The Call of the Wild
|The Call of the Wild|
First edition cover
|Illustrator||Philip R. Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull|
|Cover artist||Charles Edward Hooper|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The Call of the Wild is a novel by American author Jack London published in 1903. The story takes place in the Yukon at the time of the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush when strong sled dogs were in high demand. A dog named Buck is the central character, who at the beginning of the story is domesticated, but when he is snatched from a ranch in California and sold into the brutal life of an Alaskan sled dog he reverts to more atavistic traits. Buck is forced to adjust and survive the cruel treatment, fight to dominate other dogs, and survive in a harsh climate. Eventually he sheds the veneer of civilization, relies on primordial instincts and the lessons he has learned, to become a leader in the wild.
London lived for most of a year in the Yukon and gained from that experience material for the book. The story was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in the summer of 1903 and released a month later in book form. The great popularity and success of the story made a reputation for London, with much of the story's appeal based on the simplicity with which he presented the themes in an almost mythical manner. As early as 1908 the story was adapted to film and has seen several more cinematic adaptations since that time.
As the story opens, Buck, a powerful St. Bernard-Scotch Collie, lives a comfortable life in California's Santa Clara Valley as the pet of Judge Miller. Manuel, the gardener's assistant, steals Buck and sells him to pay a gambling debt. Shipped to Seattle, Buck is harassed in his crate and given nothing to eat or drink. Released from the crate, he confronts and is beaten by the "man in the red sweater", and is taught to respect the club. Buck is bought by a pair of French-Canadian dispatchers from the Canadian government named François and Perrault, who take him to the Klondike region of Canada and train him as a sled dog where he quickly learns how to survive the cold winter nights and the pack society by observing his teammates. He and the vicious, quarrelsome lead dog, Spitz, develop a rivalry. Buck eventually beats Spitz in a fight "to the death". Spitz is killed by the pack after his defeat and Buck becomes the leader of the team.
The sled dog team is sold to a "Scottish half breed" man working in the mail service. The dogs carry a heavy load and the journey they make is tiresome and long. After a long time with this owner, the dogs become so tired and sickly that they can no longer make the trek. Some of the dogs are then shot.
Buck is then sold to a trio of stampeders; Hal, Charles, and a woman named Mercedes. They have little experience of survival in the Northern wilderness, struggle to control the sled, and ignore warnings about the dangers of travel during the spring melt. They overfeed the dogs and starve them when the food supply runs out. On their journey they meet John Thornton, an experienced outdoorsman, who notices that the dogs have been poorly treated and are in a weakened condition. He warns the trio against crossing the river, but they refuse his advice and order Buck to move on. Exhausted, starving, and sensing the danger ahead, Buck refuses and continues to lie unmoving in the snow. After Buck is beaten by Hal, Thornton recognizes him to be a remarkable dog. Disgusted by the driver's treatment of Buck, Thornton cuts him free from his traces and tells the trio he's keeping him, much to Hal's displeasure. After some argument, the trio leaves and tries to cross the river, but as Thornton warned, the ice gives way and the three fall into the river and drowned, along with the neglected dogs and sled.
Thornton nurses Buck back to health, and Buck comes to love him and grows devoted to him. Buck saves Thornton when the man falls into a river. Thornton then takes him on trips to pan for gold. During one such trip, a man wagers Thornton on Buck's strength and devotion; the dog wins the bet by breaking a half-ton sled free of the frozen ground, pulling it 100 yards, and winning $1600 in gold dust for Thornton. While Thornton and his friends continue their search for gold, Buck explores the wilderness and begins to socialize with a timber wolf from a local pack. One night, he returns from a short hunt to find that his beloved master and the others in the camp have been killed by a group of Yeehat Indians. Buck eventually kills the Indians to avenge Thornton, and he then follows the wolf into the forest and answers the call of the wild. At the end of the story, Buck returns each year, as the Ghost Dog of the Northland Legend, to mourn at the site of Thornton's death.
California native Jack London had traveled around the United States as a hobo, returned to California where he finished high school (he dropped out at age 14), and then studied at Berkeley for a year when, in 1897, he went to the Klondike by way of Alaska at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, saying, "It was in the Klondike I found myself". He lived there for almost a year, leaving California in July and traveling to Dyea. From there he went inland to the Stewart River where he and his companions staked claims to eight gold mines. To get inland, they transported their gear over the Chilkoot Pass, carrying on their backs loads of up to 100 pounds, depending on the conditions.
He lived for a time in the frontier town Dawson City before moving to a nearby winter camp where, among other things, he spent the winter with the reading material he brought: Darwin's The Origin of the Species and John Milton's Paradise Lost. In the winter of 1898 Dawson City (now mostly deserted) was a city with about 30,000 miners, a saloon, an opera house and a street of brothels.
In the spring of 1898, as the annual gold stampeders began to stream into the area, London left. He had contracted scurvy, common in the Arctic north winters where fresh produce was unavailable, and when his gums began to swell he decided to return to California. With his companions he rafted 2,000 miles down the Yukon River, through portions of the wildest territory in the region, until they reached St. Michael where he hired himself out on a boat and returned to San Francisco.
It was in Alaska that he found material to inspire him to write the novella Call of the Wild. The previous summer Dyea Beach had been the primary point of arrival for miners, but without a harbor its access was treacherous and soon Skagway became the point of arrival. From Skagway, the Klondike was reached by the White Pass; too steep and harsh for horses it became known as "Dead Horse Pass" for the many horse carcasses that littered the route. Instead of horses, dogs were used to transport material over the pass. During the Klondike Gold Rush strong dogs with thick fur were "much desired, scarce and high in price".
London would have seen many dogs, especially prized husky sled-dogs, in Dawson city and in the adjacent winter camps, close to the main sled route. London became friends with Marshall Latham Bond, who owned a mixed St. Bernard-Scotch Collie dog, and London would later admit in a letter to him, "Yes, Buck is based on your dog at Dawson." Beinecke Library at Yale University holds a photograph of Bond's dog, taken during his stay in the Klondike in 1897. The depiction of the California ranch in the beginning of the story was based on the Bond family ranch.
Publication history 
On his return to California, London was unable to find work and relied on odd jobs such as cutting grass. He submitted a query letter to the San Francisco Bulletin proposing a story about his Alaskan adventure, but it was rejected because as the editor told him, "Interest in Alaska has subsided in an amazing degree." A few years later London wrote a short story about a dog named Bâtard who, at the end of the story, kills his master. London sold the piece to Cosmopolitan Magazine which published it in the June 1902 issue, titled "Diablo — A Dog". London's biographer Earle Labor says that London then began work on The Call of the Wild to "redeem the species" from the dark characterization of dogs in "Bâtard". Expecting to write a short story, London explains: "I meant it to be a companion to my other dog story "Bâtard" ... but it got away from me, and instead of 4,000 words it ran 32,000 before I could call a halt."
Written as a frontier story about the gold rush, the The Call of the Wild was meant for the pulp market and first published in four installments in The Saturday Evening Post, who bought it for $750 in 1903. In the same year, London sold all the rights to the story for $2000 to Macmillan who published it in book format. The first edition was released in August, 1903 and had 10 tipped in plates of colored pictures by illustrators Philip R. Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull and a colored frontispiece by Charles Edward Hooper; it sold for $1.50. The book has not been out of print since that time.
The Call of the Wild falls into the genre of animal fiction in which an animal is anthropomorphized and given human traits. In the story, London attributes human thoughts and insights to Buck to the point that when the story was published he was accused of being a nature faker for attributing "unnatural" feelings to a dog. London, with his contemporaries Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, was influenced by the naturalism of European novelists such as Emile Zola, in which themes such as heredity versus environment were explored. London's use of the genre gave it a new vibrancy, according to scholar Richard Lehan.
The story is also an example of American pastoralism—a prevailing theme in American literature—in which the mythic hero returns to nature. As with other characters of American literature such as Rip van Winkle and Huckleberry Finn, Buck symbolizes a reaction against industrialization and social convention with a return to nature. London presents the motif simply, clearly, and powerfully in the story and it became a motif echoed in later 20th century American fiction by William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, (most notably in "Big Two-Hearted River"). Doctorow says of the story that it is "fervently American".
The enduring appeal of the story, according to American literature scholar Donald Pizer, is that it is a combination of allegory, parable, and fable. The story incorporates elements of age-old animal fables, such as Aesop's Fables, in which animals speak truth, or traditional beast fables, in which the beast "substitutes wit for insight". London was influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, written a few years earlier, who combined parable with animal fable, and other animal stories popular in the early 20th century. In The Call of the Wild London intensifies and adds layers of meaning that are lacking from these stories.
As a writer London tended to skimp on form, according to biographer Labor, and neither The Call of the Wild nor White Fang "is a conventional novel". The story follows the archetypal "myth of the hero"; Buck, who is the hero, takes a journey, is transformed, and achieves an apotheosis. The format of the story is distinctly divided into four parts, according to Labor. In the first part Buck experiences violence and struggles for survival; in the second part he proves himself a leader of the pack; the third part brings him to his death (symbolically and almost literally); and in the fourth and final part he undergoes rebirth.
The primary theme of the story is of survival and a return to primitivism. Pizer writes that the theme is allegorical and clear: "the strong, the shrewd, and the cunning shall prevail when ... life is bestial". A Christian theme of love and redemption is also evident in the story according to Pizer, shown by Buck's refusal to revert to violence until after the death of Thornton—who won Buck's love and loyalty. London, who went so far as to fight for custody for one of his own dogs, understood that loyalty between dogs (particularly working dogs) and their masters was built on trust and love.
Writing in the "Introduction" to the Modern Library edition of The Call of the Wild, E. L. Doctorow says the theme is based on Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest. London places Buck in conflict with humans, in conflict with the other dogs, and in conflict with his environment—all of which he must challenge, survive and conquer. Buck, a domesticated dog, must call on his atavistic hereditary traits to survive; he must learn to be wild to become wild, according to the Gianquitto. He learns that in a world where the "club and the fang" are law, where the law of the pack rules and a good-natured dog such as Curly can be torn to pieces by pack members, that survival by whatever means is paramount.
London also explores the question of "nature vs. nurture" according to Pizer. Buck, raised as a pet, is by heredity a wolf. The change of environment releases his innate characteristics and strengths to the point that he fights for survival and he becomes leader of the pack. Furthermore, Pizer maintains that the story appeals to human nature with the theme of the strong prevailing, particularly when faced with harsh circumstances, and a return to the wild.
The veneer of civilization is thin and fragile, writes Doctorow, and in the story London exposes the brutality at the core of humanity and the ease with which humans revert to a state of primitivism. His interest in Marxism is evident in the sub-theme that humanity is motivated by materialism; and his interest in Nietzschean philosophy is shown by Buck's characterization. Tina Gianquitto writes that in Buck's characterization, London created a type of Nietschean Übermensch—in this case a dog that reaches mythic proportions.
Doctorow sees the story as a caricature of a bildungsroman—in which a character learns and grows—in that Buck becomes progressively less civilized. Gianquitto explains that Buck has evolved to the point that he is ready to join a wolf pack, which has a social structure uniquely adapted to and successful in the harsh arctic environment, unlike humans who are weak in the harsh environment.
Writing style 
The novel opens with the first quatrain of John Myers O'Hara's poem, Atavism, published in 1902 in The Bookman. The stanza outlines one of the main motifs of the novel, that Buck, raised in the "sun-kissed" Santa Clara Valley, will revert to innate instincts and characteristics of his wolf heritage.
The themes are conveyed through London's use of symbolism and imagery which, according to Labor, vary in the different phases. The imagery and symbolism in the first phase, to do with the journey and self-discovery, shows physical violence, with strong images of pain and blood. In the second phase fatigue becomes a dominant image and death is a dominant symbol as Buck comes close to being killed; the third phase shows a period of renewal and rebirth and takes place in the spring; the fourth phase of reverting to nature is placed in a vast and "weird atmosphere", a place of pure emptiness.
The setting is allegorical: the south represents the soft, materialistic world, the north symbolizes a world beyond civilization and is inherently competitive. The harshness, brutality, and emptiness in Alaska reduces life to its essence, as London learned, and is shown in Buck's story. Buck defeats Spitz, the dog who symbolically tries to get ahead and take control. When Buck is sold to Charles, Hal, and Mercedes, he finds himself in a camp that is dirty. They treat their dogs badly; they are artificial interlopers in the pristine landscape. Conversely, Buck's next master, John Thornton and his two companions, are described as "living close to the earth" and keep a clean camp, treat the animals well and represent man's nobility in nature. Unlike Buck, Thornton loses his fight with his fellow species, and not until Thornton's death does Buck revert fully to the wild and his primordial state.
The characters too are symbolic of types. Charles, Hal and Mercedes symbolize vanity and ignorance, while Thornton and his companions represent loyalty, purity and love. Much of the imagery is stark and simple with an emphasis on images of cold, snow, ice, darkness, meat and blood.
London varied his prose style to reflect the action. He wrote in an over-affected style in his descriptions of Charles, Hal and Mercedes' camp as a reflection of their intrusion in the wilderness. Conversely when describing Buck and his actions, London wrote in a style that was pared down and simple—a style that would influence and be the forebear of Hemingway's style.
The story was written as a frontier adventure and in such a way that it worked well to be serialized because, as Doctorow points out, it is good episodic writing. He says that it embodied the style of magazine adventure writing popular in that period, and that "It leaves us with satisfaction at its outcome, a story well and truly told."
Reception and legacy 
The Call of the Wild was enormously popular from the moment it was published. H. L. Menken wrote of London's story, "No other popular writer of his time did any better writing than you will find in Call of the Wild". A reviewer for The New York Times wrote of it in 1903, "If nothing else makes Mr. London's book popular, it ought to be rendered so by the complete way in which it will satisfy the love of dog fights apparently inherent in every man." The reviewer for The Atlantic Monthly wrote that it was a book "untouched by bookishness", and that "The making and the achievement of such a hero [Buck] constitute, not a pretty story at all, but a very powerful one."
When The Call of the Wild was published the first printing of 10,000 copies sold out immediately and it is still one the best known stories written by an American author. The book was London's first success and from it he gained a readership that stayed with him through his career. The book secured London's success as a writer and furthermore secured him a place in the canon of American literature. Since its publication it has never been out of print and it continues to be read and taught in schools, and has been published in 47 languages.
After the success of The Call of the Wild London wrote to Macmillan in 1904 proposing a second book (White Fang) in which he wanted to describe a dog undergoing a process in reverse of Buck's, a dog that went from wild to tame. "I'm going to reverse the process," he wrote to his editor, "Instead of devolution of decivilization ... I'm going to give the evolution, the civilization of a dog".
The Call of the Wild was first adapted to film by D. W. Griffith in 1908; a second silent film was made in 1923. The 1935 version starring Clark Gable and Loretta Young expanded John Thornton's role and was the first "talkie" to feature the story. The 1972 The Call of the Wild starring Charlton Heston as John Thornton was filmed in Finland.
See also 
- London 1998, p. 4.
- London 1903, Chapter 1.
- London 1903, Chapter 5.
- London 1903, Chapter 7.
- London 1903, Chapter 6–Chapter 7.
- "Jack London" 1998, p. vi.
- Courbier-Tavenier, p. 240.
- Courbier-Tavenier, p. 241.
- Dyer, p. 60.
- Labor & Reesman, pp. 16–17.
- Giantquitto, 'Endnotes', pp. 294-295.
- Dyer, p. 59.
- "Comments and Questions", p. 301.
- Courbier-Tavenier, p. 242.
- Labor & Reesman, pp. 39–40.
- Labor & Reesman, pp. 40.
- Doctorow, p. xi.
- Dyer, p. 61.
- Smith, p. 409.
- Leypoldt, p. 201.
- Pizer, pp. 108–109.
- Lehan, p. 47.
- Benoit, p. 246–248.
- Doctorow, p. xv.
- Pizer, p. 107.
- Pizer, p. 108.
- Labor & Reesman, p. 38.
- Labor & Reesman, pp. 41–46.
- Pizer, p. 110.
- Pizer, pp. 109–110.
- Giantquitto, 'Introduction', p. xxiv.
- Giantquitto, 'Introduction', p. xvii.
- Giantquitto, 'Introduction', p. xiii.
- Giantquitto, 'Introduction', pp. xx–xxi.
- London 1998, p. 3.
- Giantquitto, 'Endnotes', p. 293.
- Labor & Reesman, pp. 41–45.
- Doctorow, p. xiv.
- "Comments and Questions", p. 302.
- "Comments and Questions", pp. 302–303.
- Giantquitto, 'Introduction', p. xxii.
- Labor & Reesman, p. 46.
- "Inspired", p. 298.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Benoit, Raymond (Summer, 1968). "Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild'". American Quarterly (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 20 (2): 246–248. doi:10.2307/2711035. JSTOR 2711035.
- Courbier-Tavenier, Jacqueline (1999). "The Call of the Wild and The Jungle: Jack London and Upton Sinclair's Animal and Human Jungles". In Pizer, Donald. Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43876-6.
- Doctorow, E. L.; London, Jack (1998). "Introduction". The Call of the Wild, White Fang & To Build a Fire. The Modern Library hundred best novels of the twentieth century 88 (reprint ed.). Modern Library. ISBN 978-0-375-75251-3. OCLC 38884558.
- Doon, Ellen. "Marshall Bond Papers". New Haven, Conn, USA: Yale University. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
- Dyer, Daniel (April 1988). "Answering the Call of the Wild". The English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) 77 (4): 57–62. doi:10.2307/819308. JSTOR 819308.
- Barnes & Noble (2003). " 'Jack London' — Biographical Note". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Barnes & Noble (2003). " 'The World of Jack London'". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Giantquitto, Tina (2003). " 'Introduction'". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Giantquitto, Tina (2003). " 'Endnotes'". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Barnes & Noble (2003). " Inspired by 'The Call of the Wild' and 'White Fang'". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Barnes & Noble (2003). " 'Comments and Questions'". The Call of the Wild and White Fang. Barnes and Noble Classics. Introduction by Tina Giantquitto (reprint ed.). Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-59308-002-0.
- Lehan, Richard (1999). "The European Background". In Pizer, Donald. Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43876-6.
- "Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild' ". Publishers Weekly (F. Leypoldt) 64 (1). August 1, 1903. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
- Labor, Earle; Reesman, Jeanne Campbell (1994). Jack London. Twayne's United States authors series 230 (revised, illustrated ed.). New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8057-4033-2. OCLC 485895575.
- London, Jack (1903). The Call of the Wild. Wikisource.
- London, Jack (1998). The Call of the Wild, White Fang & To Build a Fire. The Modern Library hundred best novels of the twentieth century 88. Introduction by E. L. Doctorow (reprint ed.). Modern Library. ISBN 978-0-375-75251-3. OCLC 38884558.
- Modern Library (1998). " 'Jack London' — Biographical Note". The Call of the Wild, White Fang & To Build a Fire. The Modern Library hundred best novels of the twentieth century 88. Introduction by E. L. Doctorow (reprint ed.). Modern Library. ISBN 978-0-375-75251-3. OCLC 38884558.
- Pizer, Donald (1983). "Jack London: The Problem of Form". Studies in the Literary Imagination 16 (2): 107–115.
- Smith, Geoffrey D. (August 13, 1997). American Fiction, 1901–1925: A Bibliography. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43469-0. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
- "London, Jack 1876-1916". The call of the wild. WorldCat. Retrieved October 26, 2012.