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The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 5 of The Call of the Wild, how is Hal similar to and different from Charles?

Hal and Charles are both inexperienced; they think they know everything about life in the Northland but, in fact, know nothing. They both show a superior attitude to locals and an unwillingness to learn. In addition, they focus on their individual needs, while being oblivious to the danger they have put themselves and their dogs in. The narrator states, "It was the cherished belief of each that he did more than his share of the work, and neither forbore to speak this belief at every opportunity." Both men fail to adapt to their environment. Both men endanger their lives and the lives of others because of their greed, their working outside their community, and their failure to work for the common good—all important tenets of socialism. However, Hal's and Charles's temperaments are somewhat different. Hal is obsessed with proving his masculinity. Because of this, he has a big revolver, a hunting knife, and a belt loaded with cartridges. Also, Hal sees himself as the tough leader of his group who needs to whip everyone else, including the dogs, into shape. As a result, Hal abuses the dogs more than Charles. In contrast, Jack London suggests that Charles is a dandy. The author describes him as having "weak and watery eyes" and a pompous moustache that is "twisted fiercely and vigorously up."

In Chapter 5 of The Call of the Wild, how does Mercedes show herself to be a shallow person?

Mercedes at first seems to be sympathetic to the dogs. When Hal whips the animals, she stops him and, with tears in her eyes, tells Buck, "You poor, poor dears. Why don't you pull hard?" However, on the trail, Mercedes's sympathy for the dogs soon disappears as she deals with the harsh conditions. In fact, she insists on riding in the sled, even though doing so makes the sled much more difficult for the exhausted dogs to pull. Also, Mercedes shows concern for the trivial, while being oblivious to what is important. For example, she cries broken-heartedly when some of her frivolous belongings are discarded from the sled to make it lighter. Finally, during the trek, she insists on being treated like a refined lady instead of being willing to pitch in and help. She also fails to adapt to her environment.

In The Call of the Wild, why does Buck at first obey Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, even though he doesn't trust them, and why does he stop obeying them?

Even though Buck doesn't trust Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, he obeys them partly because of his strong sense of belonging to the dog team. With Dave, Jack London shows the fierce sense of duty and belonging a dog feels toward his dogsled community. Because of this, Dave continues to pull the sled, even though he is deathly ill. Buck feels the same drive. So, he continues to lead his dog team, even though he is exhausted, starving, and being abused. The narrator states, "And through it all Buck staggered along at the head of the team as in a nightmare." Also, Hal's abusive use of the "law of the club and fang" drives Buck to keep pulling the sled. However, eventually, even Hal's beatings fail to get Buck to move. Buck stops obeying Hal because the dog senses that death lies ahead for him. The narrator says, "He [Buck] had a vague feeling of impending doom." So, Buck's instinct for survival causes him to disobey his owner.

In The Call of the Wild, how and why does Jack London use the environment as a contrast to the behavior of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes?

Jack London depicts the trek of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes as a grim situation in which the humans abuse the animals and fight among themselves. The group travels during beautiful spring weather, which contrasts sharply with their otherwise dismal circumstances. The narrator says, "The sap was rising in the pines. The willows and aspens were bursting out in young buds." Jack London does this to emphasize the folly of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. Even though the weather is lovely, they can't enjoy it because they are so focused on their selfish concerns. Also, the trio's obliviousness to their environment has deadly consequences. They fail to take into account the melting ice in overloading their sled. Because of this, the three greenhorns and their dogs, except for Buck, eventually break through the ice and drown.

In Chapter 5 of The Call of the Wild, how does Jack London contrast humor and tragedy, and why?

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Jack London uses humor when he describes the ineptness of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. The author depicts them as bumbling fools. Because of this, they cause a slapstick incident. When the dogs pull the overloaded sled, the sled tips over and scatters the belongings. Then the dogs dash up the street with the lightened sled in tow, much to the amusement of onlookers. However, the ineptness of the three greenhorns soon becomes tragic on the trail. Because of their flawed planning, they run low on food and starve the dogs. London contrasts humor and tragedy to emphasize the horror of the greenhorns' actions. At first, the reader might laugh on the greenhorns' mistakes. However, when the mistakes become abusive and deadly, the reader's laughter might turn to outrage and tears. So, London emphasizes that survival in the wild is no laughing matter.

In The Call of the Wild, how is Buck's relationship with John Thornton similar to and different from his relationship with Judge Miller?

Buck's relationship with John Thornton and his relationship with Judge Miller have a civilizing effect on the dog. On Miller's estate, the Judge treats Buck with kindness and respect. As a result, Buck participates in civilized activities, such as hunting with the Judge's sons and playing with his grandchildren. When he is with Thornton, Buck acts civilized not only with him, but also with his friends and his dogs. For example, Buck does not fight with Skeet and Nig, because these dogs belong to Thornton. However, Buck's relationship with the Judge is a "stately and dignified friendship," but Buck's relationship with Thornton is based on love. The narrator states, "Love, genuine passionate love, was his [Buck's] for the first time." As a result, Buck is fiercely devoted to Thornton; he never feels such a deep devotion to Judge Miller.

In Chapter 6 of The Call of the Wild, what does Jack London mean when he writes, "He was older than the days he had seen"?

Jack London means that Buck embodies not only his own personal history, but also the history of wolves. Because of this, Buck can be seen as a link between the past and the present. For London, this wolf history shows itself with Buck's primal instincts. By coming in contact with these instincts, Buck joins a community of wolf ancestors he carries with him. The narrator states that these ancestors were "directing his [Buck's] actions, lying down to sleep with him when he lay down." Because of this union, Buck has a type of ancient wisdom that is "older than the days he had seen."

In Chapter 6 of The Call of the Wild, how and why does Jack London use foreshadowing during the incident with "Black" Burton?

The incident with "Black" Burton foreshadows Buck's attack on the Yeehats. When Burton threatens John Thornton, Buck does not hesitate to attack Burton, ripping the man's throat. So, any threat to Thornton causes an enraged passion to well up within Buck. As a result, Buck attacks the source of the threat, throwing caution to the wind. In Chapter 7, Buck feels the same passion when he realizes that the Yeehats have killed Thornton. In a frenzy of rage, the dog attacks many Yeehats, killing some of them. The Burton incident, therefore, paves the way for the Yeehats attack. If readers did not already know how Buck reacts when Thornton is threatened, they might have difficulty believing the dog's intense attack on the Yeehats.

In Chapter 6 of The Call of the Wild, what are three traits Buck shows in winning John Thornton's bet?

Buck shows his intense love for John Thornton. Because of this love, Buck will attempt to perform any task for Thornton, no matter how difficult. The narrator states, "He [Buck] felt that in some way he must do a great thing for John Thornton." Also, Thornton realizes that Buck will attempt to win the bet because the dog loves him. Before Buck pulls the sled, Thornton whispers to the dog, "As you love me, Buck. As you love me." Buck shows his intelligence by the method he uses to break the sled from the ice. The dog learned this method from experience. Buck tightens the traces, slackens them, and then plunges to the right. He does the same maneuver to his left, thereby breaking the sled free. Buck shows his immense strength by pulling a sled with a load weighing 1,000 pounds. The dog's strength amazes the crowd of onlookers as "men gasped and began to breathe again."

In The Call of the Wild, how does John Thornton behave differently in the wilderness and in boomtowns?

In the wilderness, John Thornton seems at ease. He enjoys spending quiet hours with Hans and Pete and his dogs. One reason for this calmness is Thornton's knowledge of nature and how to survive in the wild. The narrator states, "with a handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into the wilderness and fare wherever he pleased." On the other hand, in boomtowns, Thornton tends to be boisterous and to brag. In fact, this tendency gets him into a bind when he rashly bets that Buck can pull a sled with a weight of 1,000 pounds for 100 yards.

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