Call of the Wild Chapter 1 - Into the Primitive
Buck is a kind-hearted dog who lives with Judge Miller and his children at their home, located in northern California's Santa Clara Valley. His life is carefree, rolling around in the sunny lawn that stretched endlessly around the large house, connected to the main road by large driveways. The house is always buzzing with activity from servants, gardeners, guests, and stable hands who tended to the horses that also inhabited the property; these people had cottages on the property as well, and further out there stretch long lines of orchards, pastures for grazing the animals, and areas filled with long snaky grapevine and low-lying berry patches. One part of the space has a small reservoir used for drinking water, and it is here that the Judge's children play during hot summer days.
Other dogs live there with four year-old Buck, but he is the Judge's favorite out of them all; for these other dogs either stay indoors, or they are kept outdoors in the kennel. Buck, however, is able to wander everywhere on the property unhindered and unbothered by anyone else. He has free reign. Buck's time at the Judge's house is spent playing and not having to worry about anything. He knows neither anger nor hunger nor pain. He plays often with the younger members of the Judge's family, carrying his grandchildren upon his back and walking beside the Judge's daughters when they would walk across the spacious property, reflecting in the peace that it inspires. Buck's father, a St. Bernard, was best friends with the Judge, so naturally after the father dies Buck is given the royal treatment. His mother was a Scotch shepherd dog. Buck is called a "sated aristocrat" because of the privileges he gets from the Judge.
However, in spite of this appearance of complete happiness, trouble is brewing on the horizon "because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost" Chapter 1, pg. 1. The Klondike Gold Rush has begun far away to the north in Alaska, and this will soon threaten Buck even though he is thousands of miles away. The miners traveling northward need sled dogs to explore the snowy reaches of the Klondike, since it is too difficult to travel through these areas on foot, and a horse's hooves would push right through that deep snow.
For the time being, Buck lives without any worries, enjoying his freedom. He is innocent just like the very children who are his best friends, wishing only to have fun and play. Buck has a lot of changes ahead of him, suggested by the short poem "Old longings nomadic lap,/Chafing at custom's chain;/Again from its brumal sleep/Wakens the ferine strain" Chapter 1, pg. 1. Buck's primal roots nevertheless yearn to wander and be nomadic again, even though he may not realize this at all yet; this desire to be wild and away from man will make him "chafe at custom's chain." Although Buck is content with his life at the Judge's house, he isn't really allowed to be himself at all. Instead, he often acts like one of the children more than he behaves like a dog, playfully dancing around and looking for attention from other people.
The wildness within Buck is first awakened when he experiences pain for the very first time in his life. One evening in the fall of the year 1897, the Judge's gardener, Manuel, leads Buck off of the Judge's property all the way to a nearby train station. The Judge and his children are either not home or they were occupied by other things, so they don't notice this wretched dognapper. Manuel has a lot of gambling debt and decides to unjustly sell Buck , meeting a man at the train station and handing him Buck's leash in return for some money. Buck is confused at what is going on, but upon being delivered into the hands of this strange man he releases an involuntary growl. The man responds by squeezing the rope tightly around his neck, closing his breathing passages and muffling his growl into a choking yelp. The rope is pulled tighter around his neck, and he is thrown by Manuel and the other man into the baggage car of the train that has just arrived at the station. Like an innocent child, Buck does not know how to react to this pain and abuse he has just experienced, stunned that he has been treated in such a way after living for so many years unmolested in the Judge's kind company.
The train begins to move, and soon after Buck begins to grow restless again, thrashing around in the baggage car and lashing out again to bite this man who has tied him up, slashing his hand open widely before he can again squeeze the rope tighter on his neck so that he won't be able to breathe. A baggage handler hears the noise, asking what is going on, and the man hides his bleeding hand. He makes up a fake story that he is going to San Francisco to see a special doctor who can cure Buck's vicious behavior, pretending that he and Buck are the best of friends. Later, as the train arrives in this city, Buck is brought to a small shed behind a saloon, where the man complains to a conniving saloonkeeper about the price he is getting to sell Buck, fifty dollars, commenting that he had in fact paid one hundred dollars originally to buy Buck from Manuel. The saloonkeeper comforts him, and asks for assistance in tossing Buck into a closed wooden crate, removing the dog's collar. Buck puts up some resistance but is little match for the two men, who succeed in locking him into the crate. He is now the saloonkeeper's property, for the other man has sold him away again, angry at having been bitten by the enraged creature.
Buck wonders what he has done to deserve this treatment, pondering where Judge Miller is, and why these men have stuck him into a wooden crate. He wonders what he did to deserve this sort of cruel treatment. The next day there were more men who came to see him now, "More tormentors, Buck decided, for they were evil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged at them through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he promptly assailed with his teeth till he realized that that was what they wanted" Chapter 1, pg. 8. These people are not kind like the Judge or the children whom he had played with only a short while before. Buck had never been tormented or mistreated before, so this is a very confusing experience for him to endure, as these men poke him with sticks because they enjoy watching Buck grow angry and upset. Soon after this Buck is carried in the crate for many, many miles, by a horse-drawn wagon, then on a ferry, then finally by train again. He does not eat or drink anything for two days. He feels more and more sickly as time goes on, weakened from malnutrition. Finally, the journey in the crate ends when his train arrives in Seattle.
Buck is a sweaty, bloodshot mess of a creature when his crate is removed from the train and a man begins to chop the crate open with a hatchet, although Buck snarls furiously, clawing and biting at each hole the man makes into the crate. Although everyone else runs away from the area around the crate upon hearing this commotion, the man is unimpressed and continues to chop away. Finally, when a hole large enough is made for Buck to climb out, this man in the red sweater prepares to defend himself with a thick club. Buck emerges and violently lunges out at the man, releasing all of his pent-up fury and anger, although the man stops him short by smashing his head with the club, stunning the dog. Buck is confused because, again, he had never been hit before by a club; again and again he tried to attack the man, but he is deflected each time by the club. Finally, Buck begins to give up, bleeding from his entire face, staggering around, and yet the man moves in closer and smashes him again on the nose, just to teach Buck a lesson, but Buck leaps up again in rage, but the man smashes him this time in the jaw. Buck rises again, attacking a final time before the man smashes him in his genitals with the club, knocking the wind out of him.
The man in the red sweater reads aloud a letter the saloonkeeper had sent with Buck, stating that his name is "Buck." The man says to Buck that he had better not cause any more trouble, or else he'll hit him again, petting him gently on the head now that the dog has been beaten senseless. He then brings food and water, knowing how hungry he must be, and Buck eats the meat right out of that same hand that has just made him feel such great pain. As he eats, Buck reflects about what has happened, "He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his afterlife he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law...The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused" Chapter 1, pg. 13. Buck is moving further away from his innocent, naive, carefree life that he lived while at Judge Miller's house, and now he is instead becoming much more distrusting, much more guarded, and much more vicious like the very dog that he is. Buck does not trust this man with the club, but he does at least respect him because of the superior power that the man holds over him.
The place that Buck is in was a market of sorts, where many other dogs were brought in crates, and they too undergo the same brutal beating by the man in the red sweater that he had himself endured. These dogs are led away, and people come to bargain with the man in the red sweater about prices for purchasing the dogs. Many of these dogs are sold there, and Buck is left alone for awhile until at last it is his turn to be purchased, after being noticed by a French Canadian man named Perrault, who agrees to pay three hundred dollars for Buck. Perrault notices that there is something special about Buck, stating that he is "one in the thousand," purchasing another dog named Curly and then he boards a boat named the Narwhal, sailing northward across Queen Charlotte Sound from Seattle to get to Alaska. On the boat Perrault's friend Francois takes Buck and Curly below the deck. There, Buck learns to respect Perrault and Francois because they at least treat him fairly, and they don't abuse him for no reason. One day on the boat Buck notices an example of this, when another dog named Spitz tries to steal his food. Francois lashes out against the thief with his whip, punishing Spitz for his selfishness. Buck thus sees some justice on that day.
There is also another quiet dog named Dave who accompanies them as well, but Dave just really wants to stay by himself and not be bothered by anyone. The boat continues to travel with these four dogs and their two French Canadian masters, arriving at last in Alaska. The dogs are leashed up by Francois, and he walks them down the ramp. Buck pauses at the bottom, stunned to be walking for the first time on cold, white snow. There have been a lot of changes ahead for Buck in where he is located, and who his company is. Now there are no children to play with, and he will soon be put to work with these other dogs. Buck is learning a lot about himself, even though these experiences are evoking violent emotions within him and are stealing away much of his playfulness. Instead, Buck is now finally starting to grow and to become reconnected to his primal, wild canine roots.