The Call of the Wild, a novella written by American author Jack London, features Buck, a Saint Bernard mix that was stolen from his home in California and sold to be a sled dog in Alaska during the Klondike gold rush. While in Alaska, Buck goes through many masters, most notably, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes and John Thornton. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes are a stubborn and uncoordinated trio from the United States with no experience in the wild.
On the other hand, John Thornton, a seasoned gold prospector, is quite experienced and will suited for the wild. Both of these masters teach Buck valuable lessons, which aid his survival in the wild. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes teach Buck that nobody can be relied on in the wild. The trio is woefully inexperienced, which is shown through their terrible decision-making skills.
First, they didn’t ration their dog food, overfeeding the dogs until they only had half the dog food and three-fourths of the way to go.”It was inevitable that they should go short on dog food. But they hastened it by overfeeding, bringing the day nearer when underfeeding would commence” (46). Second, they overworked their sled dogs, making them travel eighteen hundred miles with only five days of rest. At the start of their trip, Buck’s weight was one hundred forty pounds, in the end, it was one hundred fifteen pounds. Contrarily, John Thornton teaches Buck that some humans can be trusted. He gives Buck constant affection and nurses Buck back to health after cruel treatment from Hal, Charles, and Mercedes.
Thornton is very experienced in the wild, hunting for food on the go, while not needing to rely on anybody else. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes seem new to the wild, not knowing how to survive by themselves, while John Thornton understands the ways of the wild, being able take care of other dogs and himself all without any help.
Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton play very different roles in regards to Buck. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes serve as an ordeal, constantly putting Buck in life-threatening situations and making him use every ounce of energy to secure his safety, they constantly challenged his will, working him to exhaustion and then beating him so he would keep working. “He exchanged the whip for the customary club. Buck refused to move under the rain of heavier blows which now fell upon him” (52).
After surviving the torment of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, John Thornton came into play. John Thornton was the reward that Buck got after surviving the ordeal, like the rainbow at the end of the thunderstorm, because Thornton treated Buck as if he was his child, regularly feeding Buck and giving him lots of love. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes were a test for Buck, and Thornton was the reward for passing the test.
Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton die in contrasting ways. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes ignore John Thornton’s advice to not travel on thin ice and end up falling under the ice, drowning to their death. “They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans disappear” (53).
Thornton is killed by the Yeehats, a native tribe, during an invasion of Thornton’s camp. “Thorton’s desperate struggle was fresh written on the earth and Buck scented every detail of it down to the edge of a deep pool…muddy and discolored from the sluice boxes, effectually hid what it contained, and it contained John Thorton” (79). Hal, Charles, and Mercedes were civilized and they were killed by nature, and John Thornton was “one with nature” and was killed by a native civilization.
Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton were in the Yukon for the same reason, to find gold. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes were very ill-prepared for the trip, lacking knowledge and supplies. Thornton, on the other hand, could survive without many supplies because of his superior knowledge of the wild. Both of these groups may have been in
Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton all have one main thing in common: they were Buck’s master at one point. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes used Buck as a sled dog, making him pull heavy loads for long distances. Buck knew that they were inexperienced in dog sledding and that there was no depending on them (46). John Thornton saved Buck from Hal’s beatings and nursed him back to health, showing him love and affection for the first time. Buck held a certain love and adoration for Thronton because he saved him and let him be free. “This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he was the ideal master” (55). Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton were all his masters, whether he liked them or not.
In conclusion, Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and John Thornton’s lessons were essential to Buck’s survival in the wild. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes taught Buck that he can only rely on himself, and John Thornton taught him that some humans can be trusted. Both of these groups, while having some major differences, do have some similarities, such as being Buck’s master at one point and their purpose in the north.