Mechanisms of the survival of the fittest when caught in the thrall of nature: “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London
What comes to our mind if a dog is given the power of speaking and it, meekly but unhesitatingly says, “The tiger kills Man—it is powerful—Man believes it to be a symbol of pride but I don’t kill Man—I am weak—I am forgotten. The powerful dominate everyone—they are happy—they are feared and respected but the weak are dominated—they are crushed—they are neglected and alienated. That’s the rule of the world. Everywhere power prevails”? Does the statement bring up a sense of reality? It is a moot point. Now the question is: What does the same dog do when it is faced with a less powerful animal? Does it kill the other to survive or does it have mercy on it (the less powerful one) and maintain peacefulness? Let’s see what lies ahead. We have some more questions.
What happens when a dog is put in a “kill or be killed” situation, tearing apart its veneer of civilization or in a situation in which it has to act like a human being? What happens when a dog is seen from human point of view giving it human traits? The most important question of all is “Is there any point where both animals and humans meet characteristically?
Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” unfolds with utmost clarity a whole lot of answers to our questions. John Griffith “Jack” London, born in San Francisco, California in 1876, is one of the most powerful and popular story tellers of his time. “The Call of the Wild” is categorized into the genre of animal fiction in which London quite exquisitely delineates a dog’s adventurous life strewn with unending troubles and dotted with traps of cut-throat competition. The author endeavors to see animals and humans in one mirror reflecting the same traits and characteristics. Man fights Man, Dog fights Dog, Man fights Dog, Dog fights Man. Fight for what? Who wins and who loses? What is the difference between Man and Dog? What does London actually want to tell us? Let’s enter into the story for unequivocal answers.
Buck, a Saint-Bernard and half sheepdog, the central character of the fiction is kidnapped at the outset and shipped by the kidnappers to Klondike to pull the sled. Buck’s transition from light into darkness signifies how to survive in a situation where everyone is fighting against and competing with one another for food, wealth, and power. London tries to merge the wild into the civilization but he failed as the two worlds may have many things in common but they have totally different weather.
Buck’s original owner, Judge Miller’s gardener Manuel Has, “beset by heavy gambling debts” kidnaps Buck and sells him to a burly man in exchange for some money. At the outset of the fiction, it is evident that disloyalty of the gardener (man) stifles the loyalty of the dog (animal). Disloyalty unconditionally wins and is handsomely paid off. Why? Because man is powerful. When he is possessed by evil thoughts, he is more dangerously powerful. Has is the unmistakable example. He does not only betray his Master, Mr. Miller, he also shatters the dog’s trust in him and disregards his (dog) ingenuousness. When the gardener hatches the plan to sell him, the dog unsuspectingly responds to his call. Why does he do so? We can easily assume that he believes everyone like Mr. Miller, who is absolutely affectionate to him, is civilized and must be good and generous. A loyal animal never betrays his master but a man does. He betrays both his master and the dog.
Later in the first chapter, Buck encounters Morgan, the man with the club. Morgan’ physical descriptions does not prompt us to think him to be a tall and impressively strong man, though he had “wide, strong shoulders” but his power is signified by the club he wields and “this club in Morgan’s big fist began Buck’s education for the new world he was entering (p. 18)”. The club is the thing that intimidates Buck and it is the symbol of power, which holds back the dog from fighting back against Morgan. In the following chapters, we see how a loyal, unsuspecting and credulous Buck begins to learn the harshest rules of nature: “kill or be killed”.
After a time, Buck picks up the rules of nature. Gradually, he realizes that in both the wild and the civilized world, the bigger and more powerful feed on the smaller and less powerful and he senses that in nature only hunger decides who is to die and who is to survive and thus, acquires all the mechanisms to survive by resorting to force or by making peace. When nature was sawing through Buck to bring out the fears and apprehensions in order to teach him the cruelest means of survival, Buck met John Thornton who rescued him from the brutal torture of Hal, one of Buck’s owners and befriended him in the perennial struggle of ‘kill or be killed’. We see an unwavering friendship grow between a man and an animal and continue to survive until Thornton is killed by Yeehats. At the end, Buck returns to the wild where he belongs.
London, reasonably and intelligently, exposes the mysterious face of reality and shows how the weak survive each day. London elicits the energy and strength of an animal for survival. The book contains 25 chapters, each opening up with new suspense and adventure. Those who want to demystify the-characteristically-not-so-distinct line of difference between man and animals must have a close look at the book and read it between the lines. London’s “The Call of the Wild” is undoubtedly a riveting account of an animal’s frightful adventures, insinuating a vivid reality in which man and animal meet at the same point when man divests himself of the cover of humanity.
Lecturer of English
Cambrian College, Dhaka.