Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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In Jack London's novel The Call of the Wild, compare and contrast Buck and Spitz's leadership.

In The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Buck and Spitz's leadership styles are similar in that they both use strength, cunning, and bullying to get the other dogs to obey. The main contrast in their leadership is that Buck demonstrates that he is a much smarter and stronger leader than Spitz.

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The short novel The Call of the Wild by Jack London tells the story of Buck, a dog that is kidnapped from an easy life in the Santa Clara Valley in California and sent north to be a sled dog in the Yukon. One of the differences between Buck and Spitz is their background. At the time that Buck joins Spitz's team, he is a novice in living and working in the far north, whereas Spitz is an experienced sled dog. Spitz has obtained his position of leadership by being stronger, fiercer, and more cunning than the rest of the dogs. He gets the other dogs to do their best work on the trail by bullying them into submission.

Soon after Buck joins Spitz's team, it is evident to both of them that Buck is a potential rival for the leadership position. Buck takes every opportunity to harass and annoy Spitz until all the dogs and even the humans realize that a showdown is inevitable. Buck is the first dog from the southland Spitz has encountered that has the strength and cunning to challenge him. In this, Buck and Spitz are similar: they both are aware that they have to earn leadership through their cunning, tenacity, and strength in combat.

Eventually Buck and Spitz have their showdown, and Buck vanquishes Spitz and takes over as leader. Their leadership styles are similar in that they both use physical power and intimidation to impose their will on the other dogs and make them obey and fall into line. However, they are different in that Buck proves to be a much stronger leader than Spitz. As London writes:

At a bound, Buck took up the duties of leadership; and where judgment was required, and quick thinking and quick acting, he showed himself the superior even of Spitz, of whom Francois had never seen an equal.

We see, then, that Buck and Spitz are both powerful, cunning dogs that use force to get the other dogs to obey and yield to their leadership. However, they are different in their backgrounds, and Buck proves himself to be a stronger and smarter leader than Spitz.

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In a broad sense, Buck and Spitz do have some similarities in their abilities as leaders.  Both are physically fit alpha males, highly determined to come out on top in any situation. Each dog is effective in getting the other dogs to fall in line, creating a hierarchy that works for the team.  Yet such similarities are surface level; it is in their personalities and methods that their differences are apparent.

Spitz’s ruling method are Machiavellian, to say the least.  He rules through fear. With no sense of morality, compassion, or bonding with the other dogs, he feels free to wound or kill any time he needs to ensure that he has control. For example, when two new dogs are added to the team, Spitz “proceed[s] to thrash first one and then the other” as a way of greeting them, making one cry out “when Spitz’s sharp teeth scour[s] his flank.” The rest of the team falls in line behind this bully merely to avoid conflict. Yet as with most bullies, Spitz is a coward, too.  In one attempt to take Buck down, Spitz waits until the bigger dog is exhausted after running to escape a rabid dog.  “He sprang upon Buck, and twice his teeth sank into his unresisting foe and ripped and tore the flesh to the bone.”  Spitz knows Buck is a threat, as the only dog who refuses to cower before him.

Once Buck is able to eliminate Spitz, his leadership style—leading by example—is a clear benefit to the team. Even their human masters know this, as Francois says, “An’ now we make good time.  No more Spitz, no more trouble, sure.” Rather than bullying and putting the other dogs at risk, “Buck took up the duties of leadership; and where judgement was required, and quick thinking and quick acting, he showed himself the superior even of Spitz.” Buck has the guts and the strength to bring their crabbiest dog, Joe, in line the first night, “a thing Spitz had never succeeded in doing.” Having suffered much himself, Buck also feels compassion for the dedicated dogs on his team, such as Dave, when he is willing to work himself to death. Most of all, Buck takes pride in working hard and makes sure the others do their fair share.

The one time he refuses to pull, allowing the ignorant new owners to beat him nearly to death rather than lead the team forward, Buck is actually trying to save all their lives. The other dogs follow his lead, refusing to move, even though they are beaten.  After John Thornton rescues Buck from the harnesses and the rest of the team moves on, we learn that they all break through the ice, to their death. Had the humans accepted the the wisdom of this brave, experienced mixed breed as well as the other sled dogs did, they all would have lived. The only human to truly recognize Buck´s qualities is Thornton, who respects Buck enough to let him be the authority of his own life in the end.

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in Jack London's novel, The Call of the Wild, Spitz and Buck are quite different animals.  Spitz is the acknowledged leader of the team, enforcing his dominance of the other dogs.  Buck, the stronger and more imaginative of the two, decides to challenge Spitz for the leadership of the team.  Buck begins to undermine Spitz's leadership in every way he can including backing up other dogs who challenge Spitz in any way.  The team finally is falling apart with Spitz unable to bring his rule of the team back into place.  When a rabbit appears and the team chases it, Buck catches it and Spitz challenges him for the prize.  Buck refuses to give up the rabbit and the fight to the death is on. Buck finally brings Spitz down, and the other dogs kill Spitz.  Buck has had to learn the ways of the wild, to learn how to sleep at night so that he doesn't freeze, to learn how to steal food to survive.  He has had to learn everything he knows and that is the difference between Spitz and Buck.  Spitz does what he is asked to do and does it with forceful dominance.  Buck has learned cunning, and while he does what he is asked, he watches, waits, and looks for an opportunity while enforcing his authority as the leader of the team.

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