The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I was inspired to read this book after reading Allie's review of it over at A Literary Odyssey and I was not disappointed.

What I loved about this book was that it the story is written from the perspective of an anonymous third person narrator, but that person tells the story from the perspective of a dog, Buck

The Call of the Wild is about Buck, a Saint Bernard, who is living a very comfortable life in the home of a Judge; enjoying being the big fish in a little pond. He is then abducted by a disgruntled and out-of-pocket staff member, who sells him to become a working dog during the Klondike Gold Rush (a part of Canadian history I know nothing about I have to admit).

We are with him as he journey's through the freezing landscape, experiences love and cruelty, and grows into a stronger dog, emotionally and physically. As the story unfolds we witness Buck slowly giving heed to his true nature, as a dog of the wild.

Although there are many characters in this story, both human and animal, Buck is the only character where we see any true character development. It is through this character development that London really humanises Buck. As a domesticated dog from a first class family, Buck is a highly moral creature. As a dog on the Klondike, we see him learn the law of club and fang; he re-learns everything he previously new and learns to live on instinct, valuing power and strength.

On a rather superficial level, what I really enjoyed about London's storytelling was that the description of the dogs behaviour was just so accurate. As I read about Buck and the other dogs that feature in this story, I was reminded forcibly of the things that my own dog, Tessa, does. You know when they give you a weird look, and then get up and move somewhere else, and you can't help but wonder what they were just thinking? The joy of reading this book was that you saw how Buck's thoughts and feelings motivated his actions in a way that I am sure is universal to all dogs, fictional or not.

There are many messages and themes to this story, but what really struck me the most was the concept of survival of the fittest. This theme was absolutely integral to the story, not just from the dogs perspective, but from the human characters perspective as well. Life and death struggles are used as a literary device throughout the story, underlying this theme. Buck learns this lesson early on, when he is the victim of his first vicious attack with the club and when he sees his friend Curly brutally killed. He takes this lesson to heart, eventually becoming the leader of the pack through his own fight to the death:
"He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson and his all his life after he never forgot it".
This is equally true for the human characters. We see the brutal reality of the search for gold on the Klondike. Survival is based on hard work and common sense. London particularly emphasis this by contrasting Bucks earlier and particularly his later owner (Thornhill), with Hal and Mercedes and their disastrous trip to the gold fields.

Most importantly of course is Buck's personal journey as he heeds the call of the wild. As the wild takes a greater hold of him, he recovers his ancestral memories and instincts. These memories were buried, and rise to the surface when Buck answers the call of the wild.
"And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down."
London uses the language of the narrative itself to really emphasise this metamorphosis. Although the book is written in the third person, as a more domesticated dog, we read a lot about Buck's experiences from his point of view. We know what he thinks of his owners from his perspective. We see his thoughts as he tries to figure out how to stay warm at night, and how to survive in the savage new company that he finds himself in, human and animal. But as he gets used to the life of a working dog, and is given the chance to spend time in the wild and give in to his true nature, the story is narrated from a greater distance and rather than getting true glimpses into Bucks thoughts and feelings, they are described to us by the narrator.

It is curious to wonder whether these natural instincts are in all dogs, waiting until the dog, like Buck, hears the call of the wild.
"Each day, mankind and the claim of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the forest a call from sounding, and as often as he heard the call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back on the fire and to plunge into the forest..."
Summary


What kind of read it is this?
It is a very easy read; sweet and adventuresome.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes I do.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Read it first, and if you think you'll re-read it, then buy it. It might be a good thing to have on the shelf if you have kids you would like to read it to.

Star Rating

5.5 / 8

Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity


Book Details: Read as an ebook using iphone application 'Classics to Go'.

4 comments

  1. Great review Becky. You have captured it all. I like your interesting and thorough discussion on the various themes. One of the standout sequences for me in the book was the disastrous Hal and Mercedes adventure - weren't they frustrating? But their experiences as you say beautifully contrast with the resourcefulness and toughness needed to survive in that setting.

    And many thanks for your encouragement with my blog. It is mcuh appreciated :-)

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  2. Oh I am glad you enjoyed it! I also loved the fact that it seemed to touch on the animalistic nature of an animal who was supposedly domesticated at first. It reminded me that as much as we think our dogs are part of the family, they do have wild instincts. :)

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  3. I missed your review of this, but picked it up in your "wrap" of June. I love Jack London, not because he's a great writer, but because his themes are so hardscrabble and epic. I think you've captured the essence of Call of the Wild in your review. If you liked it enough to dig a little further, White Fang is also a great story.

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  4. Stopping by from the Hop. I am definitely bookmarking your page on my site!

    I read this one as part of the Modern Library list last year, and I can't say I enjoyed it in the pure sense because I hate stories of animal cruelty and hardship, but liked it in the sense that it was a good story about hardship and survival.

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