Questions for Study with Ideas for Answers
Q: What is the main theme of The Call of the Wild?
Ideas: The main theme is that only the strongest and fittest can survive. This thought is based on Darwin's theory which states that "the survival or extinction of each organism is determined by that organism's ability to adapt to its environment".
Buck, snatched away from civilization, learns to survive in the hostile environment of the North. From being a domestic pet and living a calm and leisurely life, he becomes an object of Wonder and admiration in the wilderness. He responds to his new environment, and is able to overcome all odds. He survives cruelty and servitude and transforms from being a follower into a leader. He realizes that the law of the land is "kill or be killed". He becomes fully liberated and realizes his inner most yearnings which is to follow his "call" into the wilderness.
Q: Describe the Gold Rush of the 1890's in the Yukon Territory.
Ideas: The Gold Rush in the Yukon Territory began in July of 1897 when some returned from that region with bags of gold. Soon people from everywhere came to the region hoping to get rich. Most were unprepared to cope with what was in store for them in this harsh environment and succumbed in their attempts.
The easiest and more expensive route to the gold fields was by boat upstream from the mouth of the Yukon in western Alaska. The most difficult route was the "All Canadian Route" from Edmonton and overland through the wilderness. The Chilkoot or White Passes consisted of steep and hazardous trails.
Most of the people who attempted this journey did not make it. Those who managed to reach Dawson City found that most of the gold-bearing creeks had already been claimed.
The work that was necessary to retrieve the gold was incredible. Most of the gold was not at the surface, but rather 10 or more feet below. To reach it, the miners had to dig through the permafrost - the layer of permanently frozen ground. The ground had to be thawed before it could be dug. Then the dirt had to be sluiced to separate it from the gold. All digging had to be done during the summer as it was impossible to dig in the winter when temperatures could reach -60°F. It was incredibly difficult work.
Q: What is the Call of the Wild?
Ideas: Buck experiences a transition when he is forced to live in a wild, uncivilized world. He goes through a number of different stages before becoming the fabled phantom of the valley. He changes from being a lazy dog at Judge Miller's estate into one who follows his ancestral instincts and seeks a simple life in the wilderness.
The 'Call of the Wild,' is Buck's own call within himself to move from a reliance on man for happiness to the will to allow his animal instinct to take over and run free.
Q: Some critics call this novel "Escapist Literature". Explain.
Ideas: Roderick Nash's The Call of the Wild: 1900-1916 argued that the novel succeeded as a work of escapist literature that appealed to over-civilized, confused Americans who wished to return to Buck's simple, vigorous, unrestrained life in the North. Jack London looked on industrialization and the wealth that it brought to some as a debilitating and constricting development within society. He was a firm believer that only by living in harmony with Nature one can find happiness and goodness. It is this sentiment that prompts him to end Thornton's life. As long as Thornton lived a simple life and was in tune with nature, everything was fine for him. It was only after he accumulates gold that he is massacred by the Indians.
Q: What do Buck's traces symbolize?
Ideas: Buck's traces represent his changed social status. In the beginning of the novel, he is the "monarch" on Judge Miller's estate and he is attended by humans. When he is in the North, his life changes dramatically and he is reduced to a level of servitude. The roles are reversed and Buck is expected to adhere to every command that is given by humans. It is his job to pull the sled for humans and to obey them. As he becomes more adjusted to his new environment, he begins understand the rules of survival in the wilderness and regain some control over his life. He regains his ultimate freedom when Thornton cuts him free and he no longer has to serve humans.