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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Buck, a sled dog in the Alaskan wilderness, is the main protagonist of Jack London's The Call of the Wild. Dogs are considered domesticated animals unprepared for the challenges of surviving on their own without humans to care for them. Their cousins, however, are wild animals and are not easily or wisely domesticated. Those cousins are wolves, and in London's novel, they represent the more primitive form. This is in contrast to Buck, who has been part of a family otherwise composed of humans. Buck, though, straddles a line between the uncivilized, primitive nature of the wolves and the more generally domesticated house pet we commonly associate with the word "dog." Born and raised for the first four years of his life on property owned by Judge Miller and accustomed to living the life of a "sated aristocrat," Buck is nevertheless an animal and of a breed that was commonly bred for laborious activities in remote, austere locations.

Buck's kidnapping radically alters his existence. The comfortable world of domestic tranquility is gone, and he must now learn to exist in the more brutal if natural conditions of the wild. Soon after being kidnapped and sold into a form of slavery, Buck endures the appearance of a northern winter unlike any he had experienced in Santa Clara Valley, California. London's narrator describes the transition as follows:

"It had snowed during the night and he was completely buried. The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surge of fear swept through him—the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It was a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog, and of his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it."

This transition represents a step backward from an evolutionary perspective. Buck has gone from a modern era family pet to primitive being forced to adapt to unfamiliar and harsh surroundings—surroundings that grow even more primitive as the story progresses. Buck eventually finds himself allied with a pack of wolves, the very species of canine associated with "the wild." The title The Call of the Wild evokes the phenomenon of transition from an artificial state of domestic being to one associated with primordial wilderness. Buck, of course, is an animal, and animals are wild, untamed beasts. This is not a description befitting a fine canine like Buck, but it is intended to suggest that Buck's transition to the wilderness represents the natural order. Animals yearn to be free of captivity despite the relative safety and nutritional benefits of being domesticated by humans. Buck's ability to adapt to the primitive world of the wolves means that he has heeded the call of the wild and returned to his roots.

ms-einstein eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Buck is kidnapped from his majestic, orderly home in California and sold as a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. In his home, he reigns over the grounds and is owned by a judge, a symbol of fairness and civilization. He watches over the property and sits at the judge's feet at night. Buck is so accustomed to fairness and civility, he does not fight when a rope is slipped over his neck, the first stage in his kidnapping.

As he arrives in the Klondike, he learns the laws of a disorderly, uncivilized country. He understand he cannot defeat a man with a club. He learns from other dogs to dig a hole in the snow to remain warm at night. His survival depends on upon adapting to this hostile environment. He succeeds in his adaptation and eventually becomes a ruler in this wilderness. In a dreamy state, he sees a caveman-like figure around a fire and reconnects to this past. He surrenders his civilized being and returns to a primordial state. In essence, Buck hears the call of the wild, the call of nature, the call to return to a wild world where he can still prevail. Once he heeds this call, he has broken ties with the judge's world of fairness and entered the realm of the wild where nature rules.