The Call of the Wild

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The Southland v. The Northland Symbol Analysis

The Southland v. The Northland Symbol Icon
The Southland refers to California, specifically the Santa Clara Valley where Buck grows up. The Northland refers to the Alaska and the Klondike in the Canadian Yukon, where Buck comes of age. Together, they symbolize the dramatic contrast between the rules of civilization and laws of nature. The Southland is governed by the "law of love and fellowship." "Moral consideration" underlies this law. The Northland's governance operates under the law of club and fang. On the surface, the South seems more orderly, while the North seems lawless, but London reminds us that each region codifies its laws according to its environment. The Southland, being a more developed and hospitable region, can enforce laws that rely on a strong moral compass. "Mercy was a thing reserved for gentler climes," London notes. In contrast, the Northland, being a wild frontier, must rely on more primitive mandates in order to administer "just" laws.

The Southland v. The Northland Quotes in The Call of the Wild

The The Call of the Wild quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Southland v. The Northland. 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 2 Quotes

He had been suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial. No lazy, sun-kissed life was this, with nothing to do but loaf and be bored. Here was neither peace, nor rest, nor a moment's safety. All was confusion and action, and every moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative need to be constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang.

Related Characters: Buck
Related Symbols: The Law of Club and Fang, The Southland v. The Northland
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 2, London clarifies everything that's happened to Buck in Chapter 1: Buck has been ripped away from his old life in California--he can longer count on food or shelter. Instead, Buck has to adapt to his new, chaotic surroundings, finding the best way to obey the "law of club and fang."

The law of club and fang is, in essence, London's interpretation of survival of the fittest. All beings in the universe are competing with each other for food and shelter--the difference is that some animals (humans, dogs) are less aware of the competition than others. In his new environment, Buck is suddenly made aware of the laws of the universe, and adapts accordingly.

Here London also contrasts town with nature, the "Southland" (California) with the "Northland" (Alaska). Because of their drastically differing environments, it's suggested, even the very morals of each place are different. In the South, there is enough warmth and food to indulge in "luxuries" like boredom, compassion, or fun. In the North, however, one must be "savage" in order to survive.

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This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death.

Related Characters: Buck
Related Symbols: The Southland v. The Northland
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Buck learns how to survive in the harsh new environment in which he finds himself. Buck doesn't get much food, so he has to steal other dogs' food in order to survive. Buck quickly learns that he's good at stealing without getting caught--as a result, he survives the harsh Northland instead of slowly starving to death.

London's observations about dogs might just seem like good writing, but they also contain some important insights that could be applied to human society, too. London was a committed socialist, who believed that society was wrong to punish thieves and robbers so harshly. Thieves, he maintained, weren't immoral people--they were just trying to feed themselves and survive poverty. The only true morality in life, London believed, was the law of survival. London doesn't judge Buck for thieving--just as he didn't judge thieves--instead, he seems glad that Buck is asserting his will and surviving.

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The Southland v. The Northland Symbol Timeline in The Call of the Wild

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Southland v. The Northland appears in The Call of the Wild. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Into the Primitive
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Domestication to Devolution Theme Icon
...as he cavorts around the Judge's sprawling and "sun-kissed" estate in Santa Clara, or the Southland. The "trouble" "brewing" unbeknownst to Buck is the 1879 Klondike gold rush, which has created... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
...two French-Canadians, François and Perrault. Departing from Seattle, they take Buck and Curly to the Northland on a ship called the Narwhal. On board, François and Perrault acquire two more dogs,... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Law of Club and Fang
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Buck observes the cruel ways of the Northland and its "wolfish creatures" immediately through an "unforgettable lesson." Curly approaches a husky in a... (full context)