This adventure novel was published in 1903 and is Jack London’s best-known literary work. It was inspired by the year he spent in the Yukon as a twenty-one-year-old man.
‘Spoiler-Free’ The Call of the Wild Summary
Jack London’s novel begins with a Buck, a half St. Bernard and a half sheepdog who lives with his master, Judge Miller, and Santa Clara Valley, California. The main drama of the novel begins when Judge Miller’s gardener, Manuel, kidnaps Buck and sells him as a sled dog to men seeking out gold in the Klondike region of Canada.
Buck’s life of privilege is transformed as soon as he sees the cruelty of the frozen north and experiences the death of a friend at the hand of a sled dog rival, Spitz. Throughout the novel, Buck contends with kind and cruel masters, each of whom teaches him something about what it takes to survive in the wild.
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
The Call of the Wild opens with Buck, the novel’s protagonist, living a life of privilege in Santa Clara Valley, California. His owner, Judge Miller, provides him with everything he needs to live a happy life. His life changes forever when Judge Miller’s gardener, Manuel, kidnaps him and sells him into the Klondike territory. There, men constantly search for strong dogs capable of pulling sleds to enable their frantic search for gold. From Manuel and the dog traders, Buck experiences true cruelty for the first time. He’s beaten with a club and shipped north on a ship.
While traveling, he meets Curly, a female Newfoundland dog he befriends. She’s kind to him but is immediately killed by a pack of huskies after getting off the boat. She teaches him an important lesson. That kindness can be a weakness, and Buck vows he will never experience the same kind of brutal death. One of the dogs that are responsible for killing Curly is Spitz, the lead dog on the sled team that Buck is purchased for. He is one of Buck’s primary enemies from this point forward.
Buck is purchased by Francois and Perrault, two mail carriers working for the Canadian government. On the sled team are other dogs, like Dolly, Pike, Joe, Teek, and Koona.
Over the next weeks, the rivalries within the pack and the horrifying environment that he has been thrust into help Buck recover some of his natural, wild instincts. His rivalry with Spitz also develops. Eventually, after getting into a fight, Buck kills Spitz and becomes the new lead dog.
The team of dogs is sold to another mail carrier who runs them for miles on end, which eventually leads to one of the dogs, Dave, dying. The dogs are sold off to stampeders from the United States. These three new owners are thoughtless and completely unfit for the life they’re trying to lead. Mercedes, a spoiled, demanding woman, her husband Charles, and her brother Hal are both arrogant and unknowledgeable.
All but five dogs die in the next section of the novel as they run out of food and are mistreated. The team meets John Thornton, an avid outdoorsman who tries to provide the three Americans with advice. But, they ignore him and continue onto dangerous ice. When Buck refuses, Hal whips him to kill him. But before he can, Thornton cuts him free and saves him.
The three Americans continue on their way with the four remaining dogs. In moments, the entire sled falls through the ice, and all the humans and dogs drown.
Thornton becomes Buck’s best, most caring, and most loyal owner. Buck comes to love him, even killing a man who tries to hurt his new master. He saves Thornton after falling into a river and proves his incredible strength in a bet after pulling a half-ton of flour.
Thornton sets out into the wild with Buck with the intention of searching for gold with his partners. They travel out into the wilderness, find gold, and when the dogs have nothing to do, they wander, meeting up with wolves. Buck thinks about joining them but declines, returning to his owner. When he comes back, he finds the entire team, including Thornton and all the dogs, murdered by a Native American tribe.
Buck kills several men in vengeance and wanders back into wild territory, looking for the wolf pack he’d considered joining. He encounters a hostile group of wolves he has to fight before following them into the woods.
The book ends with the suggestion that for years, the legend of Buck as a “Ghost Dog” spread throughout the territory. He returns yearly, London writes, to continue his vengeance on the Yeehats.
What is the main point of The Call of the Wild?
The main point is to depict Buck’s extreme transformation from a pet to a wild dog. He starts the novel as a house pet and ends it as a member of a wild wolf pack in Canada. The book also provides commentary on the dangers of arrogance, over-civilization, and empathy for all living things.
Is The Call of the Wild a true story?
No, The Call of the Wild is not a true story. But, the setting and people were inspired by Jack London’s time in the Yukon as a young man. This period also inspired his other most commonly read novel, White Fang.
How does John Thornton save Buck’s life in The Call of the Wild?
John Thornton cuts Buck loose from the sled, preventing him from being beaten to death by Hal, his previous owner. The group falls into the ice and drowns soon after. This inspires Buck’s loyalty for the rest of Thornton’s life and even after his death.
What happened at the end of The Call of the Wild?
At the end of the novel, Buck takes vengeance on the Native American tribe who killed his master and joined a pack of wolves.