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The Call of the Wild by Jack London: Critical Analysis

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Table of contents

  1. How does the author begin the novel?
  2. What is the novel mostly about?
  3. How does the novel end?
  4. Examine important themes in the work.
  5. Include one important quote/passage with parenthetical reference (your quote should illustrate theme, style or both). What does this quote illustrate? Why did you choose it?
  6. Analyze the literary techniques the author uses. (How does the author craft the novel?)
  7. Discuss one excerpt of literary criticism written on your author. You should paraphrase the critic’s comments in your own words and include a parenthetical reference.
  8. How successful is your author in your personal opinion?
  9. Conclusion

How does the author begin the novel?

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, tells the story of a dog named Buck who goes through a challenging journey after being forced to work as a sled dog. The novel takes place in Yukon Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890’s. At the beginning of the book, the author introduces the main character, Buck, who is a mix between a sheep dog and a St. Bernard. Buck was living an easy and domesticated life with his owner, Judge Miller, in Santa Clara Valley when the Klondike Gold Rush began, increasing the demand for sled dogs. Buck is ripped away from his old life when he is kidnapped by a man who sells him to people who trade dogs. The man who takes his is extremely violent, and this is the first instance where Buck is exposed to brutality. On his shipment from California to the North, he is physically abused and tormented because the man is careless and is only interested in making profit. Buck then arrives in the Klondike, and the first thing he witnesses is a dog named Curly being mauled to death by a pack of huskies. This opens Buck’s eyes to the reality of his situation, and he realizes that any wrong decision could put his life in potential danger. Then, Buck is purchased by two men, Perrault and Francois, who work for the Canadian government. From this point forward, Buck is used a sled dog and his primitive instincts continue to emerge throughout the course of the novel.

What is the novel mostly about?

The novel is mostly about Buck’s experiences as a sled dog, and it also portrays how Buck slowly loses his civilized side as he becomes more dependent on himself in order to survive in the wilderness. Throughout the novel, Buck shows a lot of character development as he perseveres through his intense and harsh journey. He also uncovers his primitive instincts and skills, which help him survive the difficult realities of life on the frontier. When Buck first starts working with Perrault and Francois, he realizes that it is hard work, especially since he has never done it before. Buck also has to adapt to the wild, which is when he discovers the instincts from his ancestors. These instincts help him make the right decisions, and ultimately they help him stay alive. While this is happening, Buck begins a rivalry with one of the lead sled dogs, Spitz. The two dogs fight countless times in the novel, and Buck tries to weaken Spitz’s authority. In the final battle, Buck and Spitz fight each other, ultimately resulting in the death of Spitz. Buck is determined to be the leader, so Perrault and Francois agree to give him his earned position. With Buck being the leader, the team accomplishes their tasks significantly quicker than in the past. However, Buck and the team end up being sold to another mail carrier. This time though, the loads are heavier and they put a lot more strain on the dogs. Under the ownership of this man, one of the dogs becomes fatally ill. Since the dog was too weak and malnourished to continue, the driver shot it, making the other dogs sad. The dogs are sold, once again, but this time it was to people named Hal, Mercedes, and Charles. They do not know how to take care of the dogs because they are inexperienced, and they often beat the dogs for no reason. As time passes, the number of dogs on the team drops, and the dogs do not have very much strength left. Buck’s life does not look hopeful until he finally reaches John Thornton’s camp.

How does the novel end?

The novel ends with Buck’s journey as a sled dog coming to an end. When Buck arrives at John’s camp he is exhausted and overworked. John Thornton tries to tell them that the ice they want to go across is not completely frozen and there is a good chance that they will fall through. The group disregards what John is saying and begin to start crossing the ice. When Buck refuses to go, Hal begins to abuse him. Seeing the harassment, John steps in and saves Buck’s life. Hal, Mercedes, and Charles become impatient, and they decide to cross. This was a huge mistake, and they ended up breaking the ice and falling in the water, leading to their deaths. John Thornton ended up taking care of Buck, and the two helped each other a lot. Buck shows how thankful he is by helping John win money and by saving his life when he falls in the river. Although Buck had a strong love for John, he felt the wilderness calling him. Buck disappeared for days at a time to connect with nature, and over time he drifted away from civilization. The men then search for gold, and while this is happening, Buck goes into the forest. When he returns, he sees that the Yeehat Indians have killed John. This angers him, and he ends up killing some of the Indians as the remaining ones ran away. The novel comes to an end with Buck going into the wilderness, where he becomes the leader of a wolf pack. He also becomes known as the Ghost Dog, and every year he comes back to the place where John passed away to mourn his loss.

Examine important themes in the work.

One of the most important themes in the book is that perseverance is key to survival. Throughout the novel, London incorporates many scenes that portray how Buck would not have survived if he did not have the courage to persevere. The wilderness is unforgiving and brutal, but the strength and determination Buck shows keeps his spirits high. He also has a strong desire to be the leader of the group, which gives him a sense of motivation that allows him to keep pushing forward, even when he is at his lowest point. Another important theme in the novel is that primitive instincts are powerful. In many instances throughout the novel, Buck is forced to learn new tactics in order to survive the harsh environment. However, most of the time he is not actually learning new things, but instead he is discovering things that his old ancestors used to do. Buck uncovers many skills and primitive instincts as he faces more obstacles that challenge his knowledge of survival. In addition, he also uses his instincts when he suspects something is wrong, and this saves his life countless times. For example, Buck knew they should not go on the ice because he had a feeling it would break. Everyone else decided to move on, which ultimately lead to their tragic death because they did not listen to him. Another theme is that the wilderness and civilization affect life in different ways. At the beginning of the novel, Buck lives an easy life with Judge Miller, and he does not have to worry about anything because he is taken care of. However, as the novel progresses, Buck has to become dependent on himself in order to survive in the wild. The wilderness showed no sympathy towards Buck, which is the opposite of how his previous owner, Miller treated him. Lastly, another theme is that only the fittest survive. Buck is a type of dog that has adapted well to the environment around him. However, some of the dogs are not as fit to live in these conditions, making them weaker. Buck also did not struggle as much with becoming familiar with the wilderness because he had primitive instincts from his old ancestors. These instincts allowed him to be physically more prepared for challenges in the environment, allowing him to work his way to the top. The weaker dogs that did not have as much drive either succumbed to the power of other dogs or the wilderness overpowered them, thus showing how only the fittest survive. Although a majority of these themes are from the point of view of a dog, they are still important to life outside of the book and can teach humans lessons too.

Include one important quote/passage with parenthetical reference (your quote should illustrate theme, style or both). What does this quote illustrate? Why did you choose it?

“And strange Buck was to him, for of the many Southland dogs he had known, not one had shown up worthily in camp and on trail. They were all too soft, dying under the toil, the frost and starvation. Buck was the exception. He alone endured and prospered, matching the husky in strength, savagery, and cunning. Then he was a masterful dog, and what made him dangerous was the fact that the club of the man in the red sweater had knocked all blind pluck and rashness out of his desire for mastery. He was preeminently cunning, and could bid his time with a patience that was nothing less than primitive” (London 29).

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This passage contains multiple important themes from the novel and it also portrays London’s writing style. The passage explains how Spitz, who was the leader of the pack at the time, asserts his dominance over the other dogs. However, it also conveys that Spitz feels threatened by Buck, and he knows he is stronger and more determined than the previous dogs. The other dogs he had known were weak, and let the wilderness take advantage of them. The quote also shows his style in writing. He is very descriptive with his words, which allows the reader to envision the scene and have a deeper understanding of the text. It also has a darker side when it talks about being beat by the club, but London is still able to portray the situation in a more positive way. Since beating a dog is cruel, the author makes it seem less horrendous by explaining that it shows how Buck knows when to submit to authority, rather than pushing the limits. This passage also illustrates many themes from the novel. The first theme it has is that only the fittest survive. The quote talks about how many of the dogs were too weak and fragile to stay alive because the conditions were too intolerable. The climate was too harsh for some of the dogs, which is why they did not not survive. Another theme this passage shows is how perseverance is key to survival. Buck has a lot of determination, which gives him an advantage over the other dogs. He is also able to pick himself back up after being physically abused by his owners. This shows that Buck has a tremendous amount of strength and perseverance in his character. Finally, it also shows the theme of the power of primitive instincts. Buck has many characteristics that come from his old ancestors, and these instincts help him survive. The discovery of these instincts is what makes him able to be better than the other dogs. Furthermore, Buck is also very patient, which is another attribute to this skills, and this allows him to make the correct decisions in logical ways.

Analyze the literary techniques the author uses. (How does the author craft the novel?)

Throughout the novel, Jack London uses literary techniques and different strategies to craft an interesting novel. One of the major techniques he uses in the book is he writes about harsh and graphic scenes in an eloquent way. In many circumstances in the novel, London is able to portray violent scenarios in almost poetic ways, which makes the reader think deeper about the true meaning and significance behind the writing. The scenes are usually also a metaphor for bigger things in life. In addition, Jack London also uses very straightforward writing so the reader is never left questioning what is happening. This eliminates any possible confusion that the reader may encounter while reading the novel. London also uses a naturalist style that allows the reader to immerse themselves into the nature setting and picture themselves in the scenery. This connection with nature makes the reader understand how important it is to the storyline, and the reader can envision how the scenario would be in real life. Along with these techniques, London also incorporates some literary devices such as imagery, tone, and personification. He is very descriptive with his writing, which takes advantage of the reader’s senses. The tone of the story also affects the mood, which then affects the reader’s emotions. Personifications are used many times throughout the novel to give some of the things, such as the dogs, human characteristics. Overall, Jack London combines these literary techniques and devices to craft beautiful novels that are captivating and thought-provoking.

Discuss one excerpt of literary criticism written on your author. You should paraphrase the critic’s comments in your own words and include a parenthetical reference.

Many people say that Jack London is an influential writer whose intriguing novels interest others. However, some critics do not agree with this statement. When first looking at a novel from London, it may appear to be a normal book with a regular plotline. However, numerous people believe that he does not write not actual books because the story is not successive. A critic from Literary Theory and Criticism stated that, “some critics have complained that a few of his novels (such as Burning Daylight, for example) are not novels at all, but merely strings of short stories hung together by the merest contrivance,” (Literary Theory and Criticism). This means that some parts of his novels do not necessarily go together since they do not flow nicely. People think that novels should contain situations that build off of each other in order to drive to plotline, which is why critics are unsure about London’s writing style. In addition to this issue, critics also believe that his writing lacks structure and has an extreme amount of didacticism. Some people think that the element of teaching in works of writing is beneficial, but many people think that London does it excessively in some of his novels. They believe that this takes away from the main message and meaning of the book, and it leaves the reader less interested. People also think the lack of structure throughout his books corresponds to his writing style. Despite these critiques made about him, he is still one of the most successful American authors whose unique style of writing puts a twist on his novels.

How successful is your author in your personal opinion?

In my personal opinion, Jack London is a highly successful individual when it comes to writing. He is one of many well-known American authors, and almost everyone is familiar with the books he has written. Every book he crafts has a combination of emotion, style, and organization, which makes the novel even more intriguing. London’s ability to write interesting novels while keeping them informative at the same time makes him even more respected. His books also convey motivating life lessons that encourage the reader to think deeper about the situation. Specifically, in The Call of the Wild, he created an interesting plot by designing scenarios that built off of each other. He also incorporated messages within the book that are important in real life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, and the intensity of the situations kept me on the edge of my seat.


In addition to being a great American author, Jack London was also a journalist and a social activist. Throughout his life, he became well-known around the world and accumulated a significant fortune from his writing. Although he did not win any major awards, his talent for writing has inspired many individuals throughout the country. When it comes to his lifespan, however, he was not the most successful. He died at forty years old from multiple health issues, ending his career early. Nonetheless, Jack London is still one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, and his legacy will continue to inspire others in numerous ways.

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The Call of the Wild by Jack London: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“The Call of the Wild by Jack London: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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