The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Chapter 1 of The Call of the Wild, why does Jack London emphasize that Buck is not a pampered dog?

Jack London writes that Buck is not pampered because that makes Buck's transition to a sled dog more believable. The narrator states that Buck's outdoor activities at the estate "kept the fat down and hardened his muscles." For Buck to endure all the hardships he will face, he must be in good condition to begin with. Later, the author writes that most dogs from the Southland don't survive life in the North because they are soft: "They were all too soft, dying under the toil, the frost, and starvation." No matter how intelligent and imaginative Buck is, he could never survive in the Northland if he starts out soft and pampered.

In Chapter 1 of The Call of the Wild, for what different reasons do Buck and the man in the red sweater use violence?

Buck's use of violence is based on passion and anger. After he is captured, Buck is outraged about his treatment, so he bites the man who places him in a crate and repeatedly charges the man in the red sweater. Buck's violence, though, serves no practical purpose. He just wants to get revenge on his oppressors. In contrast, the man in the red sweater uses violence for entirely practical reasons. He is paid to break and discipline dogs, and he knows Buck must learn the law of the club to be an effective sled dog and to survive in the North. The man's use of violence is based on reason rather than passion or anger.

In Chapter 1 of The Call of the Wild, how is Buck's response to the man in the red sweater different from the way other dogs relate to the man?

Buck deals with the man in the red sweater by using reason. Buck figures out he must obey this man to survive, but he doesn't have to act friendly toward him. Thus, Buck preserves his independent spirit even as he admits defeat: "He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken." Other dogs relate to the man in the red sweater on a more emotional level. Many of these dogs become servile lackeys, acting friendly to the man so he will stop beating them. However, one dog refuses to control his anger; as a result, he is beaten to death.

In The Call of the Wild, how does Buck's position in society change from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2?

On the civilized estate, Buck enjoys a privileged position as the Judge's special dog. He sees himself as above the other dogs on the estate, and even believes he rules over humans. When he is captured, Buck loses his elite status and is thrown together with many other dogs being shipped to the Northland. In social terms, he plunges from the upper class to the lowest class, from being a pet whose existence is based on pleasing his owner to being a work dog whose existence is based on doing a job well. François and Perrault buy Buck because they think he will work hard, not because they want his companionship. Also, Buck has learned he has to adapt to the laws of the primitive world, learning how to work with other dogs on a dog team, how to survive hunger, and how to rely on his animal instincts.

In Chapters 1 and 2 of The Call of the Wild, how do financial forces affect Buck's life?

Buck's fate is greatly affected by financial forces. Because he needs money, Manuel secretly sells Buck. As a result, Buck's life changes drastically. Instead of enjoying his orderly existence on the Judge's estate, Buck finds himself crated and shipped to Seattle. Buck's life changes again when François and Perrault buy him. These adventurers characterize what Karl Marx saw as capitalists exploiting workers for greedy purposes. With this exchange of money, Buck enters the world of the sled dog and the Northland. Buck has no choice but to accept this fate: "Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when Curly ... and he were led away by the little weazened man [François]." Men's greed for gold endangers Buck's life.

In Jack London's The Call of the Wild, why does Buck hate Spitz?

Buck hates Spitz because of his sadistic side. Spitz seems to enjoy watching Curly being torn apart by a pack of dogs. The narrator says, "He [Buck] saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of laughing." Spitz enforces the "law of club and fang" not only to maintain discipline but also because he relishes seeing other dogs being killed. In contrast, Buck does not use the "law of club and fang" for the pleasure of inflicting pain, but rather for discipline and the good of the community. Also, Buck has recently arrived from the Southland when he encounters Spitz; he is still shaken from his dramatic change in circumstances and is trying to adjust to the ways of the North. On top of all this, seeing Spitz take pleasure in the brutal killing of a dog may be too much for Buck to stomach, so Buck focuses all his anger on Spitz.

In Chapter 2 of The Call of the Wild, how does Buck begin to get in touch with his instincts?

Buck's need to survive puts him in touch with his instincts. Buck immediately realizes that he must rely on his senses and judgment to survive in the Northland: "There was imperative need to be constantly alert ... they were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang." Early on, Buck shows his connection with his instincts when he sleeps in his snow nest. When he wakes up, he fears being buried alive: "It was a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forebears; for ... his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it." Because his need to survive is foremost in his mind, Buck connects with his instinctive fear of being trapped. By connecting with his primitive instincts, Buck also learns how to fight like a wolf, another necessity for survival in the wild. His ability to adapt reflects his own "will to power" and reflects Darwin's thinking about natural selection and the strong influence of the environment on one's nature.

In The Call of the Wild, how are Sol-leks and Dave similar and different?

Dave and Sol-leks are both strong dogs. Because of their strength, they are harnessed near the rear of the sled to bear the brunt of the pulling. Also, neither dog seems interested in anything other than pulling sleds; only when they are working do they become alert and active. When Dave gets sick, he still insists on being part of the sled-dog team. In addition, Dave and Sol-leks are both good teachers who help train Buck pull a sled. However, the author makes a point of mentioning Dave's fairness and wisdom, which implies that Sol-leks lacks these qualities. Also, Sol-leks is paranoid about being approached on his blind side and lashes out at any dog who does so. Dave has no such sensitivities.

Near the end of Chapter 2 in The Call of the Wild, why does Jack London refer to Buck's development as a retrogression?

Jack London refers to Buck's development as a retrogression because it runs contrary to the usual view of development. People often see development in terms of increased maturity, skill, and knowledge, as in the development of a scholar or an athlete, for instance. A dog develops by learning to obey and becoming more domesticated. However, London wants the reader to understand that Buck's development is not a process of adapting to civilization; in fact, it's the opposite. Retrogression refers to returning to an earlier state. Buck is shedding all the knowledge a domesticated dog acquires and reverting to his primal nature. In the process, he grows "callous to all ordinary pain" and eats "anything, no matter how loathsome or indisgestible." Meanwhile, his sight, scent, and primitive instincts become keener.

At the end of Chapter 2 in The Call of the Wild, why does Jack London write that Buck's howl is a "token of what a puppet thing life is"?

Jack London sees the howl as an expression of how Buck is manipulated by life and his environment. Buck's shedding of his domestication and embrace of his wild instincts are parts of a natural process in his new, harsh environment. To survive in the North, Buck is allowing his instinctive nature to take over and guide him. Buck's transformation into a primitive animal comes about by forces outside his control. Buck is in the wild because Manuel the gardener needed money to pay his gambling debts. This exemplifies how the environment exerts forces, both natural and human-made, that control the lives of people and animals. In this way, the environment can be seen as a puppet master, controlling us all, an interpretation of Darwin's view about the environmental impact on nature.

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