Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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Discussion Topic

Buck's exhibition of civil disobedience in The Call of the Wild

Summary:

In The Call of the Wild, Buck exhibits civil disobedience by resisting his human masters' attempts to domesticate him. He defies their commands and ultimately follows his primal instincts, rejecting human authority and embracing his wild nature, which symbolizes a return to his true essence and natural state.

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How does Buck exhibit civil disobedience in The Call of the Wild, chapters 5 and 6?

Buck uses civil disobedience when he refuses to get up.

Civil disobedience is acting in protest, but in a nonviolent way.  Being passive aggressive, and not doing what you are told or not being compliant, is one form of civil disobedience. 

When the team of dogs enters John Thornton’s camp, they are exhausted.  Buck, who is the leader, collapses.  So do all of the other dogs.  The men try to get them up, but Buck refuses.  Hal yells at Buck, and hits him, but it has no effect.

But the team did not get up at the command. It had long since passed into the stage where blows were required to rouse it. The whip flashed out, here and there, on its merciless errands. (ch 5)

When Buck refuses to stir, he is acting not just for himself but also for the other dogs.  They are spent.  Hal and Charles have no idea what they are doing, and their foolish actions will kill them all.

It is civil disobedience because Buck does not attack.  He just refuses to do what he is asked.

It is Buck’s civil disobedience that saves him.  John Thornton watches, at first content to do nothing.  Yet when he sees Buck being savagely beaten and unable to get up, he finally intervenes.  Unfortunately, he only saves Buck.  The others go on and are swallowed up by the collapsed trail.

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How does Buck exhibit "civil disobedience" in The Call of the Wild?

The definition of civil disobedience will be critical here.  If the definition of civil disobedience is seen as an outward rejection or repudiation of social practices that one sees as wrong, then Buck's refusal to follow human social practices after Thornton's death could be seen as civil disobedience.  Buck refuses to follow the human society's rules and refuses to be a party to it once the Yeehat Indians kill Thornton.  It is here where Buck recognizes that he has reached a point in his own consciousness where action must be taken.  He has experienced human cruelty in his abduction, treatment with different owners, and his own experience with the brutality of human beings caused him to have doubt.  Thornton might have represented the last bonds of loyalty to humans, but once he was killed, it seemed to signal a sort of break in Buck's own mind.  This separation became Buck's own embrace of civil disobedience, stressing that individuals must  take action against that which is seen as unfair or unjust:  "Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power." Buck is not resisting an international order as much as he is rejecting the actions of humans and his "call to the wild" is his own ability to take action to bring attention to this predicament.

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