Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild Study Guide

Jack London spent a single winter in the Canadian North during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1898. When he returned, he claimed to have come upon a mythic wolf which inspired the character of Buck in The Call of the Wild. Whether or not London was speaking of a true encounter, his experiences with the Gold Rush provided the inspiration for a tale of resilience and exploration. Much of the story takes place in Alaska, traveling between Dawson and Skagway. The discovery of gold prompted a mass exodus to the Klondike, where gold was hypothetically free for the taking. The town of Dawson became the heart of the Gold Rush; for in 1886, Captain Moore, a citizen of Canada who had been prospecting for gold in the Canadian northwest, discovered a trail he called the "White Pass." This trail allowed for the transportation of supplies, correspondence, and men into the Alaskan interior, and it lead directly to Dawson.

In reality, the journey to the Klondike was a dangerous and expensive undertaking. Canadian law stated that gold-seekers could only enter the territory if they entered with a year's worth of provisions. This law was rigidly enforced by police patrols. Meanwhile, the journey to the Klondike by ship was so dangerous that many threw supplies overboard to lighten the load. Once the ships had landed, the journey grew no easier. Numerous memoirs and diaries remain from the men and women who toiled over the icy trail in that year. Their accounts of the journey between Skaguay and Dawson are the best source of what life was like on an expedition. Writings speak of rugged canyons, boldly ascending mountains, and projecting cliffs. London borrowed money from his sister to make the trip. On the one hand he was spurred on by poverty, for America was in the throes of the Great Depression. On the other hand, he sought adventure and inspiration. While London did not strike it rich in the Klondike, he found the inspiration he was seeking, and that impetus would lead to tremendous success and certain amount of fortune.

London would have had abundant experience with the sled-dogs that were the most popular choice for transporting people and supplies into the Klondike. The most common breeds were the huskies (and their cross-breeds from the river country), stocky and gray with short, erect ears and thick coat, intelligent and majestic, and the malamute, an Alaska Indian dog crossed with the wolf and resembling the wolf in shape and size. They were mostly brownish-gray, friendly and easily led. In the Gold Rush Arctic, the dog was of paramount importance. Men could not cover the great distances involved, much less carry their food and equipment, on foot. As yet there were no machines, not even railroads. Horses were bogged down by the snow and could not survive on fish, the most readily available food. London also would have known that many large dogs like Buck were stolen from the pacific northwest and sold as sled-dogs.

London was clearly influenced by several important philosophers and scientists during the writing of The Call of the Wild. Darwin's theory of Evolution, Herbert Spencer's ideas about the "survival of the fittest," and Nietzsche's "superman" theory play important roles in plot and characterization. The presence of these overarching ideas lends credence to those who argue that The Call of the Wild should be read as an allegory for human experience. London sold the Call of the Wild in 1903 for a flat fee of two thousand dollars. He received no royalties from the millions of copies that sold in America and overseas. But, the popularity of The Call of the Wild played an important role in London's continued success.