Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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How does Buck feel about becoming lead dog and what does he do in The Call of the Wild?

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Buck was pleased with being the lead dog, and he immediately took the leadership role even when the men didn’t want him to.

When Buck arrived, Spitz was the lead dog.  Buck and Spitz did not get along, because Buck’s presence, size, and strength threatened Spitz.

Spitz, as lead-dog and acknowledged master of the team, felt his supremacy threatened by this strange Southland dog. (Ch. 3)

Buck and Sptiz fight, and Buck constantly challenges and undermines Spitz.  As a result, team morale suffers from the lack of discipline.  When Buck and Spitz finally fight to the death, Buck wins. 

Having won the title of lead dog fair and square, Buck decides to take what’s his.  The two men, Francois and Perrault, are puzzled.  They have their own ideas about who should be lead dog.

Buck trotted up to the place Spitz would have occupied as leader; but François, not noticing him, brought Sol-leks to the coveted position. In his judgment, Sol-leks was the best lead-dog left. Buck sprang upon Sol-leks in afury, driving him back and standing in his place. (Ch. 4)

The men can hardly argue.  Buck won’t take no for an answer.  He has earned the right to be lead dog, and no one is going to take that away from him.

Despite his relative inexperience, Buck is intelligent and actually quite a good lead dog.  He enforces discipline well and manages to keep the team moving forward even in tough times.  This shows that although Buck may not have been born to be a sled dog, he adapted well to it.

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How does Buck get his way and become leader of the team in The Call of the Wild?

In the classic novel The Call of the Wild by Jack London, a pet dog named Buck is kidnapped from his California home and taken to Alaska where two French-Canadian dispatchers train him as a sled dog for their work in the Yukon territory.

The story tracks Buck’s development from domesticated pet to a wild dog who is guided by his instincts instead of an owner’s commands. In addition to the descriptions of the landscape, the narrative in The Call of the Wild is memorable and vivid because its presentation is mostly from Buck’s point of view.

During his time training as a sled dog, Buck goes through numerous trials that test his capacity for survival and dominance among other dogs. His rival in the first half of the novel is a large white husky dog named Spitz who is the leader of the pack that Buck finds himself in.

After prolonged tension between Buck and Spitz, they have their final fight at the end of the third chapter “The Dominant Primordial Beast,” an event which marks a significant development in Buck’s character.

The dogs have been chasing a snowshoe rabbit with Buck in the lead. The narration steps momentarily away from Buck’s perspective and then back again to relate:

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of...

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living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy…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.

Buck has gone through training, and now the hunt for the rabbit awakens his instinct to lead. However, Spitz swerves away from the pack to hunt on his own and manages to kill the rabbit before Buck does. An angry Buck attacks Spitz who snaps back. The situation changes in that moment:

In a flash Buck knew it. The time had come. It was to the death. As they circled about, snarling, ears laid back, keenly watchful for the advantage, the scene came to Buck with a sense of familiarity. He seemed to remember it all

As the dogs prepare to fight, Buck’s instincts connecting him to his wild ancestors become stronger. Although Spitz is skilled and injures Buck, he ultimately can’t prevail because Buck has an advantage:

But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness—imagination. He fought by instinct, but he could fight by head as well.

Unlike Spitz and the other dogs, Buck can use the combination of instinct and intellect to wage a fight. He enacts a strategy that results in defeating Spitz:

Buck stood and looked on, the successful champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and found it good.

In the next chapter “Who Has Won to Mastership,” Buck claims his position at the head of the team and fights the dispatchers François and Perrault who wield clubs against him. Bucks persists because:

He wanted, not to escape a clubbing, but to have the leadership. It was his by right. He had earned it, and he would not be content with less.

Finally, Perrault commands François to lay the club down. From that point on, Buck is the leader of the team.

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