The Call of the Wild: Summary, Setting & Characters

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  • 0:02 Background and Setting
  • 0:53 Central Characters
  • 2:34 Book Summary
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

''The Call of the Wild'' is the story of survival and change in nature's harshest conditions, told through the story of a sled dog. Read a synopsis of this well-known story, and meet some of Jack London's vivid characters.

Background and Setting

The Call of the Wild was written by Jack London and published in 1903. Most of the novel takes place in the Yukon Territory, which is between Alaska and present-day Canada. The story takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush, shortly after gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896.

As a young man of 19, London was one of hundreds who rushed up north in hopes of making it rich. He based this story on his experience during that time, which set the scene for the novel.

The plot follows the story of Buck, a dog who is kidnapped and taken up north to work as a sled dog, as he journeys through the Yukon Territory. The harsh natural conditions play a crucial role in how Buck changes throughout the story.

Central Characters

Central characters include both dogs and humans. The dogs in the story do not speak like humans, but they all have other personality traits of humans. For example, they experience emotions, like fear, confusion, and hatred.

The dogs include:

  • Buck - the protagonist, part Saint Bernard and part Scottish Shepherd. At first, Buck is a pampered dog living in the Santa Clara Valley in California. As the story progresses, Buck changes as he is forced to work as a sled dog in the harsh conditions of the Yukon.
  • Spitz - Buck's enemy, a violent and cruel lead sled dog.
  • Curly, Dave, Joe, Billee, Dolly, Pike, So-leks, and Dub - sled dogs on Buck's team. Each has his/her own personality and character traits.

The humans include:

  • Man in the Red Sweater - A man who beats Buck with a club. He is responsible for breaking in new dogs and teaches Buck not to challenge a man with a club.
  • Perrault and Francois - Two Frenchmen who are Buck's first owners in his new life as a sled dog. They work for Canada's government carrying messages.
  • The Scot - Buck's second owner, whose sled delivers the mail.
  • Charles and Hal - These two men, who are brothers-in-law, buy Buck and his team from the Scot. They are inexperienced, selfish men searching for gold, hoping to get rich.
  • John Thornton - Saves Buck from Charles and Hal. This is the only person Buck ever truly loves.

Book Summary

Chapters 1-3

The story opens with Buck enjoying a life of leisure as Judge Miller's pet. As the Klondike Gold Rush gains popularity, Buck gets kidnapped and sent to work as a sled dog. On his journey to the Yukon, Buck meets the Man in the Red Sweater, who gives Buck his first beating. Buck is then bought by Francois and Perrault and begins his life as a sled dog. Astonished at the uncivilized life in the Yukon, Buck meets Spitz, a cruel lead sled dog, and despises him immediately. Although a savage world, Buck actually enjoys the sled dog work.

After several failed attempts at a fight to the death, Buck and Spitz get their chance at the end of a long rabbit chase. Although Spitz is an experienced fighter, Buck uses his creativity and kills the vicious lead dog.

Chapters 4-5

Buck takes over as lead dog and is extremely successful. The team is sold to the Scot, and they begin to work the difficult, wearying mail trail. Then, they're sold to Charles and Hal, gold searchers who know nothing about sledding or the Yukon. The dogs need rest, but the men refuse to waste any time, whipping and beating the dogs.

Slowly, the dogs begin to die, and only five remain as they pull into John Thornton's camp. Thornton tells the men that the ice on the trail is rotting, but Hal refuses to listen and beats Buck. Thornton knocks Hal down and threatens him. Hal leaves Buck and continues on the trail with the remaining four dogs. The ice gives out, and the dogs and humans fall to their deaths.

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