Jack London

The Call of the Wild (1903)

Jack London (1876-1916)

     Born in San Francisco. Illegitimate son of Flora Wellman and William Chaney. Biological father abandoned mother. Mother marries John London.

     Poor family. Jack studied till 8th grade but was widely read.

     Lived life of pirate in his adolescence, but returned to finish high-school.

     Spent a year at Univ. of California, Berkeley but left in 1897 to join the gold rush.

     Worked as reporter from late 1890s till his death, published over 50 books.

     Wrote about the adventurous and frontier life of the American West.

     His life contradicted his preaching (preached socialism but lived materialist life on his sail boat and ranch, preached brotherhood but celebrated violence).


The Call of the Wild (1903)

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire, and to plunge into the forest”.

     Buck lives comfortably on Judge Miller’s estate till he’s kidnapped as gold was discovered in Canada and dogs were needed to pull sleds.

     Sees Curly, another dog, being attacked and killed by huskies so decides never to let that happen to him.

     Owned by Francois and Perrault, he soon adjusts to life as sled dog and relearns his ancestors’ instinctual knowledge of fighting and scavenging for food.

     Fights his rival, lead dog Spitz and kills him, becoming lead dog himself.

     As head of the team, Francois and Perrault’s sled makes record time but team eventually sold to mail carrier who overworks them, causing one dog to die.

     Team sold to American gold hunters Hal, Charles, and Mercedes who are inexperienced. Team is soon out of food crossing over an icy block that is melting.

     Refusing to cross ice, Buck is beaten by owners, but rescued by John Thornton.

     Buck becomes loyal to Thornton and rescues him on more than one occasion.

     During a search for gold in Canadian forest, Buck’s attraction to the wild grows. He befriends wolves, bears and moose, but returning to Thornton every once in a while.

     On his last return to Thornton he finds him killed by Yeehat Indians so he avenges his master by killing and scattering the Indians.

     Buck finally returns to the wild leading a pack of wolves and turning into the legendary Ghost Dog that scares the Indians.

     He visits the place his master dies yearly before returning to the wild.


About the novel:

     Atavism is the recurrence of genetic traits that have been dormant for years. Hearing the call of the wild suggests that for Buck (and for anyone who listens) this call is stronger than the pull of civilization, that civilization is but a thin mask that hides the dormant instincts in all of us, instincts that would quickly rise again.

     Influenced by Darwin’s theories of the evolution of the species and the survival of the fittest. But here survival is not the final aim as the protagonist aims at mastering his environment.

     This need to dominate is influenced by Nietzche’s master/slave division of the world in which he sees masters as possessing the will to power. London, like Nietzche, celebrates this savage desire to rule.