Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Start Free Trial

In The Call of the Wild, how does Buck change?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of the story, Buck experiences a carefree life in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley on Judge Miller's estate, where he roams freely and enjoys the relaxing environment. However, Buck is kidnapped, sold, and transported across the country, where he experiences physical abuse for the first time at the hands of a dog breaker. The dog breaker, wearing a red sweater and wielding a club, teaches Buck the important lesson to avoid any man with a club after mercilessly beating Buck into submission.

Once Buck is transported to the Northland, he experiences snow for the first time and witnesses a pack of dogs ruthlessly kill Curly when she falls to the ground. Buck begins to acknowledge the primitive, hostile environment of the Northland and learns the law of club and fang. In the threatening, dangerous environment of the Northland, Buck quickly adjusts and accepts the fact that he must adapt and transform in order to survive. Buck begins to steal food without moral consideration, learns how to run the traces, and adjusts to the competitive nature of life.

Buck eventually kills Spitz in a brutal fight, takes the lead dog position, and begins to gradually hear the call of the wild. After Buck's sled team sets records and he develops into an experienced sled dog, he narrowly survives his inept owners before John Thorton saves his life and becomes his guardian. Buck's inherent primitive nature once again beckons him into the wilderness, where he kills a moose, fights a bear, and experiences the desire to live like a wolf. Tragically, John is killed by a group of Yeehat Indians, and Buck takes revenge. After slaughtering the Indians, Buck fully embraces his primitive instincts by running with wolves and becoming leader of the pack. By the end of the story, Buck becomes known as the legendary Ghost Dog, who leads a pack of wolves and roams the wilderness as an apex predator.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Over the course of the book, Buck gradually becomes reconnected with his true identity. Although his early life on the ranch was blissfully happy and carefree, there was always something unreal about it. Buck, like all domesticated animals, was ultimately dependent for his welfare on the whims of human beings. All it took was for one bad individual to come along and ruin everything.

But the Spaniard who kidnapped Buck also shows him another side to human beings, one that was hidden from him on the ranch. The negative impression Buck gains of the human animal is subsequently confirmed when he's unceremoniously shoved into a freight train headed north to the wilds of Alaska.

Yet the great hardships endured by Buck are character-building and allow him to develop a true animal identity, one that re-establishes a connection to his wolf ancestors. What does not kill Buck makes him stronger, and soon he comes to thrive among the frozen wastes. As the best sled dog in the business, he's found a role in life, albeit one still defined by human beings. But Buck's understanding of humans has changed to a very great extent. He knows that they will only treat him well if they respect him, and they will only respect him if he can continue to show his strength, hardiness, and leadership skills, the qualities of an alpha dog. In doing so, he can have the best of both worlds. His fate is no longer entirely in the hands of human beings; now he knows that he can, to a large extent, shape his own destiny.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that Buck changes because he learns to fully grasp the nature of human cruelty.  Buck undergoes changes from a domesticated dog to a wild one as a result of all that is done to him.  His abduction from Judge Miller was the result of human deceit and through this, Buck learns how to adapt in the wild.  Buck's loyalty to Thornton is once again severed by human cruelty.  This causes him to change into a being of the wild to forgeo the world of humans, fraught with disloyalty and dishonor.  The notion of civilization being more uncivilized than any other domain helps to bring out the changes in Buck.  He understands the rules of the wild as the dreive to survive is the only adversary.  These rules are clear, while the rules that govern the world of humanity are far from clear and obscure, at best.  The refined coat he has at the start of the narrative is replaced by one that is weathered more by survival and the wild.  This helps to reinforce the emotional change that Buck undergoes, from one who enjoys what is deemed as luxury to a survival based existence where trial and challenge exist at every turn.  The lure of the wild in terms of the hunt and the nature of "kill or be killed" is something of which  Buck becomes a part, fully evolving into the "Ghost Dog," a being of the wild.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial