Chapter Five involves a difficult journey for the team, where they get sold to an incompetent pair of Americans named Charles and Hal.
At the beginning of the chapter, Buck and the dog team arrive at Skaguay thirty days after they left Dawson. They are “in a wretched state,” and Buck has lost 25 pounds while some dogs have lost more. Many of the dogs are hurt.
There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength to call upon. It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, every fibre, every cell, was tired, dead tired. (Ch. 5)
Perrault and Francois sell the team to “two men from the States” named Charles and Hal. There is also a woman, Mercedes, who is Charles’s wife and Hal’s sister. Buck describes their camp as a “a slipshod and slovenly affair,” and they run the dog team the same way. They overfeed the dogs early in the trip, and underfeed them later. The dogs were either mismanaged or brutally treated.
In the excess of their own misery they were callous to the suffering of their animals. Hal's theory, which he practised on others, was that one must get hardened. … [He] hammered it into the dogs with a club. (Ch. 5)
The Americans’ incompetence would be their downfall, but fortunately not Buck’s. A man named John Thornton rescued him when he saw Hal mercilessly beating him to get him moving. John Thornton saw something in Buck. The other dogs continued on when the incompetent humans forced them to, right into the river, but Buck stayed behind with John Thornton. John Thornton saved his life, and he was eternally grateful.
Chapter Five demonstrates how Buck and the others, as animals, were at the mercy of human beings who depended on them but bought and sold them. The Americans did not need a license to buy the dog team. They did not know what they were doing, and the dogs suffered because of it. As a result, the Americans and the entire dog team except for Buck drowned in that river. If Buck hadn’t been stubborn and refused to get up, and John Thornton hadn’t seen his fighting spirit and rescued him, Buck would have died along with the rest of the team.