Jack London was born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876. Raised in poverty, he started working part-time to support his family at the age of nine and dropped out of school a few years later to work and travel full-time. He educated himself through reading, deriving special pleasure from the stories of Washington Irving and Rudyard Kipling. London spent his teenage years sailing aboard a sealing schooner, tramping across the country as a hobo, and working at a variety of odd jobs. He later drew upon these early adventures in books such as The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902) and The Sea-Wolf (1904).
A gripping, fast-paced tale of adventure, The Call of the Wild focuses on Buck, a pampered sheepdog stolen from a California ranch and transported to the arctic. Buck’s struggle to survive on the arctic trail demonstrates the precarious nature of life in the wild. Although The Call of the Wild is an engaging animal story, the reader cannot help but draw parallels between Buck’s experience and that of humans. The book suggests that environment shapes character, and emphasizes that primitive instincts-often hidden beneath a veneer of civilization-are never lost to the individual. Providing a fascinating glimpse of a way of life that has almost vanished, The Call of the Wild suggests that creatures survive best when they adapt to the natural world, rather than trying to impose change on their environment.
Because The Call of the Wild focuses upon Buck’s experience, the human Characters are of secondary importance. Buck is a magnificent dog, part shepherd and part St. Bernard. His superior strength enables him to adapt readily to the northern climate and the harsh demands of his labors. But he possesses one additional quality-imagination. Buck fights with his head as well as his brawn.
The Call of the Wild exemplifies the features of a turn-of-the-century movement known as literary naturalism: the story is presented realistically and directly, and dramatizes the force of environment in shaping character. The Call of the Wild is widely acclaimed as London’s best work of fiction. The author’s firm control of the plot and focused point of view give the story its remarkable coherence. London’s diction is unusually rich, full of complex and mellifluous words. His style is lean and vigorous, and grows increasingly resonant with mystical overtones near the end of the book.
To audiences who have been entertained by Rambo-style killings, the violence in The Call of the Wild will seem mild. Nevertheless, the ferocity of the dogs is described vividly and powerfully, as London shows “the law of club and fang” in brutal operation.
1. Compare Buck’s life on the ranch with his life in the wild. Which is better for Buck? Why?
2. What qualities does Buck have that make him superior to the other dogs? What qualities make him an effective leader?
1. London’s book White Fang tells the story of a wild dog who becomes tamed. Compare White Fang to The Call of the Wild. Which book do you prefer? Why?
The Call of the Wild has been adapted to film several times. A 1923 version directed by Hal Roach starred Jack Mulhall. In 1935, William Wellman directed Clark Gable and Loretta Young in a Hollywood-style romance about a young widow and a Yukon prospector. A popular success, this version of the film took various liberties with London’s plot. In 1972, Charlton Heston and Michele Mercier, directed by Ken Annakin, starred in a film that was more faithful to the original story; filmed in Finland, the movie features impressive scenery. In 1976, James Dickey wrote the script for a made-for-television adaptation of The Call of the Wild.