Jack London employs a unique narrative perspective throughout this novel and asks readers to consider the dangers of over-civilization and the importance, or lack thereof, of material possessions and more.
The Call of the Wild Themes
The novel’s main focus is Buck’s transformation from a pet dog in California to a wild dog running with a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. Throughout the book, he learns what it means to be “wild” and manages the skills it takes to survive in the harsh environment of the freezing North.
The wild is one of the most important themes in Jack London’s literary work. The concept of the wild “calling” to Buck is important to his evolution as a character and revitalizing his natural instincts. It’s not until the novel’s end that he fully gives in to the “call of the wild” and joins a pack of wolves in the wilderness.
The wild also presents horrifying dangers to everyone involved in the novel. Even Thornton, an avid outdoorsman, loses his life somewhat unexpectedly.
The theme of mastery is present throughout the entire novel. It begins with Buck in California experiencing a kind master who provides him with everything he needs in life. Judge Miller is wealthy and lives a life of relative ease.
Buck’s perception of mastery changes when he’s thrust into the wild North and is no longer the master of his own environment, nor does he have a master who inspires loyalty. Throughout the novel, the various characters are all striving to master their surroundings and one another.
Analysis of Key Moments in The Call of the Wild
- Buck is stolen from his California home by Manuel.
- He meets Curly and watches Spitz kill her.
- He is purchased by Francois to work as a sled dog.
- He fights and kills Spitz and becomes the lead dog.
- Francois sells the team to another mail carrier who mistreats them.
- The team of dogs is sold again to three Americans.
- They treat the dogs cruelly and show a great deal of arrogance about their environment.
- John Thonront tries to warn them about thin ice, but they don’t listen.
- Buck refuses to go out on the ice and is beaten by Hal.
- John saves his life, and Buck watches as the remaining dogs and the Americans drown after plunging through the ice.
- John Thornton becomes Buck’s best master and inspires his love and loyalty.
- The two travel together and Buck proves his strength.
- Thornton finds gold shortly before being killed by Yeehat Native Americans.
- Buck kills tribe members in vengeance before joining a pack of wolves.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
Jack London employed an unusual writing style for The Call of the Wild. Much of the book is written from the perspective of Buck, a dog. But, he also uses a human narrator to provide integral details to one’s understanding of the story.
Throughout, Jack London does not shy away from the violence and terror of life in the Yukon territory. There are moments in which the language is very stark and others in which it is more poetic. For example:
He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.
He also employs a contemplative tone throughout, as is seen in the above quote. Buck is constantly analyzing his situation and trying to understand what it takes to survive. Buck’s situation is also presented as incredibly sympathetic. Readers are consistently on Buck’s side and hoping that he finds happiness.
London employs multiple examples of figurative language throughout this book. They include:
Analysis of Symbols
Mercedes’ possessions symbolize over-civilization, arrogance, and ignorance. She feels the sled with so many items and even ditches other essentials in favor of her fashionable possessions that she helps bring about the final disaster that the falls her, her husband, and her brother.
The traces, or the bindings that attach the sled dogs to the sled symbolize service and labor. The dogs take pride in their strength and what they’re able to accomplish. But, at the same time, they don’t have a choice in the matter. Their master decides where they go and how fast they need to get there, and the dogs have to obey.
The Call of the Wild
The call of the wild is one of the primary symbols in this book. It’s a metaphorical call that keeps Buck’s attention and makes him want to step away from the remnants of his civilized life. It is not until the end of the book that he fully indulges “call” and leaves civilization and his human masters behind.
Why did Jack London write The Call of the Wild?
London wrote this book to share some of what he saw while living for a year in the Yukon Territory. He also wrote it to convey the theme of transformation and how, over a period of time, one’s entire life and intentions can change. Buck transformed from a pet to a wild dog from the first to the last chapter.
What is the meaning behind The Call of the Wild?
The meaning behind the symbol “the call of the wild” is that the “call” triggers one’s instincts and desire to escape civilization. London suggests that wild instincts are far more natural to humanity and non-human animals, like dogs, than are the confines of civilized life.
What can you learn from The Call of the Wild?
You can learn that tapping into your instincts may provide insight and allow you to survive in difficult situations. The novel also teaches about the dangers of over-civilization and dependence on material possessions.
What is the main conflict of the novel The Call of the Wild?
The main conflict is civilization versus the wild. Buck deals with an intense transformation as he has forced to contend with the new reality of the freezing northern Yukon. There, he has to set aside a civilized life and learn what it takes to survive in the wild.