The Call of the Wild Places Discussed

Jack London

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.