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The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Analysis: Writing Style

Harsh Poetry

Reading The Call of the Wild can be a strange experience. On the one hand, Jack London gives us these scenes filled with fur, blood, and death. But, on the other hand, he gives them to us on a bed of leafy, poetic language. It's like being punched in the face with a fist in a silk glove. Sure, it hurts, but oo, la, la! Such elegance!

Check out a couple of examples to see what we mean. When Buck is first learning about how the sled dogs get along (by, you know, biting each other's faces off), we read:

But no matter how Spitz circled, Joe whirled around on his heels to face him, mane bristling, ears laid back, lips writhing and snarling, jaws clipping together as fast as he could snap, and eyes diabolically gleaming—the incarnation of belligerent fear. (2.7)

Let's face it: that's some mighty fine writin' there, Mr. London. When we see a vicious, snarling dog, we're usually not thinking of anything more poetic than…"Sit! Heel! Stay!" Here, though, London sees Joe's aggression as "the incarnation of belligerent fear," which lends a deeper significance to the dog's anger management problems.

Here's another example, which occurs after (spoiler alert!) Thornton is killed by members of the Yeehat tribe. Buck gets his revenge, though:

It was Buck, a live hurricane of fury, hurling himself upon them in a frenzy to destroy. He sprang at the foremost man (it was the chief of the Yeehats), ripping the throat wide open till the rent jugular spouted a fountain of blood. He did not pause to worry the victim, but ripped in passing, with the next bound tearing wide the throat of a second man. There was no withstanding him. (7.40)

Now, we admit, there's not much poetry to a "fountain of blood," but all the same, Buck is a "live hurricane of fury" here. At once, London gives us gore, but also elevates the scene with this metaphor. Again, the violence of the story seems to have a deeper significance.

That's likely because, for London, all this conflict—bloody as it may be—did have a real purpose. It served to describe the harsh reality of the natural world (the "Wild" in the title) and set it up as a measuring stick against which our own civilized comforts might be measured. Buck goes from the California good life to being an Alaskan cagefightin' dog, but, as the writing style reflects, that's a poetic journey of deep significance from London's perspective.

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