Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Start Free Trial

What is the main internal and external conflict of The Call of the Wild and their outcomes?

Buck must decide whether to conciliate, obey, or both in order to survive under the Law of The Club and the Fang. He chooses never to submit to violence but rather resolves to kill Spitz when he achieves equality with Spitz in strength, savagery, and cunning.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The internal conflict is that which exists within Buck between the civilized and the wild worlds. At the beginning of the story, he's a normal, domesticated dog living in comfort in the San Francisco area. When kidnapped and forced to serve on a sled team in the "Northland," a huge transformation occurs in his life. At the end of the story, this process of change is complete when Buck has joined a wolf pack as its leader. He's gone from one extreme to the other—complete comfort and domesticity to the condition of his remote ancestors in the wild.

Externally Buck is in conflict with his captors and with other animals in the sled team. The cruelty of both humans and animals, even prior to his transition into the fully uncivilized world (though this is a human-directed negation of the civilized), is what Buck has to contend with in order to stay alive. But arguably the conflict both external and internal occurs as a result of Buck's rescue and adoption by John Thornton.

His time with Thornton is prelapsarian: before the Fall, like that of Adam and Eve in Eden. Buck has found a human with whom he bonds completely and to whom he gives total devotion. But this is where, in spite of the ideal conditions of their relationship, Buck is still conflicted. The pull to return to a wild state is balanced against his love for Thornton. The circumstances of life in the Northland then provide the external conflict that makes the call of the wild irrevocable. Buck, having decided to make it on his own in the wilderness, remembers his master and returns to him, but he finds Thornton dead. Now, outside events have overtaken the split within Buck's psyche between the old desire to remain with humans and the wish to be with, and to be a leader of, his own kind. Buck takes revenge on Thornton's killers, but from this point on, his connection with the human world is severed.

Buck's conflict is a metaphor of the schism that exists between our desire to remain in an ideal state of comfort, if one can find such a thing, and the need to live a "real" life of work and to deal with the problems that accompany such a reality of imperfection. In some sense, Buck has already chosen the latter, even before Thornton's death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout the novel, London anthropomorphizes Buck by attributing human characteristics and emotions to him. Therefore, Buck is the "Man" in the various conflicts he encounters. Buck must endure the harsh environment, survive malevolent humans and animals, and contain his natural instincts throughout the story. Man vs. Nature : After being taken away from the sun-kissed, comfortable Southland environment, Buck must endure the harsh, cold weather of the Canadian wilderness. Buck risks freezing to death in the rough winter, falling through thin ice, and starving to death in the desolate environment of the Northland. Fortunately, Buck adapts to the rough conditions and...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

ends up thriving in the Canadian wilderness.Man vs. Man: Buck has to battle against the malicious lead-dog named Spitz. In chapter 3, Buck leads a group of dogs in pursuit of a rabbit when Spitz joins the chase and attacks the rabbit at the exact time Buck dives for it. Buck rams into Spitz and the two dogs end up fighting a brutal battle. Buck ends up breaking Spitz's legs before finishing him off in front of the other dogs. Buck also has to survive the brutal man in the red sweater, who wields a club in order to break Buck and make him obedient. Buck quickly learns to capitulate and avoid any man wielding a weapon. Man vs. Self: Buck's internal conflict concerns the suppression of his primitive instincts. Throughout the novel, Buck fights the urge to return to the wilderness and follow the "call of the wild." As Buck is ripped from civilization, he becomes increasingly savage. Towards the end of the story, Buck struggles to contain his primitive instincts and leave his loving master, John Thornton. After Thorton is murdered by Native Americans, Buck fully embraces his primitive nature and runs with the wolves in the wilderness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main external conflict is man vs. nature. The conflict is shown by the differences between the Southland, symbolizing civilization, and the Northland, symbolizing the savage forces of nature. Buck is ill-prepared for the cold, frozen North compared to the warm, comfortable life he led in the South. He first must survive the beatings by the man in the red sweater, and then survive in his life as a sled dog. Francois, Perrault, and the other dogs teach Buck quickly what he needs to know to survive. Not only does he just survive, he becomes like a wolf. In the end, he's a legendary animal in stories told by the Yeehats, the natives of the Northland.

The main internal conflict is Buck vs. his instincts, which have been suppressed by living in the Southland, and his struggle to be able to answer "the call of the wild" by discovering instincts from long ago. London, the author, anthropomorphizes the dogs, so Buck is treated in the same manner as a human. When Buck faces the man in the red sweater, his pride won't let him give up at first, but he learns the danger of a man with a club. Once he becomes a sled dog, he dreams of the "hairy man" from long ago and unearths the instincts of his wild relatives. The longer Buck lives in the North, the more he becomes a dog of the wild. In the end, he runs free as head of a pack of wolves, having completely answered "the call of the wild".

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the main internal and external conflict of The Law of the Club and the Fang in The Call of the Wild?

Internal conflict refers to the psychological conflict within a character; this internal conflict usually stems from opposing emotions, goals, or desires. External conflict refers to the often physical or action-oriented conflict a character engages in; here, the character is basically confronting enemies who stand in the way of his/her goals.

In The Call Of The Wild, we see manifestations of both internal and external conflict as manufactured by the Law Of The Club And The Fang (incidentally, also the title of the second chapter). In Chapter One, Buck gets his first taste of the law of the Club. That's when the man in the red sweater first introduces Buck to the ' reign of primitive law.' Buck learns that a man with a club will always call the shots:

...a man with a club was a lawgiver, master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated.

Now, the word 'conciliated' is very important here. 'Conciliate' simply means 'to make peace with.' Buck decides that he doesn't want to condescend to servile submission, nor does he wish to share the fate of another dog who would 'neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.' So, Buck's internal conflict is between choosing whether to conciliate, obey, or to do both in his struggle to survive under the Law of The Club. He decides (internal conflict) that he will outwardly submit in the external conflict with a man who wields a club but stubbornly refuses to make peace with any master who resorts to such violence to gain his respect.

On to the Law of the Fang. In Chapter Two, Buck witnesses the horrible death of the good-natured Newfoundland, Curly. When Curly tries to make friends with a Husky, she is ferociously attacked and torn apart by about thirty to forty Huskies.

This is Buck's introduction to the Law of The Fang: the fiercest and strongest survive; the weak are torn limb from limb. Buck learns that once a dog is down, he will never get up again. He resolves never to let that happen to him. The internal conflict is when Buck determines how to survive within the confines of the Law of The Fang; in the end, he decides to bide his time to wait for the best possible moment to take down the greatest threat, Spitz, in order to cement his position as head Husky. The physical conflict between Spitz and Buck is the external conflict.

This physical, external conflict for preeminence under the Law Of The Fang is described in the third chapter 'The Dominant Primordial Beast.' Buck bides his time until he is confident that he is Spitz's equal in 'strength, savagery, and cunning.' The final battle between Spitz and Buck results in victory for Buck, his ferocity, cunning, and imagination the hallmark of a fearless, primordial beast.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on