French novelist Emile Zola formulated literal naturalism, and Frank Norris introduced it to America. Naturalism is a theory that observes life from a scientific point of view without avoidance of the ugliness and harshness of life, including poverty, racialism, diseases and the like. Realism, as the direct opposite of naturalism, tends to describe characters as they really are often evading the harsh truth. Naturalists argue that the human character is affected by the environment and heredity. This theory is influenced by Charles Darwin theory of evolution. Literal naturalists describe their characters from the way human beings are poised and directed by the surroundings. Thus, naturalistic writers wrote their novels in a scientific way and looked at human beings in relation to the way the environment and heredity affect their personality and from that curved their characters.
The story The Call of the Wild revolves around Buck, a seemingly strong dog, whose father was a St. Bernard and whose mother was a German Shepherd. The owner of the Buck’s father, Judge Miller, had a big mansion with a vineyard stables, some dogs and horses. Buck enjoys that calm existence playing around with the judge’s children and serving the judge, just the way his father had done that before him. Once in summer1897, a gardener who worked at the Judge’s farm sells him off for a very cheap price, and from this point Buck embarks on a long journey that ends in Dyea, Alaska. Two Canadians, Francois and Perrault, who are in need of good sled dogs buy Buck and become his new owners.
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Life is not easy for Buck as he arrives to Alaska - an icy and cold place, which is very unlike the place where he grew up; the cold weather is complicated with the brutal behavior of some humans as well as other ferocious dogs, Compared to his former life, this is sheer torture, but he begins to become accustomed to his surroundings and becomes skilled from interactions with the other dogs. This period leads him to start having strange dreams about the days of dogs and men, before the development of cities, culture and houses. There are no rules or morality, except for the so called "the law of the club and fang" - survive or die law.
When Buck has seen how other dogs torn Curly, his dog friend, to pieces, he understands that now everything is depended on his capability to survive. After a while, Buck becomes more knowledgeable and even plans revenge against a bully dog Spitz, and eventually kills him in battle. He is, thus, made the team leader. The Canadian team receives new orders to leave the sled dogs’ team behind, and Buck and his team are made to work at another city called Dawson City carrying mail from the mine. The work becomes too hard for them as they do not get any rest. They eventually arrive in Skaguay, Alaska and they get new owners Hal, Charles, and a woman Mercedes, who were very inexperienced.
These people are not familiar with the involvement of traveling through Alaska; they end up killing nearly everyone, but a kind man named John Thornton, moments before the group dies in an icy river and saves Buck. Buck and Thornton become friends and at several instances Buck even saves his life. Together with several other men, they embark on a journey. He enjoys his new life, but he has to fight his immense desire to go back to the strong animalistic nature he developed from his former life.
One day, an Indian tribe called the Yeehats kills all the people, inclusive of John. Buck gets furious, and he murders most of the Yeehats. He is incredibly proud of himself that he has killed people; however, he has no idea what to do now. He then hears wolves howling not so far away from him and he follows the sound of the wolves; he ends up battling with some of them to prove that he is worth, and they accept him as one of the wolves. In this pack, he meets his old ally and excitedly runs into the forest, having become wild once again after numerous years of coercion by man. His unique physical appearance remains with the Yeehats in the forest, he is referred to as the "Ghost Dog” or “Evil Spirit”. John was dead and hence, Buck’s last tie with people was broken. Eventually, he is all set to respond to the call of the wild.
Buck in this story is a dog that is personalized and tells his story like a human being would do. It is clear that London does not acknowledge Buck as a pure breed, as he is a mix breed of a St. Bernard and a Scotch shepherd. Still, Buck is pre-eminence, which comes about due to the lucky combination of his parents, as can be from philosophy on natural selection. Buck turns rebellious when he is given rough and harsh treatment. The club turns Buck from a fierce dog into a simple human pet. The author tries to show us the way environment has affected Burk’s personality:
“As time went by, the other dogs came, in barred enclosure and at the end of rope, some docilely, and some raging and roaming as he had come. One by one, he painfully watched them fall under the authority of the man in dressed in a red sweater. Time after time, as he came across at each atrocious performance, the lesson that was taught to Buck: a man armed with a club was a commander, a master to be respected though not inevitably conciliated. Buck was never guilty of this, but he did witness beaten dogs that flattered upon the man and wiggled their tails, as well as licked the man’s hand. In addition, he saw a reserved dog that neither conciliated nor obeyed the master. Nevertheless, it was killed in the struggle for mastery” (Jack 22).
After seeing what happened to Curly Buck realizes to survive is to make sure you never go down without realizing it, he changes into this tough dog. Watching and learning, Buck discovers that keeping away from trouble was not the only survival mode, at times one had to attack particular in order to procure food. Buck steals food to live.
“The first robbery proved that Buck was fit to adapt in the unreceptive Northland environment. It revealed his adaptability, his aptitude to fine-tune himself to revolutionizing conditions, failure to which would have rendered him susceptible to a hurried and terrible demise. It further marked the decay of his ethical nature a futile thing and a handicap in the callous struggle for survival. It was good enough in the Southland parts under the law of love and companionship to value private property and private feelings, however in the Northland, under the rule of the club and fan, an individual who regarded such things were simply a fool, and in that regard he came to understood them” (Jack 33).
As London tries to show that Darwinian hereditary law affects personality, he brings this out especially when Buck recalls his ancestors in the olden days, how they had to hunt and kill for meat giving an explanation to the way why Buck believed he did not have to learn how to hunt, as it was not a task for him:
“In indistinguishable ways, he recalled back to the early life of the breed, during the time at which, wild dogs raged in packs via the primeval forest, and slaughtered their prey as they ran it down. It was not a challenge for him to become skilled at fighting with engraves and slash as well as the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors” (Jack 34).
Buck having lived in a civilized environment fears he might lose the battle to Squitz, since he is not as strong as the other dogs that have lived in harshness. The author describes him as follows:
“[His feet] were not as impenetrable and firm as the feet of the huskies. His feet had become soft during the innumerable generations dating back to the day of his last wild ancestor who was domesticated by a cave inhabitant or the man at the river” (Jack 41).
The desire, which kept hitting Buck on instances, returns one evening as he relaxes after a day in the traces, and they see a snowshoe rabbit, and the pack is off after it. Buck recalls his prehistoric past as he leads the pack in the adventurous chase:
“All that string of old instincts which stated, periods drove men out of the noisy cities to the forest and the plain to slaughter things by chemically impelled leaden pellets, the blood covetousness, and the elation to kill. This was entirely Buck’s, only infinite and intimate drive. He was raging at the head of the pack, running the wild adventure down, the fresh meat, to prey with his own teeth and was his stifle to the eyes in temperate blood” (Jack 47).
Buck is a dog though personified, his materialistic nature can easily be compared to the human being: the willing to just satisfy oneself without dire need. Buck found joy in chasing any living creature eatable to just kill and eat. On meeting Thornton, Buck’s animalistic nature nearly comes to a stop, not completely of course, but he tones down. It is easier for him as being with Thornton reminds him of his days in California. Sadly, this put him in a dilemma whether to settle for Thornton’s love or follow the lure of the wild:
“The environment seemingly was overtaking Bucks’ desire to stay with his new owner Thornton. Despite having earned Thornton over six hundred dollars in five minutes, his desires to rule and the fame, he got in the wild always silently called him back. The more he is on the trail with the man he loves, the more also his vision; and in all his visions, the ‘trap’ is prominent. Except for his love for Thornton, Buck’s return to his “first love” would not become complete. In daydreams, while his masters work their claim, Buck roams through the wilderness until the very moment when he is unable to resist the call. “And he knew it, in the old familiar way, as a sound heard before” (Jack 98).
Buck eventually kills a bull moose and that convinces him that he belongs in the wild. Heredity has had more effect as it came out the minute he was moved from the comfort of his first owner and taken to the wild; and his natural instincts are not destroyed. They took him back to using his inherited characteristics from his former ancestors. The author of The Call in the Wild was seemingly a firm believer in Charles theory of evolution thus a naturalist, his ideology involved several steps (Osborn 58).
The first naturalist’s theory, which he used, was deterministic Theory of Heredity; hearing and responding to the Call of the Wild. For Buck, these involved visions of his primitive past. His experiences in the Northland awoke his dormant instincts of a wild carnivore. His reversion to the behavior of his canine ancestor slowly altered him into a wolf-like being with a preference to live in a savage environment that demands of him to brawl and slay to live.
The second naturalistic theory is determinism theory of environment -“Survival of the Fittest”; an example is Curly, who failed to survive as she tried to be civilized but in a very savage environment. As an animal, Buck, on the other hand, represented survival of the fittest. He knew he had to survive and thus struggled for his life. He had to adapt to the new environment, and if that meant killing and being savage, he did it.
The third naturalistic belief is objective. The naturalist makes an effort to be objective and detached. The naturalist writer tries to observe characters as animals in the wild and then give feedback on their behavior. London does the same in this book. He did not try to hide any of Buck’s animalistic nature instead he brought them out; he has no sympathy, his aim is to survive. Who he steps onto to get there is not his worry, as long as he remains up on top.
Towards the end of the text, the author mentions how Buck sees the "hairy man" within the blaze of the bonfire. This "hairy man" resembles our ancestors. Buck becomes overwhelmed with flashbacks and images, as though these instincts had been a part of him all through. In this instance, the man in the fire is a symbol of evolution and the reality is that we still possess similar traits, although they are underlying. It brings forth an instinct in Buck as well as understanding that until then they were dormant. It is not only in that scene, but also right through the entire book that Buck’s latent instincts are suppressed, not until he comes to the track life.
In the struggle for the fittest, the intuitions that hailed from his ancestral wolves are at the present very alive. The entire book puts emphasis on the idea that in spite of how many times an animal is broken-in, domesticated, and skilled, they retain their natural intuition to some extent deep down. Buck is substantially affected, and consequently these occurrences lead him to end up running away with the wolf pack. Eventually, he is transformed into what his ancestors were several years ago, and this is what he believed was the right path to take.
Buck, having been given near human characteristics, could represent the authors’ experiences in life; for example, Buck could represent the author as he climbed out of poverty to become celebrated and wealthy. London also had to struggle for success, which taught him cruel lessons about the universe indifference and brutality and that every man is only for himself; he shows this through his character Buck, a dog. From another angle, it gives an example of naturalists’ theory that only the fittest survive. According to the author, a bestial nature slightly overpowered by civilization is buried within each individual, but never eliminated. The story shows that there is more to life than just survival, there is also the struggle for mastery.