The Call of the Wild, arguably Jack London’s greatest work, contains all the ingredients to create a perfect coming of age story. It revels in the triumph of one’s spirit in the face of unexpected adversaries and celebrates the values of kindness and love. The one thing that sets this book apart from the flock is that the book’s protagonist is a dog- a sturdy crossbreed named Buck, to be exact.
Buck is a pampered prized pooch living a luxurious life in sunny California. In a tragic turn of events, Buck gets kidnapped by his master’s gardener and sold as a sled dog in the frozen and tough Yukon Territory. Buck gets passed on from owner to owner, being mistreated, beaten and overworked as he is entrapped into a kind of canine slavery. Subsequently, John Thorton, a sensitive man who recognises Buck’s intelligence and strength, rescues the ailing dog and nurses him back to health. Among many escapades, Buck saves Thornton from drowning, attacks a man who tries to fight with Thorton and wins his master a 1600 dollar wager when he pulls a sled with a thousand pound load. When his master is murdered by Yeehat Indians, he gives in to his true nature, answers the call of the wild and joins a wolf pack. “Man, and the claims of man, no longer bound him.”
It is believed that London, through dogs, is expressing his Rousseau inspired belief about the state of humanity and the struggles of existence that strengthen man’s nature. Darwin’s theory of ‘the survival of the fittest’ can be used to describe Buck’s trials and tribulations as he gropes for power by becoming the lead sled dog. Buck, with his undaunted strength and thirst for mastery is also seen as a metaphor for Nietzsche’s ‘masterful men’. The determined dog’s transformation, through the course of the book, is an ode to his triumphal spirit and though humans with their mighty clubs could beat Buck, they could never break him.
By Sanjana Ahuja