This is a novel of “devolution” which traces the process of releasing Buck’s savage, atavistic nature beneath its civilized veneer. Through the brutality of various human masters and the cunning of the other dogs he meets, Buck learns not only to adapt and survive his ordeal but also to prevail over the hostile wilderness; by the novel’s end Buck is leading a pack of wolves in the Yukon. At only one point in the story does Buck experience gentle treatment and that is when he is nursed back to health by John Thornton, but when Thornton is killed by hostile Indians, Buck is forever free of men and their civilization.
This story may be read on several levels. As an adventure tale it is a rollicking good yarn about life in Alaska. As a historical romance it can be read as a somewhat faithful depiction of the perils of seeking gold in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush, in the 1890’s. Finally the novel can also be read as a philosophical work reflecting London’s interest in social Darwinism and notions of racial survival.
In spite of the obvious absurdities of Buck’s reflections on his Nietzschean racial fulfillment as a super being, the novel is surprisingly successful as a work of early twentieth century symbolism. Certainly London’s most famous, and perhaps best, work of fiction, it incorporates the graphic world of violent action which captures the vitality and metaphysical vision that he discovered in the “white silence” of the uncompromising environment of the North and which came to represent the indifferent triumph of the amoral universe over man’s fate.
Labor, Earle, and Jeanne Campell Reesman. Jack London. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1994. Analyzes the elements that went into the stories that London wrote. Recognizes London’s use of mood and atmosphere. Discusses The Call of the Wild chapter by chapter.
O’Conner, Richard. Jack London: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964. Delves into London’s childhood and formative experiences. Chapter 7 covers the writing and success of The Call of the Wild.
Perry, John. Jack London: An American Myth. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981. Discusses the validity of London’s works, including London’s misleading depiction of wolves. Covers the issue of the accusations of plagiarism that haunted London.
Roden, Donald. Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965. Begins with a brief overview of Jack London’s life. Then follows with an in-depth discussion of The Call of the Wild.
Walcutt, Charles Child. Jack London. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966. Gives a well-rounded overview of the life and works of Jack London. Covers the effect of Darwinism and the other philosophies that London studied on his works. Discusses the use of the dog’s point of view in the story.