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The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | Motifs



Jack London threads the motif of violence throughout The Call of the Wild. This motif takes three forms. First, London shows violence as the main method to enforce the "law of club and fang." The man in the red sweater beats Buck with a club to teach him obedience. Spitz and Buck use violence to discipline the dog team. This violence serves the community. For instance, by learning to obey a man with a club, Buck becomes an effective member of his dog team.

London also shows a second type of violence, which is used by Hal, Charles, and (indirectly) Mercedes. This violence does not support the "law of club and fang"; it supports chaos, which destroys the community. The greenhorns run the dogsled haphazardly and ineptly. For example, when Hal beats the dogs, he makes them less effective. Hal's ignorant violence leads to destruction, not survival.

A third type of violence is motivated by passion. Buck shows this when he fights against the man in the red sweater and when he kills the Yeehats. This violence does not support the "law of club and fang"; instead, it seeks vengeance. Vengeful violence threatens the survival of those who practice it. If Buck had continued to rebel against the man in the red sweater, he never would have learned the "law of club and fang," and he would not have survived. When Buck attacks the Yeehats, he does nothing to enhance his survival, and he risks being killed.

Readers may think London depicts nature's violence as well. For instance, François, Perrault, and their dog team face harsh weather that threaten their lives, and Hal, Charles, and Mercedes sled across thin ice, which eventually kills them. However, these situations are not violent because nature does not intend to hurt, damage, or kill anyone. Nature simply follows its course, one that includes frigid temperatures and melting ice.


Throughout The Call of the Wild, Buck has a series of dreams and visions that show his fear and his developing connection with his primordial instincts. In one nightmarish dream, he witnesses Curly's vicious death, which impresses on Buck the need to obey the "law of club and fang." Later, Buck dreams about Thornton leaving him, which intensifies Buck's devotion to his master.

Buck's primordial visions progress as he answers the call of the wild. First, when Buck becomes leader of his dog team and connects with his primitive instincts, he vividly imagines a primitive man sitting by a fire and looking fearfully into the dark. Buck sees the man's "fire-scorched skin" and body hair matted like "thick fur," and he sees the eyes of "great beasts of prey" in the dark. Later, when Buck sits with Thornton by the fire, the dog senses the presence of other "dogs, half-wolves, and wild wolves." Because Buck shares his ancestors' instincts, he becomes their living embodiment. His vision has a tangible reality. After this, when Buck is in the remote far North, he sees himself accompanying the primitive man in the wilderness: "Through the forest they crept noiselessly, Buck at the hairy man's heels." Now Buck has become an active participant in his visions. Soon, Buck runs with his wolf brother in the woods, sensing he has done so before, during a primordial age. Buck begins to reenact his visions in the real world, making his visions of his primitive ancestors a reality. Buck has now fully answered the call of the wild.

At the end of the novel, the Yeehats tell stories about a fierce Ghost Dog, who is Buck. These stories can be seen as legendary visions of the wild. By fully embracing his visions, Buck has transformed himself into legend.

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