In The Call of the Wild why is the first chapter called "Into the Primitive?"

The word "primitive" has negative connotations for civilized people who regard civilization as a virtue. However, it refers to elemental needs which remain unsatisfied by civilization, and it is a primitive instinct that allows Buck to survive and thrive after he is forcibly removed from his comfortable life.

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The first chapter of The Call of the Wild begins with this verse.

Old longings nomadic leap,Chafing at custom’s chain;Again from its brumal sleepWakens the ferine strain.

This alerts the reader to the theme of the chapter and, in doing so, reinforces the message of the title...

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The first chapter of The Call of the Wild begins with this verse.

Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom’s chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain.

This alerts the reader to the theme of the chapter and, in doing so, reinforces the message of the title "Into the Primitive."

The word "primitive" carries a number of connotations, most of them negative in the view of people who regard themselves as civilized, and see civilization as a virtue. The word refers to an early stage of development, when life was simpler and less sophisticated than it is now. Epic poems that may have had an oral origin, and are of doubtful authorship, such as the Iliad, the Odyssey and Beowulf, are sometimes called "primitive" when compared with the "literary" epics of Virgil, Dante and Milton. This does not, however, mean that these poems are inferior. Many readers regard them as having a vitality which their literary equivalents lack.

The verse at the beginning of The Call of the Wild makes it clear that Buck is returning to something elemental and vital from an earlier, nomadic stage of history. Despite the fact that his civilized life is very pleasant, there is something in him which it does not satisfy. Buck's departure from his comfortable home is involuntary, but he soon comes to realize that he was missing something there. This is the "call of the wild" to which the title refers, and it takes him back to an earlier, simpler stage of development which satisfies the needs that civilization cannot.

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When the book begins, the reader is introduced to Buck.  He has a wonderful life with a very loving family.  He is well taken care of, and his life in general is quite "cushy."  Some readers might even claim that Buck's life before he was dog-napped was a pampered life.  

But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his. He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge’s sons; he escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge’s daughters, on long twilight or early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge’s feet before the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge’s grandsons on his back, or rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wild adventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, and the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king,—king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included.

That paragraph makes it clear that Buck wasn't a lazy pampered dog though.  On the contrary, he was quite active on his California estate.  In addition to being active, the paragraph makes it clear that Buck's owners loved him, and they treated him like a member of the family.  Buck, in turn, treated them like they were his family, because Buck truly believed that he was the ruler over everything.   

All that changes for Buck, when he is taken from the estate, sold, and brought to the Alaskan wilderness.  The area that Buck is now living in is much more primitive in general.  There is simply less civilization, so the title makes sense in that regard. 

But I think the main reason that the chapter is called "Into the Primitive" is because of Buck's experience with the man in the red sweater.  Buck is firmly beaten and humiliated by the man, but learned a valuable lesson.  He learned that might makes right in this strange new area.  That rule becomes a law to Buck.  He calls it the "primitive law," and throughout the book Buck learns how that rule affects him, other dogs, and his owners.  

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 after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway.

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In my opinion, the first chapter is given this title because it follows Buck as he goes from civilization to a life that is much more primitive than what he is used to.

At the start of the book, Buck is a beloved pet dog.  He is strong and big, but he does not really need to do anything with that.  He is completely pampered.

But then he gets kidnapped and sent to Alaska.  Along the way, he meets the man in the red sweater.  Now, for the first time in his life, he's getting beaten -- much more savage and primitive life, right?

At the end of the chapter, he's in Alaska and is going to have to start adapting to primitive life.

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