The Call of The Wild': The Struggle for Survival

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The Call of the Wild is a novel of “devolution” which traces the process of releasing Buck’s savage, atavistic nature beneath its civilized veneer”(citation). Buck, a St. Bernard Shepherd mix, was a very loyal pet to his own family in California where life was easy and good. However, Buck is kidnapped during the time of the Klondike Gold Rush where sled dogs were in high demand ending this easy life. The novel progresses through tough times, not known to a civil house dog, as Buck must become less domesticated and return to his ancestral instincts to survive in the Yukon. Jack London, in The Call of the Wild, uses the transformation of Buck from domesticated house pet to a more primitive nature to obtain dominance over all other dogs to survive. London creates the story in a third person limited omniscient to allow the reader to observe all his different changes he experiences. In order for him to survive, Buck changes from being an ordinary pet to practically a wolf through physical, psychological, and spiritual changes.

To begin, Buck changed physically throughout the novel because of his struggle to maintain his pet like features and having to look more intimidating to maintain respect from the other dogs. At the beginning of the novel, Buck is shown to live a pampered and easy life with a master and a family where he never had to activate primitive instincts to kill. London describes the setting of Bucks old home showing how simple Bucks life was before he was kidnapped: “Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley”(6). Living in a big house in California proves his family is wealthy and he lives the simplest of lives where he is taken care of and doesn’t have to take care of himself whatsoever. Once Buck gets kidnapped and starved, he experiences his first few physical changes. After not being fed or having a drink after 2 consecutive days, Buck is seen as “a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for the spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his blood-shot eyes”(40). Buck has physically transformed from a friendly house pet into a raging intimidating beast ready to kill. Buck’s appearance is so significant over the 2 day without the necessities to survive he has had to become scary and intimidating as a way of trying to survive as he cannot dominate the men with the ropes holding him captive. He must look intimidating so the men might at least feel the need to feed him before he goes mad and attacks.

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Continuing, Buck had been in the arctic for a couple of weeks and he notices his own transformations becoming stronger and more wolf-like which was needed to survive within his pack. Buck notices his best changes being “His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became hard as iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain”(108). Buck’s change in body type and strength helped him take the other dogs attempts at dominance over him and allowed him to keep up with his rival and leader, Spitz. Buck now looking intimidating and muscles stronger and harder than every has a chance to overtake Spitz for leadership as he is already bigger than he is however Spitz has the killing mentality which Buck does not yet have. Also, Buck has become now the strongest of the group after surviving the wolf attack and the madness caused by starvation; he is the strongest physically and mentally.

Compared to the other dogs and even Spitz, he is in the best shape and in the right mental state as all the other dogs are struggling to survive. London compares the dogs to Buck: “They are all too soft, dying under the toil, the frost, and starvation. Buck was the exception”(152). This particularly goes hand in hand with Beverly Lee as she writes upon London’s novel: “The vast Yukon River basin is the main setting in this novel. The sense of place is key to this story, because the harsh realities of survival in this unforgiving environment gradually transform Buck, a thoroughly domesticated family dog, into the ferocious leader of a wolf pack.”(Lee 1). Buck’s transformations have been significant in his assertion of dominance towards the other dogs as the only dog he fights with is Spitz and Buck finally kills him with his ancestral primitive instincts coming from down below to achieve leader of the pack and earn the respect and right to survival. This being credited to Bucks physical changes making him suitable for survival in the Yukon.

Secondly, Buck adapts and transforms the way he has to think and learn psychologically in order to survive. A big part of his learning comes from the mistakes he has made and corrected, and mistakes that the other dogs have made, to make him stronger mentally. First of all, when Buck first gets kidnapped, he is angry and looks to attack the humans around him but learns through getting beaten that the man with a club is the law and not a force to be reckoned with. Buck realizes he does not win against a club and makes the right decision to stop attacking: “He saw, once and for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club”(48). This experience has expanded Buck’s knowledge as far as regulations in his new life. Being beaten and knowing to stop concludes that Buck’s mind is adapting to the new standards he needs to understand to survive. Also, Buck learns from the mistake of the other dogs about how to stay alive especially during a fight. The night Buck learns one of his most effective lessons is the harshest winter night he had gone through since kidnapped. The wind was icy and he wandered around camp without a warm place to sleep.

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The Call of The Wild’: The Struggle for Survival. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“The Call of The Wild’: The Struggle for Survival.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022,
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