The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Summary
The Call of the Wild, written by a great American writer Jack London, could not leave me indifferent. The unbelievable books written by this author are my favorite ones, and also the story of a brave and noble dog called Buck impressed me a lot, since it contains so many interesting and wise thoughts. What is more, this book teaches us a lot of wise life lessons, drawing our attention to so simple on the one hand, but so important things, on the other hand. That is the reason why I chose this book to write about.
In the first chapter, we get acquainted with the main heroes of the book – a semi Saint Bernard and semi Scotch shepherd. It is important to mention that this is not an ordinary dog, like the thousands and even millions of his congeners living around the world. Buck is a smart dog with personality. Sometimes it becomes hard to understand if it is a dog, or maybe a human being. However, first of all, it is an animal – a dog.
His story starts at his first master’s ranch, and everything seems to be wonderful: pleasant Californian climate, freedom, and love of his master, who is a judge, and always full bowl of food. But everything could not go so well all the time, otherwise, there would not be a story. So, Buck’s happy and easy life ends when one of his first master’s workers whose name is Manuel, steals him and sales to some man, who is known only by his nickname Red Sweater or just “a man wearing red sweater”. Having a new owner, Buck discovers another, totally opposite relations: cruel, unfair, and without any hint of love. Moreover, he finds out how it is to be beaten almost all the time and how bad life can be. At that moment, he could not have any idea, that this is just a beginning, and bad times are still to come. Finally, he was sold to two French Canadian guys named Perrault and Francois, who took him to Canada by boat. His great journey full of incredible adventures begins.
Chapter I shows us absolutely typical, good and warm relations between a dog and its master: just as the best dog-master relations have to be. The dog feels itself to be a needed and beloved friend. But after Buck was stolen, he found himself in another, totally different situation: bad conditions, endless drubbing and absence of any hint of love. Buck experienced a contrast of the friendly and hostile relations between a human and animal. This chapter discovers how different the relations can be; I would even say different poles of relations between human and animal and how suddenly one may pass into another.
In the second chapter, Buck sees snow first time in his life and starts getting used to a new life and environment. Feeling himself a master of the life in his recent past, he meets another “master of life”, but now a local one: Spitz. Spitz is an alpha male in a sled pulling team, where our main hero becomes a newcomer. Once, he witnesses how the crowd of huskies attacked Curly – another dog, just for being weaker than the others. This terrible tragedy starts haunting Buck for the rest of his life. After this moment, he starts hating Spitz for laughing at this scene, understanding his violence and position in the team. Here Buck’s worst time starts: the full bowl of food is now a history, severe freezing weather and constant long distance hauls. He needs a long time to learn to be a part of the dog team, and finally, he sees how cruel and unfair the life can be (especially, after the tragic death of the dog named Curly). Buck observes different reality in severe northern climate. At-first, the only law rules here – a law of club and fang. After some period of time, he gets used to new conditions, which seemed to be impossible to him before. He becomes much stronger both physically and mentally, learning new lessons of life. Once he faces one thing: something starts stirring him, but it is not a food, even despite the fact that he does not eat enough. This “something” is his instincts, which revived after being dead so long ago.
Chapter II discovers the relations among the dogs, showing us that even the animals have their own laws, hierarchy and unwritten rules. To put it bluntly, we see that dogs have also their own society, just like people. Next, what Jack London wanted to tell us with this chapter, is that we all have something wild and primeval in our nature, and that is why people can be so cruel. Nor civilization, nor time or other aspects are able to totally destroy those primeval instincts and nature. Here we can really well see, what Jack London meant calling his book “The Call of the Wild”.
The war between Buck and Spitz starts. Spitz is a serious opponent, who has a rich experience in fighting in different places, and he, finally, opens his real attitude towards our main hero. He starts constant fight with him and does many annoying things to Buck: his anger, which he hoarded on Buck for so long, splashes out at last. Later, during the long trial, one of the dogs, Dolly, suddenly goes nuts. Francois, one of the owners of the sled pulling pack, has no other choice as to kill her. During one of the voyages, Buck saves the entire sled pulling team from death, holding just like an anchor on the edge after the sudden lay down under the thin ice. Actually, while reading this chapter we see, that both Perrault and Francois exploit the dogs a lot and make them work very hard, but at the same time, they treat towards them with deep respect and never forget to take care of them. For example, they even wake up at night in order to rub their feet. Also, they always watch their dogs and interrupt fights, as it was once with our central hero and his biggest enemy Spitz. It was the second significant fight between these two dogs. At that time, Spitz was whipped by Francois. However, the next time they fought, even masters accidently overlooked Buck and Spitz. In the final of this fight, Spitz dies and Buck becomes a new alpha male in the dog pack.
The human – animal relations in chapter III reveal another kind of such relations – partnership and collaboration. Dogs’ hard work and whipping is paid off by taking care of them and feeding. Here we even see the dog pack and its masters Perrault and Francois not as dog-and-master, but as colleagues and partners, who are ready to come for help in the most essential moment. Also, during the long journeys across the frozen northern lands, a pack of dogs and master become one, solid organism, and so here we even see some kind of symbiosis of a dog and a human. Therefore, the episode when Francois interrupted the fight of Spitz and Buck shows truly parental type of relations, because Francois like a real father stopped the “children’s” fight, and whipped the guilty dog just like parents whip their naughty sons.
Chapter IV demonstrates that Buck becomes a real and competent leader of the dog sled hauling team. Now, he needs to work especially hard to convince his masters that he is worth to be a leader of the dog team. With time, both Perrault and Francois understand that Buck is a great leader, and is far better than Spitz used to be. The dog pack enters the new time under Buck’s leadership: the time of prosperity due to a good and wise leadership of the new leader. Prosperity means here just in dogs’ measures, since there cannot be much prosperity in the land with severe cold climate and a chronic lack of food. From now on, the dogs started feeling better and safer after Spitz, who brutally treated them and put himself far above others; consequently, it helps the whole pack to perform even better than before. Later after another journey, Buck as well as the rest of the dogs are handed over to new masters. Perrault and Francois exit. Buck plunges with his head into real philosophical thought, which is similar to a human’s philosophy about the time, which flies and everything passes. Buck’s thought is about how people so easily and rapidly come in and out of his life, just as if his life and soul were a kind of a yard with through passage. Certainly, it is just a general idea, since Buck most likely never saw the one and actually does not know what it is. What is more, the dog starts seeing an always repeating peculiar dream about how he gets backwards in time and sees himself sitting close to the primitive man, right at his feet.
At the same period of time, Buck starts getting in touch with his primeval hunting and killing instincts even closer together with dangling in the caves. Buck finally comes to the conclusion, that life is a rough thing. At the end of the chapter, Buck loses one of his dog teammate Dave, who nobly dies from disease, but in spite of sufferings due to his illness, he refuses to leave his place in sledge hauling team to the last minute of his life.
Here the relations of an animal and human (to be more correct dog and master) can be classified as “employer – employee” or “chief-and-subordinate” relations, judging by how hard Buck was doing to convince his masters Francois and Perrault that it is he who is the best team leader and the real alpha male in the dog pack. Indeed, it looks similar to how a human employee even in modern world moves sky and heavens in order to prove to his chief that he is exactly the one who deserves promotion or the higher post he was promoted or temporarily put to.
The long and power consuming journey finally ends, and the dogs are in really bad state, being all exhausted and powerless. Then they meet their new owners: Charles, his wife Mercedes and her brother Hal. All three of them have a lot of luggage, especially woman (what is actually quite normal). Going ahead with reading chapter, we realize that all three cannot pack light, and moreover, it seems that they most likely never travelled by dog sled pulling team before and even have no idea of how and what is it. Being arrogant and too much proud, Hal and Charles refuse to take advices that dogs are just physically unable to carry such a heavy cargo. Mercedes, in her turn, starts coddling all the dogs and insist that men do not beat them and do not hurt them. Finally she makes a “genius decision”, throwing out all the food and drink, but leaving such useless things as nail polish and hair dryer.
This truly “brilliant” decision later brings its consequences to all three of them and dogs: in not so long period of time, dogs as well as Hal, Mercedes and Charles start starving. The heavy luggage together with starvation made a bad effect: all dogs including Buck start being physically weaker and look much worse than before this disastrous haul. And so, the first dog is lost – Billee. He just gives up and falls over, after which he was killed by Hal. After Billee, several more dogs die. Then the spring came, but it is not as good as it seems to be: ice became thin and it is now more dangerous to cross frozen lakes and ponds. Buck understands it, since he already passed through many of such situations in his life, but his small-minded and purblind new owners do not get it. As a result, they cannot understand why Buck refuses to pull the sled onto the frozen water. It makes one of his masters – Hal mad, and he starts beating him, but anyway it gave no result. Who knows, what would happen: maybe Hal could go absolutely mad and kill Buck in rage, as he made with Billee, but it turned out that one guy whose name is John Thornton, was sitting and watching all that process. Being unable to watch how Hal hurts Buck, Thornton approaches to him and threatened proud and gormless Hal with death if he continues beating the dog. Next what John did was cutting Buck free from the sled. After Hal, Mercedes and Charles move away with the rest of the dogs, Buck and his new master John Thornton stand and look after them. Suddenly, they see how the three very proud and very arrogant people got their well-deserved payoff for their excessive arrogance, anger and small-mindedness: all of them crushed under the ice together with all dog team and sled with all belongings they had.
Chapter V presents the readers with unfortunately existing types of bad relations. These types of relations include master-and-slave and “stupid commander – smart inferior”. The first type of relations we see in the first half of the text, with the new owners of Buck and the dog pack, where he was already a leader; the second type of relations is observed when the new owners loaded the sled so much that dogs could not carry it and then whipped them constantly, taking absolutely no care of them, and even giving no food for them – just like slave owners acted with their slaves in the ancient empires. But the ancient slave owners at least fed their serfs. The second type of relations can be found in the beginning of the chapter, when Mercedes threw away all food and drinks, leaving everyone without meal knowing that they are going to a very long and exhausting journey. Finally, the relations, which I called “stupid commander – smart inferior” come out in final episode, when Hal makes dogs to pull the very sled onto the frozen water with rather thin ice, and beats Buck just because the dog does not want to lead everyone to the certain death. It looks like a situation in the war, when stupid commander orders to attack by self-made, but terribly elaborated plan and the inferiors get punishment for refusing to obey and lead army, understanding that it will be a real suicide. It was a similar situation, wasn’t it?
After getting rid of terribly arrogant and illiterate former owners, Buck finally gets a great owner – the one who was his best master ever. John Thornton appeared to be even better than his very first owner, a judge from California. Finally, Buck lives a comfortable life and shows his love to John Thornton by gently biting him. But again, he returns to his old thoughts of some philosophic character and with fear that John, whom he loves so much will also leave him, just as the other owners who were before in his life. During their adventures, Buck saves John’s life for several times, and what is great, John does not forget that and tries his best to show his gratitude and love towards his dog, who now became not just a dog, but a real pet. Buck several times protected his new master during the bar fights, and once the men in the bar decided to beat John Thornton that his Buck is unable to tow a load whose weight is a thousand pounds. Having no money to pay in case of losing, Thornton agreed. Fortunately, he and Buck win the betting and got the deserved reward. After this incredible victory, Buck became a real star, and everyone wanted to buy him from John Thornton, offering him enormous sum of money. But his reply was the only: “Go to hell!” Anyway the call of Buck’s wild nature wakes up again, and it does not let him forget that he is a real beast. As proverb says, “You can take dog out of the wild, but you can’t take that wild out of the dog”.
This chapter finally shows us perfect relations between an animal and a human. I would even say idyllic, the best of possible relations of man and the dog. Such relations can be a real example of how the dog and master should interact with each other. Here we see the example of true and unselfish love, where no place is left for anger, or for whipping, or for cruelty. With this chapter, Jack London tries to draw our attention towards the example of how we must interact with animals, what a real friendship must look like and finally, author wants to show what great benefits we will get from such sincere and strong friendship, not only with dogs.
After Buck wins the betting, his master John Thornton decides to spend $1,600, won by his favorite dog, to organize an expedition to a mythical abandoned gold mine, which is located somewhere in the North. When spring came, they still did not find any gold, and they almost came to the mind that the expedition failed. But suddenly, great fortune smiles to them: they finally find it. Buck’s call of the Wild strengthens, and he almost took off for a wild, but his love towards John Thornton prevents him from that. Then we find out that Buck made friends with a wolf from the forest, where John Thornton established his camp. Buck’s wild nature became so strong that he spends a lot of time running with wolves in the forest and even hunting, killing bear first, and then a moose, getting enormous pleasure from the process hunting and killing. Now Buck became much closer to a wolf than a dog, and all his nature became more wolfish than canine. Only a great love towards his master does not let him totally turn into a wolf. But suddenly, something, he was so afraid of earlier, happens: after he returned from one of his wild jaunts, he finds his favorite and beloved master and his people killed by the native Indians of Yeehat tribe, being at rest in the forest camp. And right there, in a destroyed camp he notices those natives who did that dancing around in honor of the victory. The terrible rage flushed in Buck, and he paid them off with full rage and hatred he could ever show killing the chief of Yeehats together with several others by biting them to death. Being so quick and cunning in his movements, he avoided all the arrows shot at him. Moreover, the Indians accidently even killed each other, since were too close to one another in the dance and due to being attacked unexpectedly. The rest of the Indians who survived just ran away, calling Buck an “Evil Spirit”. Now, after he lost the last master nothing holds him anymore, and he, finally, responds to his call – a call of wild. So, he joins the wolf pack and became its leader. The rest of his life Buck spends in the forest being the head of the wolf pack.
In the final chapter, we see the highest level of the relations between a human and an animal (in this case, we can even say truly wild animal): the kin level, when the friendship and love of a dog towards its master rose to the level of kinship, just like in Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli”, where we find the famous saying “We’re the same blood: You and Me”. The same feelings, I suppose, Buck had towards John Thornton. The reason, which proofs that, is shown through a rage, which overflowed Buck in the moment when he saw his beloved master dead and his killers dancing in a ritual dance. Probably, all of us remember the fact from the history, that in Stone Age, as well as in other early times, the blood feud was very widespread among the tribes for killing kinsmen.
In the same way, Buck decided to pay off for the death of his “kinsman” and did everything in the best tradition of that primeval kind of revenge – a true blood feud. It even stronger emphasize the truly primeval and wild nature and spirit of the main hero of this incredible book – a half Saint Bernard and half Scotch shepherd called Buck.