Naturalism in Jack Londons The Call of the Wild

Categories: The Call Of The Wild

Naturalism is a sect of literature that endeavors to apply the scientific principles of detachment and objectivity to the study of human nature. It is a subset of realism, but does not focus primarily on literary technique. Its main focus is the scientific laws behind a characters actions and resolutions. This style of literature not only concerns itself with how a character develops, but also with the forces that drive the character (Naturalism).

Jack London was born in 1876 to an unmarried mother.

He was raised by an ex-slave throughout most of his childhood because his mother, Flora Wellman, was ill. During his youth, London worked many different jobs, including oyster fishing and patrolling for fish poachers. He also sailed on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, train hopped around America, and then finally returned to attend high school at the age of nineteen (Stasz).

After a winter in the Yukon, London began producing a few stories for the Overland Monthly. After this small success, he became a disciplined and successful writer.

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He went on to produce hundreds of short stories and the two books that brought him lasting fame, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang (Stasz).

In the years following his fame, London spent most of his time building a farm that would allow him to live off of nature. His love for the natural world was deep, and when he wasnt writing, he spent his time sailing and building his farm. After his farm mysteriously burned down, London never fully recovered.

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He died on November 22, 1916, from renal failure (Stasz).

The Call of the Wild is probably one of the most recognizable works written in the naturalistic style. London takes an aristocratic and civilized dog named Buck and drops him into some of the most savage and extremely harsh conditions on earth. During the story, Buck slowly transforms into a dog driven and ruled by the laws of nature. This transformation is guided by Darwin theories such as survival of the fittest and inherited survival mechanisms.

The power of instinct and ancestral memory is a prominent theme in the book. These forces are important in understanding the dynamics Buck shows in turning away from what he has known since birth. They show a rejection of the easy and aristocratic life he had led for the ancient life led by his ancestors; a time when people lived off of the land and lived by the code of the survival of the fittest.

Disturbing dreams of his ancestors hunting and killing are one of the manifestations of this inherited nature. Lying by the fire at night would cause Buck to have blurry visions of primitive man wearing leather hide as clothing. The men in his visions did not walk erect, but walked hunched over with a peculiar springiness and seemed almost catlike(London). These dreams inferred an ancient relationship between man and dog.

The visions from the ancient past grow more intense in the last chapter. Buck grows unhappy from lying around while Thornton and the others pan for gold. He starts having intense visions and dreams of primordial man and dog. In these visions he is running through the jungles while primordial man is swinging from the trees and running with him (London). These visions are pushing him towards leaving the confines of mans world to be with nature.

As the story progresses, Buck starts to rely more on his survial instincts than on what he has been taught since birth. His premonition of impending doom during the last part of chapter five is an example of this. He follows this instinct instead of the commands of the men that are in the sled crew, and is saved from their fate. This event is the beginning of Bucks final departure from the laws of man towards the laws of nature (London).

His impulses also grow stronger. They draw him out toward the wilderness, where he begins to hunt for his food and becomes acquainted with the wolves of the forest. London writes that his longing for blood grows stronger during this time and he begins to live by his strength and prowess. London is using these urges to set Buck up for his final confrontation with man at the end (London).

Bucks final departure from mans world comes during the end of the story. He comes back to the camp to find everyone killed by Indians. He finds the Indians and lacerates their throats. After scattering the rest, he decides that man is weaker than he thought. He then resolves that man is only to be feared or respected when they are wielding weapons. This new Buck is drastically different from the lawful and civilized Buck we find in the beginning of the story. He now lives by his own understanding, and through his inherited nature of violence and dominance.

Though Bucks instincts guide him into becoming a savage beast at the end, the violent and cruel world he is forced into also plays an important role. This is key to naturalistic writing. Naturalism shows both internal forces, like Bucks inherited instincts, and also external forces driving them toward the final product. These forces are the unforgiving harshness of the climate in the Klondike and the cruel nature of man and dog around him.

The conditions of the Klondike are fierce. There is significantly less food available to Buck than what he is used to. Before he ate at regular intervals and had ample servings. Now he eats whenever the men feed him, and the meals have to be rationed out to make them last the journey. During the first journey across the wilderness, Buck learns that in order to survive he must eat his food quickly before the other dogs steal it and eventually learns how to steal meat from the men (London). London is clearly using Darwins survival of the fittest theory to shape Buck.

The violence Buck witnesses in the Klondike strongly influences him. From the beatings he receives from men, to the way dogs kill each other without remorse, Buck learns that violence is the way of the Klondike. These elements push Buck toward violence. This is realized with the killing of Spitz. Buck not only kills him without remorse, but he rejoices after doing it. The brutal animal hidden within is surfacing. This total reversal from being civilized to becoming amoral and violent is an adaptation to the law of club and fang that exists around him (London.

In summary, Naturalism seeks to express characters as products of their surroundings and of their inborn nature. London portrays this skillfully in The Call of the Wild. Buck is a lawful and peaceful dog in the beginning, but only because his world contains those same values. He is then thrust into a violent and amoral world, and with the guidance of his animal instincts, becomes a dominant, amoral brute.

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Naturalism in Jack Londons The Call of the Wild. (2022, Apr 03). Retrieved from

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