The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild - Body

The Call of the Wild

Sepia photo of a large dog with tan and black markings. A person's arm rests on the dog.

Readers of The Call of the Wild experience the story through Buck, the canine protagonist of the novel. Buck is based on a dog London met while adventuring in the Yukon. This real-life Buck (coincidentally named “Jack”) inspired London. London combined his real-life experiences with Jack-the-dog and his imagination to create his protagonist.

Jack London: Adventurer and Author

Black and white photo of a person in their twenties or thirties superimposed over a map of Alaska. The map has the Klondike District highlighted in redon the border of Canada and Alaska.

Jack London spent his childhood moving between city (San Francisco) and rural/ranch life. He had a lifelong restlessness, eager to travel to new places and take in the world. In 1893, he participated in the Klondike gold rush, traveling to the Yukon territory in Northwest Canada (on the border of present-day Canada and Alaska). This adventure took him through a severe arctic winter in which he slept in sub-zero temperatures, traveled by sled-dog, and had many other experiences that he later translated into his writing. London kept few notes and took no photos during his adventure to the Yukon. However, he wrote fiction stories that incorporate the Yukon as a setting.

Setting and Character Development

Buck undergoes a transformation throughout The Call of the Wild from a domesticated dog living on country estate (large home) in California to a wolf-like dog living in the Canadian wilderness. In this story, London draws on his observations of dogs and natural landscapes to explore questions of what it means to be tame versus what it means to be wild.

California

Expand image Black and white photograph of a large house with a wrapping porch. The house is surrounded by green grass and tall trees.

Bond family residence “New Park,” in Santa Clara, California, 1896-1906, photograph. Bond family photograph collection. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. photCL 219.

"During the four years since his puppyhood he had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, was ever a trifle egotistical... But he had saved himself by not becoming a mere pampered house dog. Hunting and kindred outdoor delights had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles.” (p. 16)

The Yukon

Expand image Black and white photograph of six dogs in a line pulling a sled through the snow. The snow mostly blocks the dogs from view, and only the tops of their backs and heads are visible. Three people are also in the photograph with the dogs.

"Traveling with dogs, without snow-shoes" in Photographs of Edward Schieffelin's Prospecting Trip in Alaska, Farciot, Charles O., creator, 1883. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. photCL 264.

“He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive. Because of all this he became possessed of a great pride in himself, which communicated itself like a contagion to his physical being. It advertised itself in all his movements, was apparent in the play of every muscle, spoke plainly as speech in the way he carried himself, and made his glorious furry coat if anything more glorious. But for the stray brown on his muzzle and above his eyes, and for the splash of white hair that ran midmost down his chest, he might well have been mistaken for a gigantic wolf, larger than the largest of the breed.” (p. 70)

Questions and Prompts

  • Look closely at the photograph of Jack, the dog who inspired Buck. What details do you notice about his appearance? What details did Jack London include in his story (based on the excerpts above)? What features of Buck (based on the excerpts above) differ from the dog who inspired him?

  • Identify a similarity between how Buck is described in the first excerpt and how he is described in the second excerpt. How does the natural world feature in this similarity?

  • Identify a difference between how Buck is described in the first excerpt and how he is described in the second excerpt. How does the natural world feature in this difference?

  • Look closely at the photograph of Judge Bond’s house. Write a diary entry from the perspective of Buck in this setting. What is he thinking? What does he do with his day? How does he feel about the environment he’s living in?

  • Look closely at the photograph of the Yukon. Write a diary entry from the perspective of Buck in this setting. What is he thinking? What is he feeling? What does he do with his day?

  • Do you think Buck is “closer to nature” in the Yukon than he is in California? Why or why not?

Illustrate the Story

Printed illustration of six dogs howling. The dogs are on the snow and an arc of light is at the top of the image. The text below the image reads: "With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead."

Choose 1-3 of your favorite quotes from The Call of the Wild and create an illustration for each quote. What is happening? Where is it happening?


References and Resources

“Jack London, Public Intellectual.” n.d. The Huntington. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.huntington.org/verso/2015/09/jack-london-public-intellectual.

Magazine, Smithsonian, and Richard Grant Harder Grant. n.d. “Gold Fever! Deadly Cold! And the Amazing True Adventures of Jack London in the Wild.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gold-fever-deadly-cold-and-amazing-true-adventures-jack-london-wild-180973316/.

“Our Own Dawson City.” n.d. The Huntington. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.huntington.org/verso/2018/08/our-own-dawson-city.

Walker, Franklin Dickerson. 2005. Jack London and the Klondike: The Genesis of an American Writer. San Marino: University of California press.