NEA Big Read
The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

No man ever became great who did not achieve the impossible.

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the book. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.

  1. Why might Jack London choose to focus on a dog’s point of view during the Gold Rush rather than a human’s? Choose one human from the novel. How might the story be different if it were told from his or her point of view?
  2. In Chapter 5, Buck endures a severe beating from Hal. On one level, John Thornton saves Buck in this scene. But what quality allows Buck to become the only member of his pack to survive?
  3. Buck’s first theft marks him “as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment.” Explain the significance of the description: “but the club of the man with the red sweater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code” (Chapter 2). What happens to Buck’s “moral consideration” after this transformative first theft?
  4. Discuss the significance of the novel’s title and the titles of each of the book’s seven chapters. How do these titles suggest the changing character of Buck?
  5. Jack London scholar and the Curator of Literary Manuscripts at the Huntington Library in California, Sara S. Hodson asserts, “Jack London and Buck both share a quality of being able to adapt to whatever situation life hands to them. Buck has to become, in some way, brutal himself in order to survive. It’s survival of the fittest and he knows that. The Call of the Wild is a timeless classic of literature because it’s a book about survival, and survival is an issue for everyone no matter whether we’re surviving a bad relationship or whether we live in the Klondike.” Using your knowledge of Jack London’s biography, do you agree with her assessment? Identify some specific parallels between the author and his protagonist. Is a certain amount of “brutality” necessary for survival, even today?
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