The Call of the Wild Historical Context 📖

‘The Call of the Wild’ is an American classic. Published in 1903, the novel tells the story of a domestic dog who was forced into labor as a sled dog and eventually gives in to the “call of the wild.” 

The Call of the Wild Historical Context 📖

The Call of the Wild

Jack London

The book is considered London’s best-known and most often studied. It, along with White Fang, was inspired by a year London spent in the Yukon chasing gold and thousands of others. 

The Call of the Wild Historical Context


Publication History 

In 1903, Jack London sold the publication rights for his novel The Call of the Wild to MacMillan. Since the novel has been translated into dozens of languages and sold worldwide, since its initial publication in 1903, the novel has never been out of print.

The Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush was a period in the late 1800s, approximately from 1886 to 1899, during which thousands traveled to the Canadian Klondike in search of gold. After gold was discovered there in 1868, men from around the country, the United States, and abroad, traveled to this northern Canadian region (just east of what would later be Alaska) in the hope of making their fortune. 

The region was incredibly dangerous, freezing, and consistently snow-covered. Around 100,000 people, known as prospectors, traveled to Canada. They traveled through Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska and followed one of two different passes, the Chilkoot or White Pass, to the Yukon River. There, they sailed to the Klondike. 

Each team included a pack of sled dogs responsible for pulling all the supplies (which included a year’s worth of food). The loads were incredibly heavy and often required multiple trips. Some took years of trips to bring all of their supplies to their intended destinations. 

Along the route, towns like Dawson City sprung up to accommodate the prospectors, and indigenous populations were negatively affected. Groups like the Hän were moved off their territory to make room for the prospectors. 

Gold mining in the Klondike peaked in 1903 after the introduction of heavy machinery. Around the same time, interest and traveling to the Klondike declined, and the population of Dawson City, which reached 30,000 people at the height of the Gold Rush, fell.

Those who traveled to the Klondike were subject to starvation and disease. People died from scurvy, meningitis, typhoid, and the cold, as well as from physical violence (the latter was the second most common cause of death). 

During this time, scholars believe that around 120,000 Native people died from diseases and violence brought into the region by prospectors and others seeking to benefit from the Gold Rush. 

Jack London and the Gold Rush 

Jack London was among those who traveled to the Klondike in search of his fortune. He joined the groups headed North in 1897 and traveled up the Chilkoot Trail. While there, he submitted stories to various magazines, many of which were later included in short story collections. 

It’s believed that London never fully recovered from his year in Canada. Upon the occasion of his death, he was suffering from morphine addiction, kidney failure, alcoholism, and still feeling the lasting effect of diseases he was exposed to in the Klondike (including scurvy). 

While he did not find his fortune there, he did find inspiration for his novels. His time in the Klondike, including the suffering he endured, the violence he saw, his experiences with sled dogs, and more, all inspired the plot of The Call of the Wild. 

The Call of the Wild and Charles Darwin 

London considered Charles Darwin and his theories on evolution another major source of inspiration for his novel The Call of the Wild. During the time that London was writing The Call of the Wild, Darwin’s theories dominated the scientific world, and London utilized many of them in his plot.

Survival is one of the primary themes of the novel and something that Buck, the main character, learns a great deal about. Unaccustomed to having to fight for his food or his life more generally, Buck is thrust into a world where he has to maintain his dominance on the daily basis. 

His first introduction to the violence of the North and the idea of the “survival of the fittest” came after the ship carrying the stolen would-be sled dogs to Canada. Along the way, he befriended a female Newfoundland, Curly, and after getting off the ship, watched her murdered by a group of violent huskies (which included Spitz, one of the main antagonists of the novel). 

From this encounter, he learned that kindness and compassion, while positive character traits in Santa Clara Valley, California, will get one killed in the north. He vowed never to show weakness or meet a similar, pointless death. 

FAQs

Why is the setting important in The Call of the Wild?

The setting is one of the most important parts of the novel. The fight for survival that Buck endures is at the heart of The Call of the Wild. The harsh north, including the ice, snow, frozen rivers, and lack of food and shelter, are all elements that influence his experience. 

Is The Call of the Wild a true story?

No, The Call of the Wild is not a true story, but it is partially based on London’s experience in the Yukon as a twenty-one-year-old man. He traveled there in search of his fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush and returned empty-handed after a year of suffering. 

Why didn’t Buck save Curly?

In the novel, Buck seeds his new friend Curly murdered by a group of violent huskies. Unfortunately, Buck did not get a chance to save or defend his new friend because there were too many wild dogs around them. He had no chance against dogs who were already well-accustomed to the “kill or be killed” nature of sled dog life.

Why was The Call of the Wild banned in Italy in 1929?

The novel was banned in several countries, including Italy and Yugoslavia, because of Jack London’s socialist views. The book was famously burned during World War II by the Nazis as well. 

Why is The Call of the Wild controversial?

The main reason that The Call of the Wild is controversial today is not due to the author’s views but because of the elements of animal abuse and death that are scattered throughout the novel. 

The Call of the Wild Historical Context 📖
Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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