Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Buck, the hero of the story, a dog that is part German Shepherd and part Saint Bernard. Buck is abducted from his home in San Francisco to serve as a sled dog. He is abused cruelly by his first masters, but he adjusts admirably to the elemental life of the Yukon. He has to fight several dogs to maintain his place in the pack, and he is called on to perform several extraordinary feats of endurance and courage. He serves his human masters faithfully, but when his final master dies, Buck answers the call of the wild, forsaking civilization and joining a wolf pack, returning to an instinctual mode of life that always has been an incipient factor in his strength and indomitability.
Spitz, the malevolent head of the pack. He attacks Buck repeatedly, sensing Buck’s fitness to supplant him as the dogs’ leader. Spitz is valued by his masters for his ferocity and intelligence, but the masters concede Buck’s superiority when Buck challenges Spitz to a fight to the death and wins.
Perault, Buck’s first Yukon master, a hard but fair man who acknowledges Buck’s supremacy among the dogs. Perault and Buck drive themselves equally hard, and Perault makes the dogs an extension of his own will.
Francois, Perault’s French-Canadian partner, who predicts that Buck will become a great sled dog, perhaps the finest in the Yukon. He treats...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Because The Call of the Wild focuses upon Buck's experience, the human characters are of secondary importance. Buck is a magnificent dog, part shepherd and part St. Bernard. His superior strength enables him to adapt readily to the northern climate and the harsh demands of his labors. But he possesses one additional qualityimagination. Buck fights with his head as well as his brawn.
Adaptability is a dominant theme in The Call of the Wild. In order to survive in the Yukon, Buck must learn "the law of club and fang." Buck is first taught this law by the club-wielding sled drivers Francois and Perrault, who show him that the strongest individuals are the ones who rule. Buck also learns this primitive law from the other team dogs, such as Dave, Sol-leks, and the vicious team leader, Spitz. From them, Buck learns that he must either bite or be bitten, master or be mastered.
The theme of adaptability, or "survival of the fittest," is a popular Darwinian concept that appears in many of London's stories, applying to humans as well as to animals. In contrast to Francois and Perrault, who know how to survive in the harsh arctic environment, the incompetent miners Charles, Hal, and Mercedes are unable to adapt to their surroundings. The trio lacks discipline, skill, imagination, andself-controll. They attempt to use fourteen dogs instead of nine, not considering that their sled cannot carry food for so many dogs. They also insist upon...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
The protagonist of this beast fable is Buck, a sheepdog who is stolen from Judge Miller's California ranch to work in the Yukon. Because the novella is told from Buck's perspective, the reader vicariously experiences an atavistic return to his primitive heritage. Buck's inherent strength and courage are honed by the harsh necessities of the Yukon. From his fellow sled-dogs he learns to forget the moral restrictions which controlled his behavior in California and to fight for dominance. Learning to revel in the exhilaration of battle and the physical exertion of work prepare Buck for his apotheosis, his triumphant hearkening to the "call of the wild." Fully reintegrated into the primitive state, Buck is last pictured running at the head of a pack of wolves, "leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world."
The human characters primarily serve to exemplify the various environmental influences that shape Buck. Buck's first owner Judge Miller is kind but their relationship is a restrained friendship, completely unlike the passionate love Buck feels for his final owner John Thornton. Between Miller and Thornton, Buck passes through a series of masters who are harsh and even brutal, but in most cases their violence is portrayed as a necessary part of Buck's initiation into the realities of survival. The exception is the trio of incompetent and cruel miners from whom Buck is rescued by John Thornton, for...
(The entire section is 269 words.)
Half St. Bernard, half Scotch shepherd, Buck is a dog and the protagonist of The Call of the Wild. The novel is told largely from Buck's perspective, although the narrator interprets his "feelings" and "thoughts" for the reader. Buck is a loyal friend to his owner, Judge Miller, and he "lived the life of a sated aristocrat" on his California ranch. But he is physically strong from hunting expeditions, and his thick coat and strength are exactly what the men going North to seek their fortune in the Klondike gold rush need.
Buck is stolen by the gardener and sold to a group traveling north. Before long Buck knows that he is in a strange land with different rules and expectations. A man in a red sweater teaches Buck his first lesson of the Northland: "A man with a club was a law-giver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated." Buck's first masters are just, but he must make a difficult adjustment to his new life of labor and near-starvation. He even steals food from his master, an act which marks "the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence." Although Buck is a dog, his "development (or retrogression)," as London calls it, is depicted in almost human terms. He is losing all the trappings of civilization. "The domesticated generations fell from him," and "instincts long dead became alive again."
Buck is more and more drawn to the wild. He discovers...
(The entire section is 383 words.)
Charles is one of Buck's masters. He is searching for gold, but his group is completely unprepared for the harsh, demanding environment. Through their ignorance, lack of sense, and cruelty, they starve the dogs and nearly work them to death. When they travel on a precarious river trail, they crash through the ice to their deaths.
Dave is the wheel-dog on the team. His pride in his work is so great that he ends up working himself to death, unwilling to be carried when he becomes ill.
Dolly is a dog who goes mad on the trail. She comes after Buck in her madness and is killed by Francois.
Francois is a dog driver, one of Buck's first masters in the Klondike. He and his partner, Perrault, are mail couriers. They are just masters who treat the dogs fairly, although they get the maximum amount of work out of their dogs with the minimum amount of food.
Hal is Charles's brother-in-law. When Buck refuses to lead the dogs farther on the trail, he beats him severely. Hal is the one who leads the party to their deaths.
Manuel is the gardener who steals Buck and sells him.
Mercedes is Hal's wife and Charles's sister. Because she "had been chivalrously treated all her days," she is particularly ill-suited to the life of the trail. She feels sorry for the hungry dogs, so she...
(The entire section is 589 words.)