Book Review: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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Meet Buck, an extraordinary dog with a unique mix of St. Bernard and Shepard in his bloodline. He was born into a life of comfort, growing up in a sheltered home in California. However, his world takes a dramatic turn when he is kidnapped and sold as a sled dog in the brutal and icy terrain of the Yukon Territory. Forced to adapt to a new life and endure numerous owners, Buck embarks on a remarkable journey that showcases his indomitable spirit.

“The Call of the Wild,” originally published in 1903, is considered Jack London’s crowning achievement. Drawing from his own firsthand experiences as a gold prospector in the unforgiving Canadian wilderness, London weaves a captivating tale set in the frozen Alaskan Klondike. It is a story of resilience and survival that resonates deeply.

If you’re still unsure about whether to give this book a chance, this review aims to provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision. So, without further delay, let’s delve into the details.

Plot Summary

Chapter 1 

When the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush begins in the Canadian northwest, Buck, a large and friendly four-year-old half-Shepherd, half-St. Bernard dog, lives a carefree life as “king” of the dogs on the gracious estate of Judge Miller in the “sun-kissed” Santa Clara Valley of California, near San Francisco.

He has free run of the house, and often goes hunting and swimming with the judge’s sons, walks with his daughters, plays with the judge’s grandsons, and sits by the fire with the judge. It is a blissful, happy existence for Buck.

However, one of the judge’s assistant gardeners, the “undesirable” Manuel, has gambling debts, and since large dogs like Buck are in demand as sled dogs in the Klondike, Manuel steals Buck one night and sells him to two kidnappers, who put him in the baggage car of a train at the College Park station. It is the first time Buck has had a rope around his neck, and when he springs angrily at one of the kidnappers, the man tightens the rope and chokes Buck unconscious.

After regaining consciousness, Buck hears the train’s whistle and senses that he is being taken away from his home. He bites his captors, and is once again choked. In San Francisco, Buck is removed from the train and carried to a saloon, where some men file off his brass collar and fling him into a large crate.

Angry and hurt, Buck feels “oppressed by the vague sense of impending calamity.” In the morning, when four men torment him with sticks, Buck growls fiercely, but then lies down sullenly when he sees that they enjoy taunting him.

After his crate is transferred to the express car of a train, he spends the next two days and nights in the train, without food or water. When the train arrives in Seattle, a man in a red sweater calls Buck a “red-eyed devil” and clubs him after the 140-pound Buck savagely leaps at him. In the vicious battle that ensues, Buck is clubbed more than a dozen times and is finally knocked “utterly senseless.” 

Though he is not “broken,” Buck knows that he has been beaten and realizes that he is no match for a human with a club. He has learned the important law of the club—”that a man with a club is a law-giver, a master to be obeyed.”

Buck is soon sold for $300 to two French Canadians—the swarthy Perrault and his companion, François—who are mail couriers for the Canadian government and whom Buck quickly perceives to be “fair men, calm and impartial in administering justice.” Buck and Curly, a good-natured female Newfoundland dog, are loaded onto the ship Narwhal and are sent to Alaska. 

On the way, Buck becomes acquainted with Spitz, a large, vicious, deceitful snow-white dog from Spitzbergen who steals Buck’s food at the first meal, and Dave, a sad, gloomy dog who wants only to be left alone. Many days later, when the journey ends at Dyea beach (Alaska), Buck is led off the ship into his first snow. By this time, Buck has been traveling for about three weeks.

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Chapter 2 

The weather is cold, and Buck is shocked by his new surroundings, having been “suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial [i.e., primitive].” It is imperative to remain alert at all times, since the dogs and men are all savages, as Buck learns when he has his first experience with the “law of fang” (“kill or be killed”): He sees Curly try to befriend a large husky, and the husky suddenly leaps at her, ripping her face open. 

While the two dogs fight, 30 or 40 huskies form a wolflike circle around them, intent and silent; when Curly falls to the ground, the other dogs close in for the kill. As Buck watches, he realizes that the rules of fair play do not exist in this environment; only the “law of fang” prevails. 

Resolving never to be pulled down by the other dogs, Buck quickly learns how to work in traces (harnesses) to pull a sled. François and Perrault are impressed that he learns his job so quickly. Perrault then adds three more dogs to the pack led by Spitz—the vicious Joe; his sweet-tempered brother, Billee; and Sol-leks (“the Angry One”), who has only one good eye. 

When Buck approaches Sol-leks on his blind side, Sol-leks rips Buck’s shoulder to the bone; from this moment on, Buck avoids Sol-leks’s blind side and learns the lesson not to disturb a dog who shows a desire to be left alone.

For the first time in his life, Buck is faced with the problem of sleeping outdoors. At nightfall, he enters the Frenchmen’s tent, but is chased back outside. When he looks for his teammates, he cannot find them. Suddenly the snow gives way beneath him and he finds himself on top of Billee. 

He then realizes that the other dogs have dug holes in the snow and are sleeping warmly and snugly.

When the two men and their nine dogs set out the next day for Dawson City, Buck learns more about surviving in the Northland: He discovers the need to eat his food quickly so that the other dogs won’t steal it, and he even begins to steal food from the Frenchmen when they are not watching. 

This is a sign that Buck is able to survive in the hostile Northland. He eats whatever is available, his muscles become ironlike, and his sight, smell, and hearing become keener. On the dog team, Buck is placed between the more experienced Dave and Sol-leks, who teach him how to pull the sled. Buck’s mortal enemy, Spitz, is the team leader. 

Buck learns his role quickly; already he has begun to revert to the instincts of his undomesticated ancestors (“the ancient song surged through him”). The first day, they travel 40 miles, but in the days that follow, the dogs make poorer time, due to the icy conditions.

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Chapter 3 

The primitive beast grows stronger in Buck as travel conditions grow more fierce. He and Spitz are bitter enemies, and when Spitz steals Buck’s sleeping spot, Buck is ready to fight him; but François stops them. When a pack of 80 to 100 starved wild huskies attacks, carrying off much of the team’s food, Buck fights the huskies and finds that he enjoys the taste of warm blood. 

Spitz, always ready for a fight, bites Buck’s throat and tries to knock him down while the huskies are nearby, but Buck is too strong for him.

They are still 400 miles away from Dawson, and for the next six days they must cover the treacherous terrain along the Thirty Mile River. Several times the ice breaks underneath them. They continue on the trail, with Buck wearing the special dog shoes made of leather that François has strapped to his not-yet-hard feet.

One morning, Dolly—one of the dogs—suddenly goes mad and attacks Buck, who is saved when François chops off Dolly’s head with an ax. Again, Spitz springs at Buck, but is severely whipped by François. 

Seven days after they arrive in the booming frontier town of Dawson, they set out once again for Skagway, via the Yukon Trail. On the way back to Skagway, the long-awaited confrontation between Buck and Spitz takes place. 

Buck leads a pack of dogs in pursuit of a snow-white rabbit, but Spitz cuts in ahead of him and kills it. Buck springs at Spitz and the two engage in a struggle to the death. Spitz, an experienced fighter, hurts Buck seriously, but Buck’s imagination saves him: as the other dogs form a wolflike circle around them, Buck bites Spitz’s forelegs, crunching the bones so that Spitz cannot get up; Buck then leaves the other dogs to finish Spitz off.

Chapter 4 

With Spitz dead, Buck takes over as leader of the team. He forces the other dogs to work hard, and François and Perrault are able to get back to Skagway in record time—714 days, with an average of 40 miles a day. There, the Frenchmen are given orders for other duty, and Buck’s team is taken over by a Scotch half-breed, who is in charge of the Salt Water Mail train (i.e., a group of dogs that deliver news to the gold diggers in the Yukon). 

The load is heavy as they set out once again for Dawson, but Buck copes well. At night, he lies near the campfire and dreams of Judge Miller’s house, and also of the man in the red sweater, the death of Curly, the fight with Spitz, and of a primitive hairy man afraid of the darkness and alert to the sounds of wild beasts. 

The dogs need rest when they get to Dawson, but two days later they are forced to set out again for Skagway. The weather is bad, and the dogs make poor time because of their fatigue, having traveled 1,800 miles since the beginning of winter. The Scotch half-breed mercifully shoots Dave after noticing that the dog is in terrible pain and can no longer move.

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Chapter 5 

Thirty days after leaving Dawson, the team arrives exhausted in Skagway. The dogs hope for a long, well-deserved rest, but three days later they are deemed to be of no further use to the government, and are sold to a man named Charles; his wife, Mercedes; and her brother, Hal—novice adventurers from the United States who know nothing about the Northland or about managing a dog team. 

They overload the sled with unnecessary supplies and beat the exhausted dogs when they are unable to pull the load. Friendly people from Skagway tell them that since it is spring, they do not need the heavy tent and clothes rack; but the novices pay no attention. 

To compound the problem, they give the dogs too much food at the beginning of the journey, and by the middle of the long, harsh trip, there is no food left.

One day, the weary party happens upon the camp of John Thornton at the mouth of the White River. Most of the dogs have died of exhaustion or hunger, and Thornton, an animal lover who understands the ways of the North, quickly realizes that the novices are incompetent. 

He knows that the spring thaw has softened the ice on the river, and that it is dangerous to walk on it. He therefore discourages the group from traveling further. But Hal will not listen. He gets most of the exhausted dogs to stand up by whipping them, and when Buck refuses to move, Hal beats him nearly to death. 

Thornton, enraged by this cruelty, knocks Hal down in a scuffle and says he will kill him if Hal beats Buck anymore. Thornton then takes his knife and cuts Buck loose from the team. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes—determined to move on to Dawson—set out with the remaining dogs. As Thornton had predicted, the ice gives way and all of them— dogs and humans—plunge to their death in the icy waters.

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Chapter 6 

In December, John Thornton’s feet had become frostbitten, but they are now almost healed. His logging partners, Hans and Pete, had made sure that he was comfortable before leaving him temporarily to go upriver with a raft of logs for Dawson. 

Thanks to Thornton’s love, Buck is now restored to health and has made friends with Thornton’s other dogs, Nig and Skeet. Each day, he grows more attached to Thornton, and in the summer, after Hans and Pete have returned, Thornton orders Buck to jump over a cliff to show his partners the extent of Buck’s love for him. When Buck prepares to make the jump, Thornton must restrain him to keep him from following the command.

In the late summer, Thornton is in a bar in Circle City and tries to break up a fight between the evil-tempered “Black” Burton and a newcomer to the region. Buck, who is lying in the corner and sees Burton knock Thornton over, pounces at Burton and maims him nearly to death. A few weeks later, Buck saves Thornton from drowning in dangerous river rapids.

Despite his love for Thornton, Buck continues to hear the sounds of the wild in the forest. He ventures farther and farther into the woods, returning to the camp only when he thinks of John Thornton. 

The following winter, Buck wins $1,600 for Thornton after one of the men at the Eldorado Saloon argues that Buck is not strong enough to pull a sled weighed down with 1,000 pounds of flour. Inspired by his desire to do something great for Thornton, Buck succeeds in pulling the  sled.

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Chapter 7 

Thornton, Pete, and Hans use the money to pay off their debts and to outfit themselves for their journey east in search of a fabled lost gold mine. Of the many men who have looked for this mine, few have found it—and even fewer have returned alive (“it was steeped in tragedy and shrouded in mystery”).

After a year of travel, Thornton and his partners locate an untapped gold mine and set up camp. Each day they work, they mine thousands of dollars’ worth of gold. During this time, Buck makes his own trips into the wilderness and stays there for hours at a time. 

In the evening, he lies by the fire and dreams of the hairy caveman. One night, hearing a mysterious sound in the wilderness, he dashes into the forest and finds a timber wolf howling at the moon. Buck makes friends with the wolf, and all night they run through the forest together. 

But the memory of Thornton stops Buck from joining the wolf pack. He returns to the camp, where he spends two more days. The lure of the wild, however, is strong, and Buck begins to go back to the wilderness for several days at a time. Despite his bond with Thornton, he becomes a “blood-longing” creature when he ventures into the wild, spending as many as four days stalking and killing a bull moose.

One day, sensing a calamity, Buck rushes back to the camp from the forest. There he finds everyone dead—Hans, Pete, John Thornton, and even Nig and Skeet—the murder victims of Yeehat Indians. Enraged, Buck attacks the Indians before they can escape. He kills several, but others flee, claiming to have seen the “Evil Spirit.” 

Buck feels great sadness about Thornton, but is proud to have killed humans for the first time. It is a sign that “the claims of man no longer bound him.” When Buck hears the cry of the wolf pack in the distance, he tries to join them. But several of them attack Buck, and he has no choice but to kill them. 

The entire wolf pack then attack Buck, but he holds his ground and they withdraw. Buck then recognizes the timber wolf who had run through the forest with him earlier. The wolf is friendly with him, and when an old, battle-scarred wolf sees this, he sits down near Buck and howls at the moon. The others quickly follow suit, and accept Buck as one of their own. When the pack begin to run, Buck runs with them.

Within a few years, the Yeehats notice a change in the appearance of the timber wolves. They now resemble the remarkable “Ghost Dog” (Buck) who runs at the head of the pack, braver than the rest. 

The Indians fear this Ghost Dog, since he has more cunning than they. Buck steals from their camps, robs their traps, slays their dogs, and defies their bravest hunters. Their fear is so great that they never enter the valley where John Thornton was murdered and where Buck returns alone each summer to howl mournfully. 

At all other times, Buck runs at the head of the pack, singing the song of a younger world—”the song of the pack.”

Key Characters

Buck: Large, friendly, proud dog who, at the beginning of the novel, lives happily on a ranch in northern California, but who is kidnapped, taken to Alaska, and forced to adapt to the wild. At the novel’s beginning, he is highly domesticated and has a strong moral sense, but after learning the “laws of club and fang,” he sheds his domesticated habits and reverts to his primitive instincts. Becomes the leader of a dog team, then of a wolf pack. Though Buck is not human, he embodies the human emotions of love, fear, anger, and loyalty, and exemplifies London’s idea that survival depends on cooperation among members of a social group.

Charles, Hal, and Mercedes: Buck’s third set of owners in the North. Incompetent, selfish adventurers who abuse dogs.

Curly: Good-natured Newfoundland dog; one of Buck’s first friends after his kidnapping. Killed while trying to befriend another dog. Her death teaches Buck the “law of the fang”—that is, kill or be killed.

Man in Red Sweater: Unnamed man in Seattle who teaches Buck the “law of the club” (i.e., that it is useless for an animal to fight against a man with a club). Buck’s first real enemy.

Perrault and François: Buck’s first owners in the North. French Canadians who deliver official messages for the Canadian government. Good masters; treat dogs fairly.

Scotch Half-Breed: Buck’s second master in the North. Delivers mail. Competent, well-meaning; but he overworks the dogs.

Spitz: Large white dog from Spitzbergen; leader of the team. Experienced, sly, deceitful. Buck’s deadliest enemy. By his vicious example, he teaches Buck the “law of the fang.” Buck kills him.

John Thornton: Kindly miner who saves Buck’s life and nurses him back to health. Loves and understands dogs; Buck loves him in return. Thornton is Buck’s last tie with civilization.

Themes and Ideas

1. Society vs. the Wild

Buck is taken from the sheltered world of the warm “Southland” and placed in the hostile world of the cold Northland, where he has many masters who represent a variety of “civilized” virtues and vices. The more Buck moves away from civilization, the more he feels pulled to the natural world and to abandon the domesticated habits learned from human society.

Buck has difficulty choosing between Thornton (society) and the wolves (the wild), but in the end, the wild claims him, since his last tie to humans is broken by Thornton’s murder. He has learned that the laws of nature (fang) are more reliable than those of civilization, where interaction with humans has so often resulted in cruelty, loss of love, and disappointment.

2. Survival

The author refers to the law of survival as the “law of the club and fang.” Buck quickly learns survival techniques. He sees that he must not provoke humans into clubbing him, and that there is no such thing as fair play, mercy, or justice among animals in the wild.

His mental sharpness, keen senses, and strong body make him superior to other dogs and more able to survive. Buck learns that his sense of fair play is an impediment to survival in the wild. His moral sense, therefore, gives way to his natural instincts as he learns to kill and steal in order to survive.

3. Buck as “Superman”

The author had enthusiastically read the works of the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), who wrote about the “superior,” dominating humans whom he called “Supermen” — those humans who were the successful end product of the struggle for survival. (See, for example, his novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883–92.) Buck is such a “Superman” in dog form — proud, strong, self-reliant, victorious.

His experiences lead him from the domesticated state of civilization, through the natural world of dogs and wolves, to the legendary status of “Ghost Dog,” feared and respected by humans and animals alike: even though his body will die, he will live on in legend.

London once wrote, “Nietzsche was right… The world belongs to the strong.” The notion of Superman reinforced London’s racist belief in the superiority of the white Anglo-Saxon race over all others.

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1. The Wild

Symbolizes a natural, uncivilized existence; but for London, it also represents the deep, unconscious aspects of the human personality, stripped of society’s artificialities and restraints.

2. Buck’s Dreams of the Hairy Caveman

Represent a deep-seated memory of the primitive state that exists in all humans and animals. Psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) used the term collective unconscious to describe this inherited material from past generations that is present in an individual’s unconscious mind.


1. A Beautiful Story of Transformation

The story revolves around Buck, a unique dog with a St. Bernard and sheepdog lineage. From the very beginning, Buck proves himself to be an extraordinary character. Despite enduring harsh treatment from humans, his resilience and determination shine through.

London’s vivid descriptions paint a picture of Buck’s remarkable journey as he fights his way to survival and ultimately finds a place in the wild. This tale of transformation reminds us of the indomitable spirit that exists within all of us, whether human or animal.

2. A Compact and Engaging Read

One of the aspects I loved about this book is its brevity. It is a slim volume that can be easily devoured in a single sitting, making it an ideal choice for those with limited time. Despite its concise length, “The Call of the Wild” manages to pack a powerful punch.

London’s skillful storytelling keeps readers engaged from start to finish. Whether you’re reading it for leisure or as part of a school assignment, you’ll find yourself immersed in Buck’s world and unable to put the book down.

3. Exploration of the Human-Animal Bond

“The Call of the Wild” delves into the profound connection between humans and animals, showcasing the various ways in which this bond can shape and influence our lives. Through Buck’s encounters with different masters and the challenges he faces, we witness both the cruelty and kindness that can be bestowed upon animals.

As an animal lover, this aspect of the book was both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. It serves as a reminder of the responsibility we have towards our furry companions and the impact we can have on their lives.


1. Archaic Language and Descriptions

One aspect that stood out to me while reading “The Call of the Wild” was the archaic language and descriptions used by the author. As a turn-of-the-century novel, it is understandable that the writing style reflects the time in which it was written.

However, at times, the language felt overly flowery and verbose, making it difficult to fully engage with the story. The excessive descriptions and repetitive passages led to moments of boredom and monotony, causing me to skim through certain paragraphs in search of more engaging content.

2. Lack of Exploration of Indigenous People

While the book offers a fascinating perspective on the Klondike Gold Rush and the wilderness of Canada, I felt that there was a missed opportunity to explore the lives and social structures of the indigenous people of Northern Canada.

The introduction of the bloodthirsty Indian people in the final chapter intrigued me, but it left me wanting more. I would have appreciated a deeper dive into their culture and a more nuanced portrayal. This omission left a void in the narrative, and it felt like a missed chance to provide a broader perspective on the historical context of the story.

3. Romanticized Portrayal of the Wild

“The Call of the Wild” presents a romanticized view of the wild and the alignment with a wolf pack. While this may have appealed to audiences in the past, today’s readers may find it too idealistic or even unrealistic. The portrayal of the dog’s transformation and leadership in the wild can come across as overly sentimental and lacking depth.

For more cynical or modern readers, this romanticized depiction may not resonate as strongly. I personally found myself yearning for a more nuanced exploration of the dog’s connection with the indigenous people or a deeper examination of the complexities of survival in the wild.


“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London is a complex and thought-provoking read. It explores a multitude of themes, from man’s relationship with nature to the importance of staying true to oneself. Buck’s journey, filled with pain, strength, and self-discovery, serves as a metaphor for the human experience.

While the exact intention behind London’s writing may remain elusive, the book raises questions about identity, resilience, and the dangers of losing touch with our true selves. It urges readers to reflect on the impact of society and external influences on our lives and to embrace our natural instincts.

The prose, though a classic, is surprisingly accessible and suitable for readers of various ages. However, it’s worth noting that the book contains instances of animal cruelty and violence, which may be distressing for some readers.

“The Call of the Wild” is the kind of book that lingers in your mind and sparks meaningful discussions. It would make an excellent choice for a book club, offering ample material for exploration and debate. Ultimately, this classic novel leaves readers with more questions than answers, leaving room for personal interpretation and reflection.

About The Author

Jack London (1876–1916) was a renowned novelist and short story writer hailing from San Francisco, California. His life was filled with diverse experiences and personal struggles.

London’s formal education ended when he left school at the age of 15. He worked as a laborer before embarking on a voyage as a sailor in the Pacific at 17. In 1894, he joined a protest group advocating for government aid for the unemployed.

Experiencing hardships, London became homeless and was eventually arrested for disorderly conduct in Buffalo, New York. After returning to Oakland, he briefly attended the University of California-Berkeley for one semester. It was during this time that he joined the Socialist Party in 1896, driven by his concerns about poverty and a desire to rebel against the established order.

While London remained a committed Socialist for most of his life, striving to address the issues faced by the masses, he also possessed a strong individualistic streak and an ambition for fame and wealth. In 1897, he set off for the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska, but his venture proved unsuccessful, and he returned empty-handed in 1898.

In 1899, London became captivated by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. He translated Nietzsche’s concept of the “Superman” (Übermensch) into an animal form in his acclaimed work, The Call of the Wild, which catapulted him to fame as a best-selling author in 1903.

London continued to write notable works such as The Sea Wolf (1904), White Fang (1906), and Martin Eden (1909), among others. However, by 1916, he faced personal challenges, including alcoholism, obesity, and physical ailments. At the age of 40, he tragically succumbed to a morphine overdose, possibly as a result of suicide.

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