Chapter 5 is titled “The Toil of Trace and Trail” because it involves a turning point in suffering for Buck and his fellow sled dogs. They are sold to a new group. When they arrive at Skaguay, Buck’s team has little left.
They were in a wretched state, worn out and worn down. (enotes etext p. 27).
Unfortunately, the new owners know absolutely nothing about dog sledding. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes make one mistake after another. They overload the sled, overfeed the dogs, and have no idea what they are doing.
It was inevitable that they should go short on dog-food. But they hastened it by overfeeding, bringing the day nearer when underfeeding would commence. (p. 30)
An important event in this chapter is the arrival of John Thorton. He will become an important person in Buck’s life. When the team and humans stumble into his camp, they are all half-starved.
He knew the breed, and he gave his advice in the certainty that it would not be followed. (p. 32)
At first, Thorton is willing to stand back and let the fools be fools because he knows nothing he says is going to make a difference. However, when Hal starts savagely whipping Buck because he can’t get up, John Thornton intervenes. It turns out that in saving Buck, John Thornton saves his life. The rest of the team drowns.
“You poor devil,” said John Thornton, and Buck licked his hand. (p. 34)
This is a big step for Buck. He is finally ready to trust a human again.
Note: Page numbers refer to the PDF.