Call of the Wild Notes

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Call of the Wild Notes & Analysis

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Call of the Wild Plot Summary

Buck's father was the beloved St. Bernard that belonged to Judge Miller in the pastoral hills of the Santa Clara Valley in California, and his mother was a great German Shepherd. Judge Miller owns a huge mansion complex with other dogs, horses, stables, vineyards. Buck loves this calm existence, carrying the Judge's grandchildren on his back and serving as the Judge's faithful companion, as his father had been before him. However, one summer day in 1897, the Judge's gardener unjustly sells him for a meager price, and from there the brave dog begins a long journey ending in Dyea, Alaska. Buck is sold away to a Canadian pair named Perrault and Francois in need of sled dogs. Arriving on the mainland, Buck encounters many obstacles in this cold, icy place quite unlike where he grew up. Among these obstacles is the cruelty of many humans, other vicious dogs, and the cold weather itself. With these two Canadians, Buck forges a relationship of respect, pulling them from the Yukon Territory where the Klondike Gold Rush is raging, to Alaska, since Perrault is a special messenger for the Canadian government.

After Buck sees his dog friend Curly torn to pieces by the other sled dogs, he learns that life now is a basic matter of day to day survival. As Buck becomes wiser as a sled dog, he plots his revenge against another bully dog named Spitz, eventually killing him in battle. Perrault makes Buck the new sled team leader, until the Canadians receive new orders, leaving this sled team behind. The dogs are instead put to work at Dawson City hauling mail from the miners. This is much harder work, and Buck quickly grows tired of it, as do the other dogs, since they do not get any rest at all. Finally arriving in Skaguay, Alaska after traveling for thousands of miles without any rest at all, Buck's sled team comes under new ownership yet again, this time to three inexperienced American pioneers named Charles, Hal, and a woman, Mercedes.

These people know nothing about traveling through the Northland, and they badly mistreat Buck. Fortunately, Buck is saved by John Thornton after a terrible beating from Hal because he says that he is too tired to pull the sled any more. In reality, he felt a sense of "impending doom," and simply refused to lead his team to danger. He knew that the ice was weak and that they would be traveling over a river.

Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and the surviving dogs in the sled team all drown as the trail beneath them collapses suddenly. Thornton then gives Buck exactly what he has been yearning for: a long rest. Nursed back to health, Buck grows strong again as spring arrives, filled with love for this man who saved his life. He goes on many travels with John, saves him from drowning in a wild river, and eventually wins him a large sum of money. Thornton invests this award in an expedition to the north to discover a secret gold mine. Buck happily accompanies him, excited to be exploring a new frontier, and this journey ends when John Thornton locates a stream where the gold glistens "like yellow butter."

At this point, Buck becomes very restless. Thornton and his partners are busy mining the gold, so Buck ventures out to explore the forest himself, following an inner voice within him that is the "call of the wild," encouraging him to hunt prey just like his wolfish ancestors. Yet his love for John Thornton is stronger than the call of the wild, pulling him away from the forest periodically, as on one occasion when he befriends a wild wolf, running with him through the trees, and as he runs back to Thornton's camp, the wolf howls mournfully for him to stay. More time passes, and Buck decides to hunt the largest moose in a passing herd, spending days on this expedition, waiting patiently for the proper moments to attack, until finally the monstrous beast is pulled down. Buck stays for awhile, munching the carcass and resting, before he returns to the camp as he had done so many times before. This time, however, everyone in the camp, including John Thornton, has been murdered by the Yeehats. Flying into a rage, Buck ravages these men, tearing their throats and roaring with madness.

Buck wonders what to do next now that John is dead, while nevertheless gloating over the fact that he has killed men. A nearby wolf howl captures his ears, and he follows the sound to an approaching wolf pack, battling several of these creatures to prove his worth, and is accepted as one of their own. He is reunited with his old wolf friend and runs into the forest, wild once more after generations of oppression at man's hands. Buck becomes a legend, murdering hunters and Yeehats in the forest, referred to as the "Evil Spirit" and the "Ghost Dog," spawning a new breed of wolf. Overall, The Call of the Wild conjures up a lost world, filled with people and place names that were so common at the turn of the twentieth century, but which have since faded away into history, lost and forgotten. It is by reading Buck's story that one can once more remember life as it was, digging up this hidden wealth from deep caves of time.

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