Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London
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What happened to Dave in The Call of the Wild?   

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The Call of the Wild by Jack London is a short novel published in 1903 set in the Klondike Gold Rush. The story is told from the point of view of a dog, Buck, a domestic St. Bernard and Scottish shepherd mix, who is dognapped at the start of the...

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The Call of the Wild by Jack London is a short novel published in 1903 set in the Klondike Gold Rush. The story is told from the point of view of a dog, Buck, a domestic St. Bernard and Scottish shepherd mix, who is dognapped at the start of the novel to serve as a sled dog. The story is narrated in the third person, with Buck as the point of view character and the main theme of the story being how both men and animals revert to their primitive natures under duress. 

We are introduced to Dave in Chapter 2. He is part of the nine-dog team run by French Canadians, Perrault and Francois. We are introduced to the team through the eyes of Buck, who observes how the dogs of the team need to behave to survive and who gradually comes to understand the social and power relationships among the dogs. The dog Dave is described as older, hardworking and somewhat of a loner but acts as a mentor to Buck. Buck is normally harnessed just in front of Dave and Dave teaches him about life as a sled dog. In Chapter 3, one of the dogs, Dolly, goes mad and Buck wins a fight with the lead dog Spitz. When Spitz loses, he is killed by the other dogs and Buck becomes the team leader.

In Chapter 4, the team is sold and begins working on the mail run from Dawson to Skagway for an unnamed Scottish half-breed man. Given no rest between mail runs and heavy loads, the dogs begin to weaken and Dave begins whimpering to himself even though nothing is is obviously wrong. At  Cassiar Bar, Dave begins to sicken obviously, and has difficulty walking. The half-breed allows Dave to rest by letting him run beside the sled instead of being harnessed with the other dogs. After a brief rest, Dave catches up with the sled and insists on being let back into his harness despite his weakness:

[Dave] pleaded with his eyes to remain there...[the men] talked of how a dog could break its heart through being denied the work that killed it, and recalled instances they had known, where dogs, too old for the toil, or injured, had died because they were cut out of the traces. Also, they held it a mercy, since Dave was to die anyway, that he should die in the traces, heart-easy and content.

Dave struggles to keep up, but despite his efforts cannot really manage the pace. The team finishes its day's run and goes to sleep. The next morning, Dave is too weak to walk. The driver harnesses the other dogs and moves them and the sled a short distance ahead, leaving Dave behind to howl mournfully. Realizing that Dave will only die a lingering and painful death if abandoned, the driver walks backs and shoots Dave.

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In The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Buck finally has enough of Spitz and during a terrible fight, Buck kills Spitz. He soon starts to see a "hairy man" by  the fire. This man represents a time in the distant past. Buck is hearkening back to a time when dogs and wolves were one and the same. The man is a cave-man, and Buck is "remembering" what life was once like for his ancestors. Some people say that since our genes are passed down from one generation to the next, our DNA holds collective memories of times past even though we weren't really there. This is what is happening with Buck.

"Sometimes as he crouched there, blinking dreamily at the flames, it seemed that the flames were of another fire, and that as he crouched by this other fire, he saw another and different man from the half-breed cook before him. This other man was shorter of leg and longer of arm, with muscles that were stringy and knotty rather than rounded and swelling" (London Chapter 4).

After Buck dispatches Spitz, he insists on becoming the lead sled dog, and he relishes this new job of his. The work is very hard under his new Scotch half-breed master, but he has a lot of pride in himself and in his work ethic. He also makes sure the other dogs do what they are supposed to do. He becomes a superb lead dog.

One of the sled dogs, Dave, becomes ill, but he becomes very upset when the drivers take him out of his harness and replace him with Sol-leks. He bites through Sol-leks' traces, so when the driver tries to start up the sled, nothing happens. Dave is put back in his place and he manages to do his part, but he is obviously in pain. The next morning Dave is too weak to continue, so the other dogs are harnessed up without him.

"His strength left him, and the last his mates saw of him he lay gasping the snow and yearning toward them. But they could hear him mournfully howling till they passed out of sight behind a belt of river timber.

"Here the train was halted. The Scotch half-breed slowly retraced his steps to the camp they had left. The men ceased talking. A revolver-shot rang out. The man came back hurriedly. The whips snapped, the bells tinkled merrily, the sleds churned along the trail; but Buck knew, and every dog knew, what had taken place behind the belt of river trees" (London, Chapter 4).

The driver went back to put Dave out of his misery, so that he wouldn't die in the snow alone, as he yearned to join his mates. 

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