London’s excellently written novel depicts the transformation of the dog Buck from a domestic dog into one who feels the call of the wild and eventually follows it back to a more primitive yet also more attuned state of wildness. London does a great job of showing how and why wildness is such a strong pull for Buck. Buck works for various masters, pulling sled teams across Alaska and coming to dominate his fellow dogs through a series of rivalries and devotion to the work.
However, at some points in the novel I found myself disagreeing with London’s portrayal and glamorization of wildness. When Buck learns to steal food from one of his masters, London describes his theft as a “capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions” and marking “the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence.” I found this view a little extreme, as one does not have to give up morality, one should stay upright even if ones does ultimately have to survive.
Nevertheless, London makes wildness fascinating, portraying Buck with his last master as “a thing of the wild, come in from the wild…rather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped with the marks of generations of civilization.” By the end of the novel, Buck goes out on his own, leaving his master’s camp to hunt moose across the forests and communing with wild wolves. When he returns, he finds Indians have killed his master and his team, so Buck savagely kills the Indians. He ends up calling the wolves his brothers and going off to live with them. The legend of Buck stays with the Indians, they “are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning greater than they, stealing from their camps in fierce winters, robbing their traps, slaying their dogs, and defying their bravest hunters.” Ultimately, the novel tells a captivating adventure story of a dog’s life working and living in Alaska, close to his primitive roots, even if London makes the supposedly timeless law of “kill or be killed” somewhat overdone and unrealistic.