Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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Student Question

What realistic life lesson can be found in The Call of the Wild, and how does it affect the plot and characters?

Expert Answers

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With respect to Jack London's The Call of the Wild, it is essential to consider the Naturalistic themes and motifs of this novel. As a Naturalist writer, London subjects his characters to experimental situations that provide evidence of his principles and rules of life. That is, Naturalism holds that a person’s fate is determined solely by heredity and environment.

As the main character of the narrative, Buck finds himself in a diametrically different environment from the one in which he has grown up.  But, Buck adjusts to his atavistic environment because of his heredity and innate instincts.  Likewise, men who have lived in the artic environment also survive through their inherent knowledge as well as their apprehension of the rules of life in the Artic.  In contrast to those who have lived in the frozen world, the three people who come to make their fortune, Mercedes, Charles, and Hal, do not survive because they are out of their natural environments and because they are hereditarily foolish. When they try to force the starved and enervated sled dogs to cross the "rotten ice," Buck refuses, but the men beat the other dogs to go forward.  Having warned them, Thorton stops talking to them and lets them perish:

Thorton went on whittling.  It was idle, he knew, to get between a fool and his folly:  while two or three fools more or less would not alter the scheme of things.

In composing a thesis and writing an essay on a lesson contained in The Call of the Wild that relates to real life, the student may well wish to consider the underlying principles of Naturalism and how they apply to the theme of Man/Animal vs. Nature.  Using the three people from the narrative who are out of their natural environment could serve to exemplify the thematic Naturalism; further, an analysis of Buck, whose ancient instincts are awakened to serve him in his survival can also be employed. 

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