Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild by Jack London – Study Guide Questions

How does Buck feel about the man in the red sweater? Is he supposed to be a negative character?

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When the train is unloaded, a man in a red sweater approaches the crate, as four other men look on. The man carries a hatchet and a club; first, he uses the hatchet to break open Buck's crate. Anxious to loose his pent up fury, Buck leaps at him and is struck by a club, a new and horrible experience. Mad fury drives Buck, but each time he rushes the man, he is struck again, until he is beaten and bloodied. At last he can no longer rise. The red sweater genially tells him to mind his place, pats his head, and provides him with meat and water. Buck is beaten, not broken . He has learned not to fight a club. Other dogs arrive and undergo the same process. Buck respects the red sweater, but he is too proud to seek the man's affection, as other dogs do.

Buck's confrontation with the man in the red sweater is a turning point for him. At this moment he learns the lesson of primitive law. He is not broken, but "the facts of life took on a fiercer aspect, and Šhe faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused." London has now made it clear that primitive law does not refer merely to the law of dogs. It is the same law that punishes Manuel for his "faith in a system," and leads him into enormous debt. In the world governed by the law of the primitive, the traditional system of justice, law and order is subverted. Humans no longer exist in friendly relation to each other or to their dogs; they are either allies or enemies.