Illustration of Buck in the snow with mountains in the background

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

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What is the significance of Buck's dream by the fire in The Call of the Wild?

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After being sold to the Scotch half-breed, Buck enjoys his nights lying by the fire and embracing the memories of his heredity. Buck dreams of man's earliest ancestor crouching around the fire and cooking his meat in the unforgiving wilderness. The caveman in Buck's dreams illustrates his retrogression back to his primordial state. Buck vividly imagines the hairy man squatting by the fire and fearing the surrounding environment, which makes the hair rise along his shoulders while he is sleeping and awakens his ancestral instincts. Buck's dreams correspond with his desire to return back to his primitive state and embrace his primordial self. Connecting to his ancestral past is an important part of Buck's physical and psychological development. In order to survive in the Northland, Buck must embrace retrogression, which will allow him to thrive in the challenging, dangerous environment. As the novel progresses, Buck begins to experience the call of the wild, which is the awakening of his primordial self and primitive instincts. Therefore, the dreams Buck experiences foreshadow his retrogression and return to his primordial state.

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Buck's dream is significant because it foreshadows his "retrogression." It's a dream which recalls the ancestory of his breed and "calls" him back to his more primitive roots.

With regard to "retrogression," in order for Buck to move forward in his "development," he must actually, go back toward a more primitive state. In other words, to move forward, he must go "backward." Sort of an interesting concept, but one that makes sense once you realize London's attempt to call into question the whole idea of what it is that we call our nature.

In Buck's dream, he recalls a time when his ancestors lived amongst primitive man. Prior to arriving in the Yukon, Buck lived a more "civilized" existence. It's this dream which reminds Buck of his true nature and acts as an impetus for his liberation.

The first time Buck has the dream, it's not clear to him what its significance is. As the dream occurs subsequently, he's able to make more sense of it and can move more toward the realization of his maturation.

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