Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Yukon River basin

*Yukon River basin. Region of mountains, glaciers, forests, and rivers. This place was well known to Jack London, an eager participant in the Klondike gold rush of 1897. Buck, stolen from Judge Miller’s place in California, is taken north where he is pressed into service as a sled dog, repeatedly making the grueling round trip between Dyea, on the coast, and Dawson, the rough-hewn territorial capital more than four hundred miles inland. In winter, this trip encompasses 95 miles of ice-packed lakes and 350 miles of frozen river. The lakes (Marsh, Tagish, Bennett, and Laberge), the differing stretches of the river (Thirty Mile, Five Fingers, and Hootalinqua), and the intersections of other rivers (Big Salmon, Little Salmon, and Pelly) become the weary round in which Buck’s transformation to wildness evolves. He becomes increasingly aware of the world beyond the sphere of man. Buck senses in the cold and the silence of the vast wilderness surrounding him a primitive call to run free. Eventually the weary dog is sold to Charles, Mercedes, and Hal, hopelessly inept and ill-prepared prospectors. They mistreat their dogs, finally starving them and beating them unmercifully. Buck is saved from death at their hands by John Thornton, a prospector encamped for the winter where the White River flows into the Yukon.

Thornton’s river camp

Thornton’s river camp. Temporary winter camp at the mouth of the White River. After John Thornton saves his life, Buck begins to heal in body and spirit as the spring thaw weakens the iron grasp of winter on the landscape. John Thornton, unable to accompany his partners earlier because of frostbitten feet, has also healed in this place, and he and Buck form a bond unlike any Buck has ever experienced. As the days lengthen and the air grows warmer, Buck begins to venture more often deep into the forest of spruce and birch, feeling more strongly the call to the life of his ancient ancestors, but always the love he bears Thornton calls him back to John’s campfire each evening. Later, John’s partners return for him and the prospectors continue their year-round search for gold along the Yukon River, ranging as far away as Circle, more than five hundred miles downstream. During these travels, Buck becomes ever more at home in the wild and remains attached to the world of man only because of his tie to Thornton.

Thornton’s valley camp

Thornton’s valley camp. Lodge in a mountain valley. In their endless search for gold, John and his partners sled up the Yukon River from Dawson. They continue along the Stewart River until it loses itself in the uncharted reaches of the Mackenzie Mountains. High along this backbone of the continent, they wander from valley to valley until in the spring they find a stream rich in gold deposits. Here they stay, working tirelessly, piling up sacks of gold beside the lodge. Buck is free to roam the wild country at will for days at a time, and deeply buried primordial instincts become ever stronger as he encounters free-ranging wolves. Finally, when he returns to camp and discovers John and his partners have been murdered by raiding Yeehats, Buck’s last bond with civilization is severed.

Buck kills two of the Indians as they flee the camp and shortly thereafter establishes his dominance over the wolf pack. Among the Yeehats, Buck becomes a legend, a Ghost Dog who runs at the head of the wolves through the high mountain valleys.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Klondike Gold Rush
Many early settlers in North America had migrated in search of the gold that Spaniards had found in...

(The entire section is 865 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story begins in 1897, at the start of the Klondike gold rush. The discovery of gold in the Klondike—a region in northwestern Canada's...

(The entire section is 102 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Point of view is the narrative perspective from which a work is presented to the reader. The Call of the...

(The entire section is 855 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

London, who claimed to have learned style from Herbert Spencer's "Philosophy of Style" and praised the plain style of Rudyard Kipling, always...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Call of the Wild exemplifies the features of a turn-of-the-century movement known as literary naturalism: the story is presented...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

When Jack London and his brother-in-law headed for the Yukon in 1897, the news of the gold strike had only been known for eleven days. Like...

(The entire section is 364 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Compare Buck's life on the ranch with his life in the wild and discuss which is better for him.

2. What qualities does Buck...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1900s: Americans recognize the need for conserving or protecting the environment. The U.S. government begins forest preservation...

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Compare Buck's life on the ranch with his life in the wild. Which is better for Buck? Why?

2. What qualities does Buck have...

(The entire section is 182 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. London's book White Fang tells the story of a wild dog who becomes tamed. Compare White Fang to The Call of the Wild....

(The entire section is 163 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the philosophies of the "superman" and the "survival of the fittest" as espoused by Friedrich Nietzsche and Herbert Spencer, two...

(The entire section is 161 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The philosophy behind The Call of the Wild was shaped by London's reading of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant,...

(The entire section is 121 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Call of the Wild has been adapted to film several times. A 1923 version directed by Hal Roach starred Jack Mulhall. In 1935,...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 92, November, 1903, pp. 695-96.

Jonathan Auerbach, “Congested Mails': Buck and...

(The entire section is 410 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Jack London Cassette Library, read by Jack Dahlby, includes readings of The Call of the Wild, Martin Eden, and The Sea-Wolf....

(The entire section is 96 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat (1997), written by Mike Hawkins,...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hamilton, David Mike. "Jack London." In Research Guide to Biography and Criticism, edited by Walton Beacham. Washington, DC: Beacham...

(The entire section is 159 words.)