Updated: Aug 14, 2018
London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. New York: MacMillan, 1903
Genre: Adventure Novel of Self-discovery
Setting: Yukon Valley between Alaska and Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1899)
Author’s Purpose: A demonstration of Charles Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theory. London shows his readers that the physically strong survive and dominate in the animal world.
A gentle family dog is stolen and sold in Alaska to serve as a sled dog. The pet eventually becomes part of a wolf pack where he reverts to his primitive roots for survival.
Themes and Thesis
Civilization v. The Natural World: As the animal protagonist dog Buck breaks ties with the civilized human world, he is torn from his domesticated behavior patterns and drawn into the natural world of the wild. Buck’s acceptance into a wolf pack frees him from the cruelty and undependability of human society and thrusts him into a more reliable natural existence subject to the laws of the wild.
Survival: London introduces readers to the “law of the club and fang.” There is no fair play in the animal world. Justice and mercy do not exist. Superiority promotes survival. “The world belongs to the strong.”
London contrasts the human personality influenced by artificial principles and restraints with the natural, uncivilized existence symbolized through the concept of the wild. The author draws from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. Both humans and animals inherit primitive material from past generations, which surface in the unconscious mind when resurrected by circumstances that arise.
Method of Development
On one level, the author relates a symbolic story dealing with cruelty to animals and a natural ability to revert to primitive instincts. On another level, London creates an allegorical tale focused on human conflicts with the confines of social forces of civilization and the instinctive, amoral behavior of human nature.
The Call of the Wild remains one of my favorite works of literature. Jack London presents a fast-paced narrative told through the omniscient third-person narrator in a straightforward manner, allowing the reader to make his or her own judgments about both human and animal perspectives.
In this novel, London has achieved his goals and deserves the highest praise. The classic work educates readers about primitive existence in the wild, but more importantly, he lures them into an exploration of social Darwinism often misinterpreted in the 20th century.
I strongly recommend this brief novel for all readers.