The Call of the Wild

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John Thornton Character Analysis

An experienced gold miner and outdoorsmen, John Thornton is Buck's final owner and his ideal master. Thornton takes ownership of Buck when he saves him from Hal's brutal beating at White River. Thornton takes Buck deep into the uncharted Yukon in search of gold. They develop a deep and loving companionship.

John Thornton Quotes in The Call of the Wild

The The Call of the Wild quotes below are all either spoken by John Thornton or refer to John Thornton. 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
"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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Chapter 6 Quotes

Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller'sÉ.With the Judge's sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge's grandsons, aÉpompous guardianshipÉ.with the Judge himself, a stately dignified friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.

Related Characters: Buck, John Thornton, Judge Miller
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Six, the novel changes directions abruptly. Buck has had many masters before, but only now does he have an ideal master—someone who genuinely loves him. London distinguishes sharply between the love Buck received in his old, luxurious lifestyle—such love, we’re told, wasn’t really based in respect or mutual appreciation. Here, however, Buck and his new owner, John, genuinely respect each other: they recognize that they’re both talented, intelligent beings, capable of surviving, and beyond that they truly enjoy each other's company.

In this passage, London outlines a kind of “ideal society.” London, a politically active thinker throughout his life, doesn’t believe that a society can ever be totally just unless the rulers and the people truly love each other: if they truly recognize each other’s abilities and work together. Buck thinks that he’s found an ideal society with John, as they work together to survive.

“As you love me, Buck. As you love me.”
Related Characters: John Thornton (speaker), Buck
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Buck prepares for a wager that will make his master, John, rich. Buck has been sent to move a thousand-pound sled—if he succeeds, John will win a lot of money. As John prepares Buck for the wager, he tells Buck to succeed if Buck loves him.

The passage is interesting because it shows the strengths and weaknesses of John and Buck’s relationship. Buck sincerely loves and even worships John, protecting him from danger and making him lots of money. The relationship is strong because John and Buck seem to genuinely respect each other—like the citizens of an ideal society, they recognize their partners’ strengths. And yet the relationship between John and Buck is totally unequal—as the quote suggests, Buck probably “loves” John more than John loves Buck. John is still very much the boss, even when Buck does all the real work.

Chapter 7 Quotes

It was the call, the many-noted call, sounding more luringly and compellingly than ever before. And as never before he was ready to obey. John Thornton was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him.

Related Characters: Buck, John Thornton
Related Symbols: The Call
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, London is at his most romantic and his most political. Over the course of the novel, Buck has had many different masters: metaphorical tyrants, oligarchs, democrats, etc.—some Buck has hated, others he’s loved. And yet every leader Buck ever had stole his own labor from him: Buck’s leaders imprisoned him, forcing him to work for little to no reward.

Now that Buck has no human master, he’s free to live in a utopian society of wolves. After years of having his labors stolen from him, he finally controls what he does and where he goes. In the past, Buck hungered for a human master, but now, he can get by without one. Notice that had Buck been sent into the wild immediately after leaving the Judge’s house, he would never have been happy there—he would have wanted to return home right away, and probably would have died. But because of the gradual evolution (or devolution) of Buck’s situation over the course of the novel, Buck is finally prepared to be his own master.

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John Thornton Character Timeline in The Call of the Wild

The timeline below shows where the character John Thornton 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
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
...spring has arrived. The ice and snow is starting to melt as they arrive at John Thornton's camp at the mouth of White River. (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.... (full context)
Chapter 6: For the Love of Man
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
Under Thornton's care, Buck recovers. Experiencing love for the first time, Buck comes to adore and admire... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
One day, while resting on a steep cliff, Thornton tests Buck's loyalty by commanding him to jump off its ledge. Buck starts forward, but... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
Buck's devotion continues at Circle City, where Thornton gets into a bar fight with a hot-tempered man, called "Black" Burton. Buck comes to... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Buck proves his loyalty again when he saves Thornton's life later that year. During a boat launching, Thornton is flung out of the raft.... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
...fame that winter in Dawson when he performs an incredible "exploit." In the Eldorado Saloon, Thornton boasts that Buck can start a sled with a thousand pounds, break it out of... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
...must break the runners out of the ice in order for the wager to hold. Thornton harnesses him to the sled, carrying forty, twenty-five pound sacks of flour, and whispers to... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Thornton shouts directions at Buck to pull the sled. Straining under the traces, Buck swings to... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sounding of the Call
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
With the money Thornton wins from the wager he sets out eastward with Buck, Skeet, Nig, Hans, and Pete,... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
...senses the summoning of the call as they cavort in the woods, but Buck remembers John Thornton and eventually returns to his camp. (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
Buck remains by Thornton's side for two days, but grows restless, returning to the forest in search of the... (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
On the trail back to camp, Buck finds one of Thornton's dogs dying and Hans face down in the ground, dead. Seeing the native Yeehats dancing... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
Buck mourns over John Thornton's body but that night hears the call. The wild wolf pack circles him. They... (full context)