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The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In The Call of the Wild, how does Jack London use the motif of visions to develop the theme of belonging?

Jack London develops the theme of belonging by using visions of the primitive man. The primitive man acts as a type of guide that encourages Buck to fully embrace the wild. Buck senses a close connection with this man and knows the fear this man feels about the dark and the unknown. Buck shares this man's ability to creep noiselessly through the forest and sense smells and sounds. So, Buck feels he belongs with this man. Also, London uses visions to confirm that Buck belongs in the wild. Encouraged by visions of the primitive man, Buck spends longer periods of time in the wild and soon meets a wolf that he befriends.Through the camaraderie Buck feels with this wolf, the dog knows he is living the life of his visions, which is the life of his wolf ancestors. As Buck accompanies his wolf friend, the narrator states, "He [Buck] had done this thing before, somewhere in that other and dimly remembered world." Buck realizes he belongs in the wild with wolves. Here, London ties together ideas from Spencer, Darwin, and Marx into an understanding of the importance of community to survival in the wild.

In The Call of the Wild, what are three important ways in which Jack London shows a clash between civilization and the wild?

First, Jack London shows a clash between civilization and the wild when Buck encounters the man in the red sweater. At this point, Buck is a civilized dog who is enraged about being captured. Because of this, Buck repeatedly attacks the man in the red sweater. However, this man is an expert at using the law of the club, which is like the "law of club and fang" used in the wild. According to this law, the person or animal of greater strength or fitness will dominate the person or animal of lesser strength or fitness. The man in the red sweater demonstrates this law to Buck by repeatedly beating the dog with a club when he attacks, eventually driving the canine into submission. Second, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes show a clash between civilization and the wild. The trio is civilized but completely ignorant about how to survive in the wild. Because of this, they clash with the wild by misusing food, abusing their dogs, overloading their sled, and ignoring signs of melting ice. Eventually, their ignorance of the wild kills them. They fall through thin ice along with the sled and their dogs, except for Buck. Third, Buck shows an inner clash between civilization and the wild after he bonds with John Thornton. Before meeting Thornton, Buck had become a dog connected with his wild instincts. However, after bonding with Thornton, a struggle develops within Buck between his call to the wild and his civilized love for Thornton.

In The Call of the Wild, what are two instances in which chaotic situations develop, and for what reasons?

Hal, Charles, and Mercedes cause chaotic situations through their ignorance and selfishness. Because the members of this group do not know how to deal with wilderness conditions, they often create chaotic situations. For example, they misload the sled, causing it to tip over and scatter the belongings. Also, they make camp in a haphazard, chaotic fashion. In addition, each member of the trio has a selfish attitude. Because of this, they end up constantly arguing among themselves, creating a chaotic mess. Buck also creates a chaotic situation when he uses passion to motivate violence. Buck shows this when he attacks the Yeehats. This violence has no practical cause. Buck is not using violence to enforce the "law of club and fang." Instead, Buck is using violence for revenge. As a result, he creates a chaotic melee in which Buck is slashing throats and the Yeehats are throwing spears and shooting arrows, often killing each other.

In The Call of the Wild, why does Jack London make Buck a mixed-breed dog instead of a purebred dog?

Jack London makes Buck a mix of St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd dog because this increases Buck's abilities, making him a dominant predator and qualifying him to lead of a wolf pack. Because he is part St. Bernard, Buck is a large, strong dog, and the mix of shepherd and St. Bernard means Buck is very intelligent and capable of connecting to the primordial instincts of his wolf ancestors. This combination produces a superior animal. The narrator states, "His [Buck's] cunning was wolf cunning, and wild cunning; his intelligence, shepherd and St. Bernard intelligence; and all this ... made him as formidable a creature as any that roamed the wild."

In what ways can The Call of the Wild be seen as a quest story?

Buck can be seen as going on a quest to answer the call of the wild. In the beginning, Buck is completely unaware of this call. As he enters the uncivilized world of men and the wild, he begins to get in touch with his wild instincts. After this, Buck can be seen as embarking on a journey in which he has to face and defeat various obstacles to achieve the goal or Holy Grail of his quest. These obstacles include defeating Spitz, surviving harsh weather conditions, surviving abusive owners, saving John Thornton, and killing a moose. Like many seekers, Buck gains knowledge and power as he continues his quest. When he bonds with the wolf pack, Buck answers his call and thereby achieves his quest. As a result, Buck becomes legendary, like a knight in a medieval fable.

In The Call of the Wild, how is John Thornton similar to and different from Francois?

François has an official job as a government dispatcher. John Thornton works for himself as a prospector. Both Thornton and François are Buck's masters. Both are knowledgeable about dogs and about living in the wild. However, François's relationship with Buck is based on work. François bought Buck to pull a sled and expects the dog to fulfill his duties well. Eventually, François feels affection for Buck, but this affection is based not on love but on friendship or partnership. François's affection for Buck is similar to that of an employer for a top employee. In contrast, John Thornton's relationship with Buck is based on love. Thornton keeps Buck with him not because of Buck's hard work but because Thornton loves him, and Buck returns this love.

How is The Call of the Wild similar to and different from Into the Wild?

The Call of the Wild and Into the Wild both deal with a protagonist's journey, both physical and spiritual, into the wilderness. Both journeys are severely affected by the harsh environment of the wild. In The Call of the Wild, this wilderness is located in the Northland or Yukon region. A large portion of Into the Wild takes place in Alaska, which is close to the Yukon and has a similar environment. However, the two books have several differences. A dog is the protagonist of The Call of the Wild; a young man is the protagonist of Into the Wild. In The Call of the Wild, Buck goes through a process called atavism, which involves retrogressing to his primitive instincts. By doing this, Buck survives in the wild, becoming a dominant predator. In Into the Wild, the protagonist who calls himself Alex tries to return to a simpler, more basic way of life, which involves living off the land. However, he does not return to his primitive state. At times, Alex refuses to eat food, such as a moose covered with maggots, because it is distasteful to him. Buck and most primitive peoples would have devoured this food. So in a way, Alex deludes himself. He ends up being defeated by the wild when he starves to death in an abandoned bus.

In what ways can The Call of the Wild be seen as a fatalistic novel?

Fatalism is the belief that one's life is determined by forces outside one's control. In The Call of the Wild, Buck's life is determined in two major ways. The environment is one force outside Buck's control that plays a huge role in shaping his life. Because of the harsh conditions in the Northland, Buck is forced to connect with his primordial instincts to survive. If Buck's environment had never changed, the dog would never have made this connection. He would have remained a civilized dog on the Judge's estate. Also, Buck's life is determined by human events he is completely unaware of. Gold has been found in the Northland. Human greed, a major source of concern in socialism, sets the plot in motion. To satisfy the demand for dogs to pull sleds, Buck is captured and sent to the Northland. So, Buck could be seen as a type of puppet at the mercy of a ruling class, much like an average worker in the early 1900s. Buck's behavior is determined by the pulling of strings the dog has no control over. The narrator states, "As token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him [Buck] and he came into his own again." By the end of the story, Buck has fulfilled his destiny by realizing freedom and autonomy, the goal of Marx's socialism.

How does The Call of the Wild support and contradict the theory of evolution?

According to the theory of evolution, life on Earth is constantly developing from simpler to more complex forms. This process involves the ability of plants and animals to take advantage of characteristics they're born with, such as Buck's using his strength and thick fur. Through natural selection, the most adaptable plant and animal life survives, dominating weaker life forms. As the most adaptable survive, life becomes more complex because complex life can better learn and adapt to the environment. In The Call of the Wild, London supports the theory of evolution through Buck. Buck is a complex, superior being because he combines strength, skill, imagination, intelligence, and the willingness to learn and adapt. He exemplifies the best of natural selection. However, in a way, Buck also contradicts the theory of evolution. Because the theory posits that simpler life develops into more complex or advanced life, the development of complex human civilization could be seen as a direct result of the evolutionary process. Buck, by exchanging a more complex way of life for a simpler, more primitive way of life, goes through a reverse evolution.

In what ways does The Call of the Wild support environmentalism?

In The Call of the Wild, Jack London supports environmentalism by promoting people and animals who live in harmony with nature. When Buck gets in touch with his primitive side, he flourishes in nature and becomes a legendary hero. However, a character does not have to go through an atavistic process to live in harmony with nature, as John Thornton demonstrates. Thornton is a civilized man who knows how to survive in the wild and thus has no fear of it. The book's most negative characters by far are Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, who constantly clash with nature. London also includes in the book many vivid descriptions of nature, showcasing its glory. As Thornton, Buck, and their group head into the far North, the narrator states, "They went across divides in summer blizzards, shivered under the midnight sun on naked mountains between the timber line and the eternal snows ... and in the shadow of glaciers picked strawberries and flowers as ripe and fair as any the Southland could boast."

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