel, London also emphasizes Buck's ability to use his instincts creatively. This is how Buck defeats Spitz. The narrator states, "But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness—imagination." Buck's higher goal is being an effective pack leader. Therefore, at the end of the novel, Buck does not choose to remain alone as a superior, fearsome canine. Instead, he uses his knowledge for a higher purpose—the good of the pack or wolf community. In the end, Buck sings "the song of the pack."

In Chapter 7, London conveys the motif of violence in two ways. The author depicts wild, uncontrolled violence when Buck lets his passion get the best of him and attacks the Yeehats. This violence serves no practical purpose or higher aim. Buck does not have to kill the Yeehats for food and does not attack them for the good of the wolf community. Buck simply wants revenge for Thornton's death. In contrast, when Buck uses violence to become the wolf pack's leader, it is a cunning violence used for a higher goal. Buck knows he will be a better pack leader than any wolf.

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