The Call of the Wild

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The Traces Symbol Icon
The traces, which bind the sled dogs to their sleds, represent labor and service, pride in one's work, and the social hierarchy of the sled dog team. Under the traces' binding grip, Buck transforms from a pet into a working dog. He learns and earns his place through his labor in the traces. However, the sled dog's traces don't just bind canines into steadfast servitude. They also reflect the working order of the entire sled dog team. A dog's position in the traces dictates his place in the team's canine hierarchy. For instance, Spitz is the dominant, alpha male of the pack, so he is harnessed at the head of the team. When Buck overthrows Spitz, he assumes Spitz's place in the traces, symbolizing his leadership and authority over the other dogs.

The Traces Quotes in The Call of the Wild

The The Call of the Wild quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Traces. 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 3 Quotes

It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, because he had been gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace—that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the last gasp, which lure them to die joyfully in the harness, and breaks their hearts if they cut out of the harness.

Related Characters: Buck
Related Symbols: The Traces
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, we see that Buck is developing a rivalry with another dog, Spitz. Like Buck, Spitz is strong and dangerous, and feels a natural instinct to be top dog in the "traces" (harness of the sled). There can only be one leader among the animals, though--thus, a clash between Buck and Spitz is inevitable.

What's the difference between Buck and Spitz? Nothing, perhaps--they're both just dogs trying to survive and master their environment. One gets the sense that London could have told his story from the perspective of any one of the dogs pulling the sled. Buck's story is particularly interesting, though, in that Buck spends the majority of his life in luxury--thus, by telling the story from Buck's point of view, London shows how strong a dog's instincts are, to the point where they overshadow its literal experiences. In the end, though, Buck and Spitz are just two dogs trying to gain power--because it's their nature.

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The insidious revolt led by Buck had destroyed the solidarity of the team. It no longer was as one dog leaping in the traces.

Related Characters: Buck
Related Symbols: The Traces
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

In this fascinating section, Buck begins a subtle "revolt" against Spitz, the top dog of the sled team. Buck notices that Spitz has attacked a weaker dog named Pike. Buck cleverly defends Pike from Spitz's aggression, building loyalty between Pike (and, by extension, the other weak dogs who are afraid of Spitz) and Buck.

Buck, in short, is a good politician--he knows how to rise to power. Instead of attacking Spitz directly, he builds up a coalition against Spitz, undermining Spitz's power-base. Buck, to use some Marxist language, is the bourgeois politician, building up solidarity with the proletariat in order to defeat the social elite. While it may seem odd that a dog is playing the part of a politician, London doesn't think so at all--the path to power is almost as instinctive as survival itself.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Dave resented being taken out, grunting and growling while the traces were unfastened, and whimpering brokenheartedly when he saw Sol-leks in the position he had held and served so long. For the pride of trace and trail was his, and sick, unto death, he could not bear that another dog should do his work.

Related Characters: Buck, Dave, Sol-leks
Related Symbols: The Traces
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dave, one of the sled dogs who originally trained Buck in how to obey orders, collapses from exhaustion—he’s gotten so old that he can no longer be a successful sled dog. And yet Dave still wants to be a sled dog—he wants to keep his spot in the traces, to continue working for his human masters, right up to the moment when they end his life with a gunshot.

The passage is equal parts noble and disturbing: Dave is the very embodiment of the wolfish instinct to fight and survive. And yet in the end, even Dave’s instincts for survival end the same way: death. There’s a tragic futility to everything the dogs do—no matter how much power they attain within the ranks of the sled, they’re still the slaves of their human masters, forced to break their bodies pulling heavy loads thousands of miles.

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The Traces Symbol Timeline in The Call of the Wild

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Traces appears in The Call of the Wild. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Law of Club and Fang
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
Buck receives "another shock" when François harnesses him to the traces. Having observed horses harnessed in a similar manner to haul loads, Buck's pride is hurt... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Dominant Primordial Beast
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
...rest in Dawson, the team pushes onward to Skaguay. But there is unrest in the traces as Buck's insurrection continues. One night, Buck leads the pack in a rabbit hunt. Caught... (full context)
Chapter 4: Who Has Won to Mastership
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Mastery Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
...with harnessing the dogs. Buck walks to take Spitz's position at the head of the traces. Yet François harnesses Sol-leks there. Buck, indignant, lunges at Sol-leks, who stands back. François grabs... (full context)
The Man-Dog relationship Theme Icon
Wild Law and Order Theme Icon
...down with a mysterious illness, becoming so weak that he can barely stand in the traces. The Scotsman removes Dave from the traces, putting Sol-leks in his place. Dave resents being... (full context)
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
...five dogs remain, after Hal kills Billee with an ax for falling down in the traces. Wounded, weary, and traumatized, the dogs do not even notice that spring has arrived. 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
...his ax. Thornton picks up the knife, using it to cut Buck out of his traces. Hal, tired from the fight, retreats with Charles, Mercedes and the remaining dogs, heading towards... (full context)
Chapter 6: For the Love of Man
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 the right, then to the left, breaking the sled's runners out of... (full context)