Throughout the book, readers learn what it takes to survive in the Yukon alongside Buck, a dog stolen from his home in California and forced into service as a sled dog. The power of the natural world and its draw for all living creatures, human and non-human, is at the heart of the novel.
Civilization and Wilderness in The Call of the Wild
After reading the novel, readers are meant to walk away questioning civilization and with a newfound interest in, and respect for, the natural world. It’s hard to finish Buck’s story without admiring his appreciation for nature (despite all the suffering he’s forced to endure).
This major theme of the novel should appeal to all readers. While the protagonist is a dog, readers can easily place themselves in Buck’s place and imagine what it would be like to be forced to live a wild life, very removed from that which you previously enjoyed. And if, perhaps, you might experience the same type of joy in freedom and nature as Buck does.
Buck as a Protagonist
If you’ve never read The Call of the Wild, the immediate realization that the main character is a dog is a surprising. London made this unique choice (as a dog-lover all his life) as a way to depict humanity and nature from an unusual perspective. No one understands the contrast between civilization and the wild as a dog does, London suggests in his novel.
Buck lived a life of luxury, one that was interpreted permanently when he was stolen and sold as a sled dog. He had no choice (as a human being likely would) over what happened to him and where he went. He traveled from master to master and was forced to endure starvation, freezing cold, and a constant battle for dominance with the other dogs.
While he suffered, he also learned a great deal (as the reader does). His initial horror at the Yukon and the brutal murder of Curly results in his learning a series of powerful, unforgettable lessons. Any weakness (like kindness or friendship) can lead to your demise.
Jack London’s Style
While the book is best known for Buck’s character and for its usual setting (not to mention its prestige as one of the first adventure fiction novels), London’s writing style is commonly overlooked. London never won any literary awards of note during his career, but today, his writing stands among the greats, particularly for its effortless descriptions of the natural world and Buck’s realization of his own instinctual wildness.
While London never forces an appreciation for nature (or fear of its power) on the readers, it comes along nevertheless. His direct but lyrical style of writing makes it impossible not to appreciate the beauty and terror of the Yukon and feel, right along with Buck and the other characters in the novel, amazement at what it takes to survive.
Buck’s introduction to truly wild living is a process that begins after he arrives in the North and lasts throughout the novel. It’s not until the end, when he finally joins a pack of wolves that he fully gives up his lingering affection for the civilized world. He turns away from the comforts that we all know so well and willingly determines to live a life of struggle and survival.
It’s not just the struggle to survive and the ability to fully give in to his instincts that attracts Buck though; it’s also the freedom and beauty that comes along with it. London writes:
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.
Here, he demonstrates Buck’s newfound attachment to the wild as he “sound[s] the old wolf-cry” and enters the wildness willingly. The idea that one forgets they’re alive when they are most alive is an interesting one. It is also an example of London’s more lyrical prose. Set alongside a direct description of Buck leading the pack, it creates a fulsome emotional landscape that has attracted readers for decades.
While not every reader may love The Call of the Wild, it does contain an inescapable universal appeal in its depiction of civilization and wilderness. It asks you to reconsider the world you live in, what it means, and what you’re missing from your base, instinctual self.
Buck rediscovered his own instincts, willingness to survive, and a way of living that he was initially very distant from so too many readers as they navigate the pages of Jack London’s novel.
The Call of the Wild Review: Jack London's Adventure Fiction Novel
Lasting Effect on Reader
The Call of the Wild Review
The Call of the Wild is an unforgettable novel that pioneered the adventure genre. It follows Buck a privileged California dog who is stolen and sold as a sled dog in the Yukon. His struggle to survive leads to a newfound appreciation for the natural world and his own wild instincts.
- A unique main character
- A meaningful conclusion
- Beautiful, lyrical prose
- Less interesting dialogue
- May leave readers wanting more
- Some examples of cruelty towards animals