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The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild Summary


Here you will find a The Call of the Wild summary (Jack London's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Call of the Wild Summary Overview

Once living a relaxed life in California's Santa Clara Valley, a strong canine named Buck, who is a hybrid of St. Bernard and sheepdog, is suddenly thrust into hardship. His life is interrupted by the gold rush in Canada's Klondike region, which brings about a high demand for robust dogs to pull sleds. Buck is stolen from his home by a gardener and sold to dog traders who brutally train him to obey commands and then transport him to the icy Klondike region. On arriving in the cold North, Buck is shocked by the harshness he encounters. He witnesses the brutal death of a fellow dog, Curly, at the hands of a pack of huskies, a sight that strengthens his resolve to survive. Buck becomes a sled dog for Francois and Perrault, mail carriers for the Canadian government. He reawakens his wild instincts, learning to fight, forage, and survive the harsh winter nights. He also finds himself in a power struggle with Spitz, the pack's lead dog, which culminates in a fatal fight that allows Buck to take over as leader. Despite achieving record time on their runs, the team is sold to a mail carrier who overworks them, leading to the death of one dog. Buck's new owners, American gold hunters named Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, are woefully unprepared for the wilderness lifestyle, leading to a disastrous journey where food shortage and extreme exhaustion kill off most of the team. Buck, among the surviving dogs, is rescued by John Thornton before the owners plunge into a melting ice patch, resulting in their deaths. Buck grows a strong bond with Thornton, saving him from various dangers and even winning a hefty wager for him by pulling an impossible load. However, Buck increasingly feels a pull towards the wild. He explores further into the wilderness, befriending wolves and hunting large game, always returning to Thornton until one day he finds his master killed by the Yeehat Indians. Devastated, Buck takes revenge on the Indians and then retreats into the wild, where he becomes a legendary "Ghost Dog", leading a wolf pack and fathering numerous offspring. Despite his wild life, he returns annually to mourn his beloved master at the site of his death.

chapter 1

Buck, a powerful St. Bernard-Scotch sheepdog mix, is the beloved pet of California's affluent Judge Miller and his family. He freely roams the large estate, asserting dominance over other pets. The year 1897 brings a change; gold is discovered in the Klondike region of Canada, attracting a multitude of men in need of capable sled dogs. Buck is ignorant of this and of a lurking menace, Manuel, a gardener on the estate with a gambling addiction. One day, Manuel tricks Buck into a walk, leading him to a stranger waiting at a flag station. Manuel exchanges Buck for cash and leaves the dog tied to a rope. A fierce struggle ensues, but Buck is overpowered and loses consciousness. He wakes up in a train's baggage car, trapped and disoriented. A brutal confrontation with his kidnapper follows, ending with Buck locked in a crate. Transported from one vehicle to another for two days without food or water, Buck suffers but grows resilient, vowing never to be tied down again. In Seattle, Buck is handed over to a burly man. Anticipating another fight, Buck attacks. However, the man beats him into submission, introducing Buck to "primitive law". Once subdued, the man offers Buck food and water, marking a temporary end to his ordeal. Buck observes other dogs being taken away, and is relieved to not be chosen. However, his turn soon comes when a French Canadian named Perrault buys him along with Curly, a Newfoundland bitch. They are placed under the care of another man, Francois, and join two other dogs, Spitz and Dave, on a ship named the Narwhal. As they sail north, Buck notices the weather getting increasingly colder. Once they disembark, Buck steps onto a cold surface he's never encountered before - snow.

chapter 2

Buck, a canine protagonist, has been thrust into an uncivilized, savage environment. The unfamiliar surroundings are filled with ruthless dogs and humans. He observes the vicious fights among the dogs with shock and horror. His journey partner, Curly, a female dog, suffers a fatal attack from a husky she tried to befriend. This attack, which happens in the blink of an eye, teaches Buck a crucial lesson about survival in the wild - avoid getting knocked down in fights. He starts to detest Spitz, a dog who seems to relish the tragic end of Curly. Soon, Buck is harnessed by a man named Francois and made to pull a sled. This is a demeaning task for him, akin to what horses do. Yet, he puts in his best effort, learning from the whippings of Francois and the reprimands from other experienced sled dogs like Dave and Spitz. Buck quickly adapts and comprehends commands such as "mush" to move and "ho" to stop. Later in the day, two more dogs, Billee and Joe, join them, brought by a man named Perrault. Though brothers, Billee and Joe are poles apart in nature, with Billee being amiable and Joe being gruff. Both face Spitz's hostility, but only Joe retorts. They are joined by yet another dog, Sol-leks, who bears a grudge against anyone approaching him from his blind side. After getting hurt once, Buck learns this lesson and befriends Sol-leks. Finding a warm spot to sleep in the frigid environment proves to be a challenge for Buck. After being expelled from the men's tent and failing to find warmth elsewhere, he discovers Billee snugly sleeping under a blanket of snow. Following suit, he digs a hole in the snow and finds comfort. The subsequent day, three new dogs join, bringing the total to nine. Buck doesn't mind the work, but he's taken aback by the other dogs' enthusiasm for it. He is placed between Dave and Sol-leks for further training. The team, under the charge of Francois and Perrault, who are mail carriers for Canada, depart from the coast headed for Dawson town. Despite their pace slowing down after leaving the main trail, they manage forty miles a day. Buck is always ravenous and has to learn to eat fast to avoid losing his share of food. He also learns to steal, gradually shedding the morals of his previous life. His primitive instincts start to surface.

chapter 3

Buck's wild instincts grow stronger as he battles the harsh North. He avoids conflict, but the menacing Spitz is a constant threat. One evening, Spitz takes Buck's spot, leading to a tense standoff that's interrupted by an onslaught of starved huskies. Buck fights off three at once, even as Spitz nips at him. The sled dogs wind up injured and find no food at the camp in the morning. Francois fears the wild dogs may have infected the sled dogs, but Perrault is skeptical. The journey continues with 400 miles of challenging icy terrain. The dogs risk falling into partially melted surfaces, with some nearly freezing or drowning. One morning, Dolly goes insane and chases Buck until Francois kills her. Buck is left tired, and Spitz attacks him, intensifying their rivalry. Their fight appears inevitable, with Francois and Perrault betting on which dog will win. Buck undermines Spitz's leadership by siding with the weaker dogs, but they reach Dawson without a decisive battle. After a brief stay in Dawson, they head for Skaguay. Buck's rebellion against Spitz intensifies. During a rabbit chase one night, Spitz outsmarts Buck and catches the rabbit. This triggers a lethal fight between Buck and Spitz. Despite being covered in blood and Spitz remaining unscathed, Buck cleverly tricks Spitz, breaking his leg. This leaves Spitz vulnerable and Buck seizes the opportunity to defeat him, as the pack watches.

chapter 4

Francois finds Spitz gone and Buck injured, but doesn't recognize Buck's claim to Spitz's place. He tries to install Sol-leks as leader, but Buck's assertive challenge changes his mind. Under Perrault's instruction, Francois appoints Buck as the lead dog. Buck proves to be a superior leader, quickly training two new huskies and leading the team to achieve record-breaking trips. However, Perrault and Francois leave due to official orders, leaving the team under the command of a Scotsman, tasked with delivering mail to northern gold miners. The heavy load and constant toil make life tedious for Buck. He contemplates his past life in California without longing, increasingly connecting with his primitive instincts. His surroundings and companions remind him of an ancient time, triggering visions of an era when men lived in caves and wore animal skins. Upon reaching Dawson, the weary dogs barely rest before setting off with another load. Despite the hardship, they are well looked after. However, Dave, one of the dogs, becomes dreadfully ill. The men attempt to remove him from the team, but he stubbornly insists on working until he collapses. Unable to continue, Dave makes a final, dismal cry as the team departs. The Scotsman returns to Dave, a gunshot is heard, and as London narrates, “Buck knew, and every dog knew, what had taken place behind the belt of river trees.”

chapter 5

A month after, the dog team and men return to Skaguay, extremely tired. The drivers anticipate a lengthy stay, but are immediately instructed to transport more mail. A fresh team replaces the dogs, and Buck and his mates are sold to two newcomers from the States, Hal and Charles. These new owners are clearly novices in the Northland, lacking organization and experience. Their sled is overloaded with possessions, including Charles's wife, Mercedes, who is spoiled and demanding. Despite Hal's whipping, the sled is too weighty to move. Once the sled's frosty runners are broken free, it advances, but on a steep incline, half the load is lost. Buck darts off in frustration, followed by the other dogs. With the help of townsfolk, the load is halved and six more dogs are added to the team. However, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes' lack of discipline and Mercedes' high maintenance nature slow their progress. They initially overfeed the dogs, then underfeed them when provisions run low, leading to their starvation. One dog dies quickly, and the new additions also begin to weaken. The trio argues amongst themselves, displaying little sympathy for their suffering dogs. At a checkpoint named Five Fingers, dog food depletes and they resort to horsehide. The dogs, including Buck, become frail from hunger and fatigue. Eventually, only five dogs manage to survive. By this time, spring has arrived, and the ice and snow start to thaw. Reaching John Thornton's camp, the experienced gold hunter warns them about the melting ice. However, Hal disregards him, forcing the dogs back to work. Buck, sensing danger, refuses to move, even under Hal's brutal whipping. Thornton intervenes, threatening Hal, and rescues Buck from his harness. The others continue on, dragging the sled. Thornton examines Buck, finding him only weakened and famished. They watch the sled move across the ice, and then witness it plunge into the water, carrying everyone—dogs and humans—with it.

chapter 6

Buck regains his health under the care of John Thornton, who had himself been recovering from frostbite. As he waits for the river to thaw, Buck grows deeply attached to Thornton, who treats his dogs with exceptional kindness. Buck's loyalty to his new master is so intense that he nearly leaps off a cliff on Thornton's command, only stopping when Thornton intervenes. Though content with Thornton, Buck's primal instincts persist. He fiercely defends Thornton when the latter interrupts a bar brawl in Dawson, leading to a near-fatal encounter with one of the fighters. However, the local miners support Buck's protective aggression, and he gains a reputation for both loyalty and ferocity throughout Alaska. Buck later rescues Thornton from swift rapids, hauling him to safety with a rope tied around his neck and shoulders. That winter, Thornton, on a peculiar whim, claims that Buck can pull a sled loaded with a thousand pounds. This prompts a betting challenge, with a rich gold rusher, Matthewson, wagering a grand that Buck can't pull his flour-laden sled. Thornton, though unsure, accepts the bet using borrowed money. The spectacle draws a large crowd, and despite initial skepticism, Buck successfully hauls the sled a hundred yards, receiving applause from the amazed onlookers, including Matthewson.

chapter 7

With the money won from the wager, John Thornton clears his debts and embarks on a journey towards the east, in search of a mythical lost mine. He is accompanied by Pete, Hans, his dogs including Buck, and together they traverse the wilderness, surviving on hunting and fishing. Eventually, they discover a gold-laden valley where they earn a fortune daily. As the dogs are idle, Buck starts feeling a wild urge. He is awoken one night by a call from the forest and comes across a timber wolf, who is noticeably smaller than him. Despite initial fear from the wolf, the two eventually form a bond. Buck is led away by the wolf, but the memory of John Thornton prompts him to return to camp. On arrival, he showers Thornton with love and remains around him for two days. Then the wild calls intensify, and Buck starts spending more time away in the wild, hunting his own food. Buck now has a dual identity, as a sled dog in Thornton's camp and as a wild hunter in the woods. He successfully hunts a bear, fishes for salmon, and even manages to kill a bull moose. On his return to camp, Buck senses danger and his fears are confirmed when he discovers Thornton's dog Nig and another dog critically injured. As he nears the camp, he sees Hans dead with arrows all over him. Buck also sees Yeehat Indians celebrating amidst the ruins of the camp, and charges at them, killing several. He finds everyone else, including Thornton, dead. Overwhelmed by sorrow but proud of his fight against the Yeehats, Buck decides to only fear humans with weapons. The wolf call beckons him again and with Thornton dead, Buck leaves to join the wolf. He encounters a pack, fights off an attack, and is accepted in the group. The wolf that had initially befriended him is part of this pack. Over the years, the Yeehats notice a change in the local wolves and share tales of a Ghost Dog leading the pack. They also speak of a haunted valley, Thornton's burial site, where Buck visits annually to mourn before rejoining his pack.

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