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 reading about these three different kinds of owners, one after the other, affect your response to each owner?

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The relationships with Buck significantly differ among Francois and Perrault, the inexperienced trio of prospectors, and John Thornton. From reading about them in Jack London's narrative, the reader learns many of the principles of Darwinism and Naturalism.

The first owners of Buck are couriers for the Canadian government, and,...

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The relationships with Buck significantly differ among Francois and Perrault, the inexperienced trio of prospectors, and John Thornton. From reading about them in Jack London's narrative, the reader learns many of the principles of Darwinism and Naturalism.

The first owners of Buck are couriers for the Canadian government, and, as such, they carry significant dispatches. Therefore, they are anxious to retain the best dogs. Francois is pleased to own Buck because he sees much potential in the big dog. "Dat Buck for sure learn queek as anyt'ing." Perrault agrees and is "gladdened by the possession of Buck." Buck learns quickly; he is also strong and assertive and yearns to lead.

In contrast to these men, the next owners, three siblings of no experience, misuse the dogs. Mercedes, the sister, brings far too much and insists upon riding in the sled. Hal and his brother Charles have too many dogs for their supply of food. Consequently, "Buck felt vaguely that there was no depending upon these two men and the woman." His instincts tell him that these humans do not know what they are doing. When Hal tries to make the dogs go across thin ice, Buck has a "vague feeling of impending doom" and refuses to move. This is when John Thornton saves Buck who has refused to move and taken a beating as a consequence. They watch as the ice breaks and the humans and dogs are swallowed into the hole. "John Thornton and Buck looked at each other. 'You poor devil,' said John Thornton, and Buck licked his hand."

A bond grows between man and dog. Buck wins back his strength as Thornton recovers from having frostbitten his feet. With Thornton, Buck experiences the love of a human.

Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body, so great was its ecstasy.

Buck does not respond like the other dogs who place their heads on Thornton's knee or shove their noses under Thornton's hands. Buck loves from a distance. "He was a thing of the wild." Buck has become an animal of nature, and he has learned the law: "Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten." Later, when John Thornton is killed, Buck attacks his murderers. Then he returns to the wild, runs with the wolves, and howls at the moon.

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Francois and Perrault value Buck for his strength and eventually come to hold him in high esteem because of his amazing ability to lead the team and do their work for them. They lack any significant personal attachment to him, however, as they see all their dogs as tools that they must take care of in order to do the work they've chosen. They know to take care of them and feed them and rest them when needed.

When Buck falls into the clutches of Hal and Charles, they have no idea of how to take care of the dogs and expect them to have limitless strength. They drive the dogs until they can no longer stand. This exposure to human stupidity and pride perhaps starts Buck down the road to being totally wild and free from the vagaries of human ownership.

The juxtaposition of Hal and Charles' treatment of Buck with the way that John Thornton treats him serves to highlight the incredible love and devotion that John gives Buck. Buck returns this affection even when he is torn between the world of the wolves and the comfort and care he feels from John. That same contrast makes it easy for the reader to sympathize with Buck when he finds that John has been murdered and he turns on the murderers.

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