Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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In The Call of the Wild, author Jack London shows Buck to have human qualities, thoughts and behaviors. Find an example of this in the book and show how the example makes Buck appear to be "like human."

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The short novel The Call of the Wild by Jack London tells of a dog named Buck that is abducted from his comfortable home in the Santa Clara Valley in California and sold to be a sled dog in the far North. He is forced into arduous toil on the trail and must fight with other dogs for his survival and for leadership of the dog team. After being passed from owner to owner, Buck eventually ends up with John Thornton, a man he truly loves and respects. However, after venturing far into the wilderness in search of gold, Thornton and his partners are killed by Indians. Buck spurns the civilization of humankind and becomes the leader of a pack of wild wolves.

Although London occasionally steps back and presents historical and background information from an omniscient context, he mainly sticks to Buck's point of view throughout the story. He not only describes Buck's actions but also delves into Buck's thoughts and emotions. In doing so, he sometimes uses anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human qualities to non-human entities such as animals. This is inevitable, in a sense, because writers have no direct way of knowing how animals think and must filter their speculations of the thought processes of animals through the context of their humanity. There are numerous examples of this throughout the story, and most have to do with lessons that Buck learns in his struggle for survival.

For instance, in Seattle on his way north, Buck is beaten into submission by a man with a club. He learns that he cannot overcome someone holding a club, but at the same time, he never submits in spirit. This is a similar reaction that humans have had when they have been captured and forced to submit by other humans.

He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his afterlife he never forgot it.

Another human-like quality in Buck is his love for John Thornton. London describes this in Chapter 6: "For the Love of a Man." Thornton rescues Buck from his previous abusive owners and treats him with kindness. Buck in turn gives Thornton love similar to that of human children whose parents faithfully protect them and take care of their needs. He stays close to Thornton and saves his life on several occasions.

Besides these examples, if you read through the text carefully, you will find many other instances in which Buck behaves or thinks in a human-like manner.

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London depicts Buck's human qualities throughout the entire novel by portraying his emotions, feelings, and insight into various matters. Buck not only thinks and acts like a human, but he also feels and expresses emotions like a human. He experiences anger, confusion, hostility, love, and content at various times throughout the novel. Toward the beginning of the novel, London illustrates Buck's human qualities by describing his overwhelming feelings of hate, anger, and resentment after he is kidnapped and placed in a train car. Inside his cage, Buck contemplates how he will get revenge on the humans who captured him. London writes,

They would never get another rope around his neck. Upon that he was resolved. For two days and nights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first fell foul of him. (10)

Buck also thinks and reasons like a human throughout the novel. In chapter 4, Buck sits by the fire and thinks about his past life. He also envisions his ancestors as he becomes increasingly aware of his primitive nature. London writes,

Sometimes he thought of Judge Miller’s big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley, and of the cement swimming-tank, and Ysabel, the Mexican hairless, and Toots, the Japanese pug; but oftener he remembered the man in the red sweater, the death of Curly, the great fight with Spitz, and the good things he had eaten or would like to eat. (41)

London depicts Buck's affinity for nature, fresh air, and freedom by writing,

[Buck] loved to run down dry watercourses, and to creep and spy upon the bird life in the woods. For a day at a time he would lie in the underbrush where he could watch the partridges drumming and strutting up and down. But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest . . . (74)

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I would say that the ending of the book best demonstrates Buck's human qualities.  These can be demonstrated throughout the book, but somehow, I just find the ending to be the most meaningful as proving that Buck possesses human characteristics and traits.  While he has been burned significantly by humans and their moments of unspeakable cruelty, Buck demonstrates love and care for Thornton.  This is highly human in that Buck does not allow his past experiences color how he loves and feels emotions for another.  When Thornton is killed, it is the final straw and reflects a tendency of human beings to act when a point of no return has been reached.  In visiting Thornton's grave each year, Buck demonstrates a trait of loyalty, a human trait that is not as evident as it should be in human beings.

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Jack London's almost human characterization of Buck is certainly one of the qualities that makes a Call of the Wild classic. From the opening chapter, Buck is evidently a special breed--a ruler and "king" even before he becomes the most superior sled dog in the Yukon. Examples include:

  • In Chapter 1, at Judge Miller's house in the Santa Clara Valley, "over this great domain Buck ruled... The whole realm was his... for he was king--king over all creeping, crawling flying things of Judge Miller's place, humans included."
  • In Chapter 2, while discovering the dogs' way of sleeping during the sub-freezing cold, Buck reasons as a human would. "Finally an idea came to him... To his astonishment, they had disappeared... Buck confidently selected a spot... and he slept soundly and comfortable, though he... wrestled with bad dreams."
  • In the final chapter, Buck relinquishes his human masters, but he still thinks like a man. "All day Buck brooded by the pool... At times, when he paused to contemplate the carcasses of the Yeehats, he forgot the pain of it; and at such times he was aware of a greater pride in himself--a pride greater than any he had experienced."
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In my opinion, the author has Buck act and think like a human pretty much throughout the whole book.  He gives Buck this range of emotions and a real ability to think.

So, just to take a couple of examples:

  • In Chapter 2 he wanders around "miserable and disconsolate" until "finally an idea came to him."
  • In this same chapter, a little earlier, Buck has particular feelings for Curly and about the way the fight went.  He is upset that there was no fair play and he hates Spitz for laughing at the killing.

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