While Buck is deeply influenced by his human masters, The Call of the Wild is ultimately about Buck's transformation from a domesticated dog to a wild wolf. London's Darwinian influences are at work in Buck's "development,” or rather his gradual "retrogression” into a primeval beast. Like an evolving organism, Buck sheds characteristics ill-suited to his environment and takes advantage of traits that help him thrive. He tunes in to his latent, feral instincts, becoming less pet-like and more wolf-like—his soft paws toughen for icy conditions, his body strengthens for work in the traces, he gains endurance against the pain of the club and the lash of the whip, and his bloodlust for live prey increases.
As Buck physically devolves, his memory recedes into a primordial past, where he actively envisions hunting and scavenging with a caveman. This primeval vision is realized when Buck satisfies his deep desire to kill a bull moose on his own. In this way, Buck not only acts like a wolf, but thinks like a wolf, as well. Buck's devolution completes itself when he joins with his timber wolf "brethren” at the novel's conclusion. He not only becomes their leader, but fathers many wolves, who bear his traits, thereby cementing his place in the wild wolves' lineage.
Domestication to Devolution ThemeTracker
Domestication to Devolution Quotes in The Call of the Wild
Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain.
During the four years since his puppyhood he had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, was even a trifle egotistical, as a country gentleman sometimes become because of their insular situation. But he had saved himself by not becoming a mere pampered house-dog.
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.
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.
And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down.Thus, as a torken of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again.
The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of the trail it grew and grew.
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.
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot riseÉand it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of beingÉ
Far more potent were the memories of his heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming familiarity; the instincts (which were but the memories of his ancestors become habits) which had lapsed in later days, and still later, in hum, quickened and become alive again.
[Buck] had made up his mind not to get up. He had a vague feeling of impending doomÉ.What of the thin and rotten ice he had felt under his feet all day, it seemed that he sensed disaster close at hand, out there ahead on the ice where his master was trying to drive.
He had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the law of club and fang.
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.