Explain how The Call of the Wild by Jack London exemplifies the ideas and concepts of Naturalism. Include Examples.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Naturalism is Realism taken to the extreme with the supposition that all that happens or exists arises from natural causes and properties, with no spiritual intervention. In other words, there is a certain determinism that controls existence, an unforgiving nature to life as heredity and environment are the determinants in a life.

Jack London's title itself--The Call of the Wild--suggests this environmental effect upon the main character of Buck, for in the wilds of Alaska, the dog returns to his atavistic nature, whereas with his domestic life as the pet of Judge Miller he is petted and lives the life of "a sated aristocrat," hunting with his owner and swimming for leisure.

Here are elements of Naturalism that are depicted in London's novella:

  • Fight for survival/survival of the fittest - It is not long after his capture that Buck learns about being the "primordial dominant beast" who fight off the likes of Spitz for his own place. The club of the man in the red sweater has taught him much and he learns of his own cunning and how he can "bide his time with a patience that was nothing less than primitive."
  • Struggle against nature - Weighing one hundred and forty pounds and descended from a St. Bernard, Buck is strong and hardy, so he is able to survive the harshness of the Alaskan climate. Also, he quickly learns the dynamics of the pack.
  • Violence - In the struggle against the other dogs and against nature, Buck learns the intrinsic nature of violence.
  • Conditioning forces - At first, Buck's paws are too tender, but he becomes conditioned to running distances. He has a "capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions" (Ch.2).
  • Social environment affect - Buck's new environment plays a large part in how he develops; he is much more aggressive in the wild than he has been as a domestic dog. Yet, he remembers his love for man as he becomes devoted to Thorton.
  • Tone - the tone of the narrative is distant and non-judgmental
  • Local becomes its own character - The narrative is less plot driven than it is the story of Buck as the environment acts as the main force that develops him.
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