The Call of the Wild by Jack London – American Literature, Classic Novel, Fiction

The Call of the Wild by Jack London
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The Call of the Wild. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Jack London was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. He is best known for his adventure novels and short stories, which often depict rugged and elemental experiences in the wilderness.

Some of his most famous works include “The Call of the Wild”, “White Fang”, and “The Sea-Wolf”.

London was a pioneer in the genre of realistic fiction and a leading figure in American literature during the early 20th century. His works often explored themes of survival, individuality, and the clash between civilization and nature.

In this article, we shall discuss his iconic novel, The Call of the Wild, with the help of a few questions.

What is The Call of The Wild?

The Call of the Wild is a novel by Jack London, first published in 1903. The story is set during the Klondike Gold Rush and follows Buck, a domesticated dog who is stolen from his comfortable home in California and sold into the harsh life of an Alaskan sled dog. As Buck faces the brutal conditions and challenges of his new environment, he gradually reverts to his primal instincts and becomes increasingly wild.

The novel explores themes of survival, the power of nature, the conflict between civilization and the wilderness, and the transformative journey of returning to one’s primal roots. Buck’s journey from domestication to wildness is a central focus, highlighting his adaptation and resilience in the face of adversity.

The book is renowned for its vivid descriptions, realistic portrayal of the wilderness, and its exploration of deep, philosophical questions about nature and existence.

What inspired Jack London to write the novel?

Jack London drew inspiration for The Call of the Wild from several key experiences and influences:

Klondike Gold Rush

London’s firsthand experiences during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897-1898 were a primary inspiration. Although he did not find much gold, the harsh conditions, the rugged landscape, and the stories of survival he encountered profoundly influenced his writing.

Personal Observations

London keenly observed the behavior and interactions of sled dogs and their human handlers during his time in the Yukon. These observations provided rich material for the realistic depiction of Buck’s experiences and the dynamics of the sled dog teams.

Darwinian Theories

London was influenced by Charles Darwin‘s theories of evolution and natural selection. These ideas are evident in the novel’s exploration of survival of the fittest, the regression to primal instincts, and the adaptability of organisms to their environments.

Literary Influences

London was inspired by other writers and literary movements. The works of Rudyard Kipling, particularly The Jungle Book, influenced his portrayal of animals and their natural instincts. London’s writing also reflects the naturalist literary movement, which emphasizes the impact of environment and heredity on human and animal behavior.

Personal Philosophy

London’s own beliefs and philosophies about life, nature, and society shaped the themes and messages in The Call of the Wild. He had a fascination with the raw, untamed aspects of nature and a belief in the inherent strength and resilience of individuals when faced with adversity.

Adventure and Wilderness

London’s love for adventure and the wilderness is a recurring theme in his work. His passion for exploring the unknown and pushing the boundaries of human experience is reflected in Buck’s journey and the novel’s vivid depiction of the Alaskan wilderness.

    These inspirations combined to create a powerful narrative that captures the essence of survival, transformation, and the enduring call of the wild.

    Who are the primary characters in The Call of the Wild?

    The primary characters in The Call of the Wild include:

    1. Buck: The main protagonist, a large and powerful St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix. Buck is stolen from his comfortable home and sold into the harsh life of an Alaskan sled dog, where he gradually reverts to his primal instincts.
    2. John Thornton: A kind and compassionate prospector who rescues Buck from abusive owners and forms a deep bond with him. Thornton represents the ideal master, treating Buck with respect and love.
    3. Spitz: A fierce and ruthless lead sled dog who becomes Buck’s main rival. Their conflict represents the struggle for dominance and survival in the wild.
    4. François and Perrault: French-Canadian mail couriers who initially purchase Buck and use him as a sled dog. They are experienced and fair, treating their dogs with a balance of discipline and care.
    5. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes: Inexperienced and incompetent gold seekers who briefly own Buck. Their ineptitude and cruelty highlight the dangers of ignorance and poor leadership in the harsh wilderness.
    6. Dave: A hardworking and loyal sled dog who is dedicated to his role. Dave’s determination and sense of duty exemplify the strong work ethic of sled dogs.
    7. Sol-leks: Another experienced and skilled sled dog, known for his solitary and serious nature. He respects the hierarchy and maintains his place within the team.

    These characters play significant roles in Buck’s journey and development throughout the novel, contributing to the themes of survival, loyalty, and the call of the wild.

    What are the themes explored in the novel?

    The Call of the Wild explores several key themes:

    Survival of the Fittest

    This theme is central to the novel, highlighting the brutal realities of life in the wild. Buck learns to adapt, fight, and ultimately thrive in the harsh conditions of the Yukon, emphasizing the Darwinian concept of natural selection.

    The Power of Nature

    Nature is portrayed as a powerful and transformative force. The wilderness challenges Buck, pushing him to shed his domesticated traits and embrace his primal instincts. The novel showcases the beauty and terror of the natural world.

    Primitivism and Instinct

    Buck’s journey is one of regression from domestication to wildness. The novel explores the idea that beneath the veneer of civilization, primal instincts remain strong and can resurface when necessary.

    Loyalty and Companionship

    The relationships between Buck and his various human and animal companions illustrate themes of loyalty, trust, and deep emotional bonds. John Thornton, in particular, represents a relationship built on mutual respect and love.

    Conflict Between Civilization and Wilderness

    The novel contrasts the ordered, controlled life of civilization with the chaotic, unpredictable life of the wilderness. Buck’s transformation represents a move away from societal norms and constraints toward a more natural, instinctual existence.

    Individualism and Self-Reliance

    Buck’s transformation is also a journey toward self-reliance and individualism. He learns to trust his instincts, make his own decisions, and rely on his own strength and resilience.

    The Call of the Wild

    The titular theme refers to the irresistible lure of the wild and the natural world. For Buck, it represents a return to his true nature and ancestral roots, a powerful pull that ultimately leads him to embrace his wild heritage.

      These themes collectively explore the complexity of the human-animal connection, the impact of environment on behavior, and the enduring power of nature and instinct.

      What is the style in which the novel is written?

      The Call of the Wild is written in a style that combines elements of realism and naturalism. Here are some key characteristics of the novel’s style:

      Third-Person Omniscient Narration

      The story is told from a third-person omniscient perspective, allowing the narrator to provide insights into Buck’s thoughts and feelings as well as the actions and motivations of other characters. This perspective helps to create a comprehensive and immersive narrative.

      Realistic Descriptions

      Jack London uses detailed and vivid descriptions to create a realistic portrayal of the Alaskan wilderness and the harsh conditions faced by the characters. This realism helps to immerse readers in the setting and the struggles of the characters, making the story more compelling and believable.


      The novel incorporates elements of naturalism, emphasizing the influence of environment and heredity on individuals. Buck’s transformation is depicted as a result of the brutal natural world and his inherent instincts. Naturalism in the novel highlights the deterministic forces that shape Buck’s behavior and fate.

      Action and Adventure

      The narrative is fast-paced and filled with action, focusing on Buck’s various challenges and adventures. The plot is driven by Buck’s physical and emotional journey, with intense and dramatic scenes that capture the excitement and danger of the wilderness.

      Symbolism and Allegory

      London uses symbolism to convey deeper meanings, such as Buck’s journey representing a return to primal instincts and the conflict between civilization and nature. The wilderness itself serves as a symbol of freedom and the raw, untamed aspects of life.

      Evocative Language

      The prose is often lyrical and evocative, capturing the beauty and terror of the natural world. London’s language enhances the emotional impact of Buck’s experiences, making the reader feel connected to the character and his journey.

        London’s style in The Call of the Wild effectively conveys the novel’s themes and engages readers through its compelling narrative and rich descriptions. The combination of realism, naturalism, and evocative language creates a powerful and immersive reading experience.

        What is the significance and legacy of The Call of the Wild?

        The Call of the Wild holds significant literary and cultural importance, and its legacy can be seen in several ways:

        Literary Impact

        The novel is considered a classic of American literature and is often studied in schools for its thematic depth, narrative style, and vivid depiction of the natural world. It exemplifies the genre of adventure fiction and naturalism, showcasing Jack London’s ability to merge intense action with profound philosophical questions.

        Exploration of Human and Animal Nature

        The story’s exploration of primal instincts and the relationship between humans and animals has influenced subsequent literature and discussions about animal behavior, domestication, and the inherent wildness within all creatures. It has paved the way for more nuanced and empathetic portrayals of animals in literature.


        The novel has been adapted into numerous films, television shows, and stage productions, attesting to its enduring popularity and relevance. These adaptations have brought the story to new audiences and helped cement its place in popular culture.

        Themes of Survival and Individualism

        The themes of survival, self-reliance, and the power of nature resonate with readers across different eras. Buck’s journey from domestication to wildness speaks to the universal human experience of growth, challenge, and transformation, making the novel timeless in its appeal.

        Cultural Reflection

        The novel reflects the spirit of its time, particularly the allure of the Klondike Gold Rush and the American frontier. It captures the rugged individualism and adventurous spirit that characterized the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offering a window into the historical context of that era.

        Influence on Animal Literature

        The Call of the Wild paved the way for other works that center on animal protagonists, influencing the genre of animal literature and inspiring authors to explore the perspectives and experiences of animals in their works. Its success demonstrated that stories focusing on animals could achieve both critical and commercial success.

        Philosophical and Ethical Discussions

        The novel has inspired discussions on the ethical treatment of animals, the role of nature in human life, and the balance between civilization and wilderness. It has contributed to philosophical debates about nature versus nurture and the inherent instincts within all living beings.

          The Call of the Wild remains a powerful and influential work that continues to captivate readers and inspire discussions about nature, survival, and the intrinsic connection between humans and the wild. Its enduring legacy is a testament to Jack London’s masterful storytelling and deep understanding of the human and animal condition.

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