The Call of the Wild

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Hal Character Analysis

An American settler, Hal comes to the Klondike in search of gold and adventure with his sister, Mercedes, and her husband, Charles. Along with his relatives, he acquires Buck's sled dog team and adds six dogs to create a massive sled dog team of fourteen. Hal is an incompetent and cruel master who harshly beats his animals with clubs and whips, treating them like slaves.

Hal Quotes in The Call of the Wild

The The Call of the Wild quotes below are all either spoken by Hal or refer to Hal. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Call of the Wild published in 1990.
Chapter 5 Quotes

In excess of their own misery, [Hal, Charles, and Mercedes] were callous to the suffering of their animals. Hal's theory, which he practiced on others, was that one must get hardened. He had started out preaching it to his sister and brother-in-law. Failing there, he hammered it into the dogs with a club.

Related Characters: Hal, Mercedes, Charles
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Buck has been passed to another set of owners, Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. These owners are foolish and incompetent—instead of treating their animals well, they burden them with horribly heavy loads that exhaust the dogs and break their bodies rapidly.

The new owners have a philosophy for how to control their animals: they believe that it’s best to be cruel and harsh to the dogs, in order to separate the strong from the weak and make them all get "hardened." Such a theory is a bastardization of Darwin’s survival of the fittest—much like Social Darwinism, the doctrine that was used to justify wealth inequality in human society. Hal and his co-owners don’t understand anything about taking care of dogs—but they disguise their own incompetence by claiming that they’re “teaching” their dogs a lesson. In political terms, Hal is an unjust ruler; even if London doesn’t see anything wrong with humans owning dogs, he insists that there’s a right and a wrong way to do so.

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“They're lazy, I tell you, and you've got to whip them to get anything out of them. That's their way. You ask any one. Ask one of those men.”
Related Characters: Hal (speaker), Buck, The Insides
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hal complains that his dogs are lazy for refusing to cross the frozen lake bearing their masters’ cargo. In order to make an example out of the dogs, Hal chooses to whip Buck.

Hal’s speech shows how out of touch he is with his own dogs, not to mention the realities of the world. Buck knows far better than Hal what’s going on: he’s not refusing to pull the cargo because he’s lazy, but because he knows that the cargo will break through the frozen river and kill him. Even here, Buck is a fundamentally self-interested animal; he won’t do anything that he senses will endanger himself. Hal, by contrast, looks like a fool—he claims that you can “ask anyone” how lazy the dogs are, when London’s book testifies to the fact that Buck isn’t the least bit lazy, and it's also presumed that the wiser dog owners around Hal would similarly disagree with Hal's methods.

"If you strike that dog again, I'll kill you," he at last managed to say in a choking voice.
Related Characters: John Thornton (speaker), Buck, Hal
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hal is beating Buck for refusing to cross the frozen river. As Hal beats Buck, a worker, John Thornton, intervenes and threatens to kill Hal if he hurts Buck again. The emotion of the scene is palpable: John seems to be choking as he speaks, suggesting that he’s crying because of Hal’s cruelty.

How should we understand this scene—which, unlike everything else in the book, seems to put forth a morality based on compassion and sympathy? Perhaps the reason that London shows John behaving compassionately is that he wants to contrasts John’s behavior with that of the violent, irrational Hal. Hal is a man who simply doesn’t understand how nature works—he’s about to send a heavy cargo across a thin layer of ice. John is compassionate, but he’s also smart enough to see that Buck isn’t really being lazy at all—Buck just wants to survive. London suggests that even John’s compassion is based on the principle of survival of the fittest—John protects Buck because he recognizes that Buck is smart enough to avoid the ice, and because he respects Buck’s strength and intelligence.

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Hal Character Timeline in The Call of the Wild

The timeline below shows where the character Hal appears in The Call of the Wild. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: The Toil of Trace and Trail
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
...make another delivery, he replaces them with new dogs, selling Buck and his team to Hal and Charles, a family of amateur settlers, who are "out of place" in the Northland. (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The dogs are taken to camp, where Hal's sister and Charles' wife, Mercedes loads up the sled with pots, pans, clothes, and tents.... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Kind-hearted towns folk collect the dogs and fallen articles, but also advise Hal, Charles and Mercedes to lighten their load and acquire more dogs. They cut the load... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
...distrusts his new owners, observing that they are undisciplined, disorderly, and unable to "learn." Because Hal miscalculates their rations, they run out of dog food. Underfed, the team's run time slows... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Hal's whip and club drive Buck and his team onward, despite their exhaustion. Only five dogs... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
The dogs drop down in exhaustion at John Thornton's camp. Thornton advises Hal not to cross the river, because the ice is thinning. Hal disregards this warning, instead... (full context)