Study Guide

The Call of the Wild

By Jack London

The Call of the Wild Introduction

We'll admit it: we're unabashed dog lovers. Give us a video of a corgi and you've guaranteed that we start squealing. Give us a gif of a husky puppy and you've guaranteed us at least an hour of unadulterated joy. Give us some IRL one-on-one action with actual real-deal doggy, and you've basically sent us to cloud nine.

So it comes as no surprise that we love The Call of the Wild. Because: it's about a dog.

But if you asked Buck, the protagonist of Call of the Wild, in a breathless voice: "Who's a good doggy? Who's a good doggy? Who, who, who?" the answer would probably be, "Um. Not me, pal."

Because Buck isn't all about the "man's best friend" thing. He's all about—you got it—making sure the call of the wild doesn't go to voicemail.

Sure: Buck loves humans. He's a good companion to his richy-rich owner in sunny Santa Clara, California. He's a good sled dog after he gets stolen and sold into dog-slavery in the Yukon territory (brrr). And he falls head-over-paws in dog love with his kick-butt owner Thornton.

Above all else, though, Buck comes to love the life of being a wild dog. And this "wildness" isn't Hallmark card material. Being a wild dog doesn't mean skipping through fields of tulips and splashing in babbling brooks. It means near-starvation, running for hours on end, fighting 'til the death, and sleeping in sub-zero conditions. But it also means total freedom and a life full of thrilling adventure.

It's no shocker that this book was penned by Jack London, an infamously adventurous novelist who traveled to Japan and Alaska in search of good yarns. Published serially in 1903, Call of the Wild is his most famous work—and this is from the guy who brought us White Fang and "To Build A Fire."

And that fame comes from the fact that it's almost impossible to not be seduced—or validated—by The Call of the Wild...even if you're more of a cat person. This novel is all about the magnetic pull of wildness on all beasts, including humans. Written at a point in history when technology was shaping the world in baffling ways (airplanes, telephones, and cars were all newfangled inventions), London's novel still holds up today for obvious reasons: technology keeps updating, and we all feel further and further away from "the wild."

So whether you're itching to sleep under the stars or want to break free from the stifling routines of the world, The Call of the Wild is there to lure you. We'd be impressed if you made it to the last chapter without daydreaming about becoming a musher, trying your hand at gold-panning, backpacking in the Yukon...or at least going out and walking around a park for an hour or so.

 

What is The Call of the Wild About and Why Should I Care?

Because you’ve felt the call of the wild yourself. And we don’t just mean at a party outside when there’s a twenty-person line for the bathroom and you say "Oh, well" and find yourself a friendly little shrub to pee on. (We've all been there.)

Like it or not, there’s some natural hardwiring we all have to deal with. And it ain't pretty—we're not talking about natural in "everybody loves flowers" way or even in the Everybody Poops way.

You know when you’re in a train station and that guy/gal looks so attractive that you almost can’t handle it and your stomach starts doing backflips? Or when you're so thirsty you start looking at any source of water—that puddle, that rain gutter, that stranger's bottle of Vitamin Water—and having fantasies about drinking it all down? Or when you see a baby and start going all gaga over it? Or when someone makes you so mad—so mad—that you literally see red and your hands ball themselves into fists?

Even though we're Snapchatting, programming language-fluent, Soylent-swilling, hygienic beings that use central heating any time the mercury rises over 85 degrees...we're still mammals. And we're still highly, highly susceptible to the same laws—from rage to love—that govern all animals. We all have basic tendencies that can seem to pop up out of nowhere, but since we don’t want to seem uncivilized, we fight against these tendencies.

The Call of the Wild makes an interesting point: maybe we’re not supposed to. And although Jack London isn’t necessarily making the claim that we should all run around naked, killing and eating with our bare hands, he uses a dog to ask the question of what all this civilization is really doing for us.

Because aside from the starvation, beatings, and the nearly freezing to death, Buck might just be better off in the wild than where he was before this whole mess began.

Why? Because it’s what he was meant to do, what his body was built for. So the next time you find yourself on the verge of giving in to those primal instincts, take a minute. And pick up the phone, because The Wild is still calling.

The Call of the Wild Resources

Audio

The Call of the Wild Audiobook
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio.

Movie or TV Productions

1997 TV Movie
A 1997 made-for-TV movie, directed by Peter Svatek and narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.

The Call of the Wild Charlie Brown Style
What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown, a 1978 film for TV written by Charles Schultz. This is a parody of The Call of the Wild with Snoopy as Buck!

1972 Movie
A 1972 film starring Charlton Heston, directed by Ken Annakin.

Other

Author Website
A site devoted to Jack London.