Golden Record classic storyteller.
The Call of the Wild is a novella by American author Jack London published in 1903. The story takes place in the extreme conditions of the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush where strong sled dogs were in high demand. After Buck, a domesticated dog, is snatched from a pastoral ranch in California, he is sold into a brutal life as a sled dog. The novella details Buck’s struggle to adjust and survive the cruel treatment he receives from humans, other dogs, and nature. He eventually sheds the veneer of civilization altogether and instead relies on primordial instincts and the lessons he has learned to become a respected and feared leader in the wild.
The Call of the Wild is London’s most popular work and is considered the masterpiece of his so-called “early period.” The novella is often classified as children’s literature because of its animal protagonist, but the maturity of its subject matter makes it valuable for older audiences as well. Major themes include survival of the fittest, civilization versus nature, and fate versus free will.
The Yeehat, a group of Alaska Natives portrayed in Call of the Wild, were a figment of London’s imagination.
Buck, a powerful St. Bernard-Scotch shepherd dog, lives a comfortable life in California’s Santa Clara Valley as the pampered pet of Judge Miller. One day, Manuel, the Judge’s gardener’s assistant, steals Buck and sells him in order to pay a gambling debt. Buck is shipped to Seattle, during which he is harassed in his crate and given nothing to eat or drink. When he is finally released from the crate, he confronts and is beaten by the “man in the red sweater”, learning respect for the club. Buck is bought by a pair of French-Canadians named François and Perrault, who think he is one in a thousand. They take him to Alaska 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 bests Spitz in a major fight, and after Spitz is defeated, the other dogs close in, killing him. Buck then becomes the leader of the team.
At some point, the sled dog team, including Buck, is sold to a “Scottish half breed” man working in the mail service. The load the dogs carry is incredibly heavy, and the journey they make is tiresome and long. After a long time with this owner, the dogs are beat down and so tired that they can no longer make the trek.
Eventually, Buck is sold to a trio, Hal, Charles, and a woman named Mercedes, looking to make a fortune finding gold. They know nothing about sledding nor surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. They struggle to control the sled and ignore warnings not to travel during the spring melt. They first overfeed the dogs, then when their food supply starts running out, they do not feed them at all. As they journey on, they run into John Thornton, an experienced outdoorsman who notices that all of the sled dogs are in terrible shape from the ill treatment of their handlers. Thornton warns the trio against crossing the river, but they refuse to listen 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 as a remarkable dog and is disgusted by the driver’s treatment of him. Thornton cuts Buck 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 along with the neglected dogs and sled.
As Thornton nurses Buck back to health, 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 makes a wager with Thornton over Buck’s strength and devotion. Buck wins the bet by breaking a half-ton sled out of the frozen ground, then pulling it 100 yards by himself, winning over a thousand dollars in gold dust. Thornton and his friends return to their camp and continue their search for gold, while Buck begins exploring the wilderness around them and begins socializing with a wolf from a local pack. One night, he returns from a short hunt to find 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. After realizing his old life is a thing of the past, Buck follows the wolf into the forest and answers the call of the wild. Every year Buck comes to mourn for Thornton at the place where he died.