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The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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Discussion Topic

The distinction between wild and civilized characters in Jack London's The Call of the Wild

Summary:

In The Call of the Wild, wild characters are portrayed as instinctive, free, and in harmony with nature, while civilized characters are depicted as constrained by societal norms and often disconnected from their primal instincts. This distinction highlights the novel's exploration of the theme of survival and the inherent conflict between natural instincts and the imposed order of civilization.

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Who is wild and who is civilized in The Call of the Wild?

Consider the contrast between "The Law of Love and Fellowship" that London claims civilized society is governed by and "The Law of Club and Fang" that he claims creatures in the wild live by.  Those who follow the "The Law of Love and Fellowship" are "civilized" and those who follow the "The Law of Club and Fang" are "wild."  Buck changes in the course of the book from fully civilized to fully wild.  Some characters exhibit both "civilized" and "wild" characteristics, and some are purely one or the other.  The key is to use the two laws as your criteria, and to show how the characters you discuss live by one or the other or both, depending on their circumstances. 

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Who is civilized and who isn't in Jack London's The Call of the Wild?

In Jack London's novel The Call of the Wild, neither beast nor man is truly characterized as civilized. However, ironically, the lead dog Buck, who is also the protagonist of the story, is far more civilized than many of the human beings in the story.

Throughout the story, the humans the dogs come into contact with are extremely cruel, selling them for profit and mistreating them. Only the men named Perrault and Francois, two French-Canadians who purchase Buck once in Alaska to make runs delivering mail, prove to be decent men. As Buck phrases it, Perrault and Francois treat the dogs well, and though Buck "developed no affection for them, he none the less grew honestly to respect them" (p. 37).

In contrast to most of the cruel, uncivilized men Buck comes in contact with, Buck shows a sense of bravery and devotion that only the civilized can show. Buck became such a strong, devoted leader of the dog team that his name rose in fame. Be that as it may, Buck too shows his savage, or instinctive, side. One thing he notes is the amount of savagery present on board the ship sailing to Alaska in the beginning of the story. Both men and dogs on the ship are extremely violent. The dogs even acted like wolves, senselessly killing one of their own kind. On the boat, Buck makes an enemy of Spitz, a dog he is soon teamed up with once in Alaska, and though Buck is horrified by the scene of senseless killing on the boat, Buck's own instinctive side takes over when he later murders Spitz to take over as lead dog.

Hence, London uses the book to show that neither man nor beast are truly civilized. Instead, men can be just as savage as beasts, and beasts can be even more rational than men while still being subjected to their own animal instincts.

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