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

Key events and characters that influence Buck's life in The Call of the Wild

Summary:

Key events and characters that influence Buck's life in The Call of the Wild include his abduction from a comfortable home, his brutal treatment by humans, and his experiences in the harsh Yukon environment. Characters like John Thornton, who shows him kindness, and the wild wolves, who represent his ancestral call, significantly shape his transformation from a domesticated pet to a wild, independent creature.

Expert Answers

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Who does Buck see in the fire in The Call of the Wild and why?

This occurs in chapter 4, "Who has Won to Mastership," where Buck is dreaming and remembering before the campfire. The image he sees in the fire is evidently that of primitive man, who is barely clothed, carries a club, does not stand fully erect, and lives "in perpetual fear of things seen and unseen."

Buck sees this image because it is part of his own ancestral memory. We're told that in the Yukon he sometimes remembers Judge Miller's house in the warm Southland and the comfortable life there, but what is stirring more within him is a sense of his own primitive ancestry being awakened. These are the memories of "his heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming familiarity." Buck's new and dangerous life in the Northland has granted him an entry into his own past, into the lives of his wolf ancestors who lived in a similar environment. These are instincts that have been aroused within him, and the primitive man he re-imagines in the flames is part of that primordial existence, before civilization, when man and wolf/dog were first coming together as partners.

Eventually Buck does rejoin the wild, as a leader himself, but not until after his own partnership, an idyllic one, with John Thornton. It is the tragedy of Buck's story that he loses two Edens, two states of innocence: the first in the Southland, and the second in his stay with Thornton. The novel is thus a parable of the Fall of Man, but one in which the loss of innocence leads Buck, like mankind, into a new world of challenge and fulfillment he could not have otherwise had.

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Who or what saved Buck's life in The Call of the Wild?

I think that the first answer is probably the right one, but there is at least one other possible answer.

Another thing that saves Buck's life is the lesson that he got when Curly was killed by the pack of dogs early in the story.  From that episode, he learned that you must at all costs not fall down in a fight or else the other dogs will all jump on you and kill you.

This saves Buck's life, you can say, when he fights with Spitz.  He knows that he has to do everything he can to avoid being knocked down.  This was a very vicious fight, and without that lesson he might not have won.

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Who or what saved Buck's life in The Call of the Wild?

Buck's best human master, John Thornton, saves him just minutes before the rest of the dog team perishes in Call of the Wild. The inexperienced group who had purchased the team decided to push onward despite the fact that the dogs were weak and starving. When Hal began to whip them again, Buck and the other dogs refused to move. Hal continued with the whip and then the club, and John Thornton could take no more. He "sprang upon the man who wielded the club."

    "If you strike that dog again, I'll kill you," he at last managed to say in a choking voice.

When Hal pulled a knife, "Thornton rapped Hal's knuckles with the axe handle, knocking the knife to the ground." Since Buck was "too near dead to be of further use," Hal allowed him to be left behind. Within minutes, Hal's party and the rest of the dog team plunged through thin ice and disappeared "into a yawning hole." When Thornton showed his sympathy toward Buck, the grateful dog licked his hand. A new friendship had begun.

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