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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The Call of the Wild, on the surface, is a story about Buck, a four- year old dog that is part Shepherd and part St. Bernard. More importantly, it is a naturalistic tale about the survival of the fittest in nature. Throughout the novel, Buck proves that he is fit and can endure the law of the club, the law of the fang, and the laws of nature.
Buck had been raised in California, on the ranch of Judge Miller. There he had the run of the place and was loved and pampered by all. Unfortunately, one of the judge's workers had a gambling problem and stole Buck to sell him for fifty dollars. Buck fights being tied, caged, and beaten, but his efforts only frustrate him. He is put on a train and a boat, being shipped to Alaska to be used as a sled dog. Although he is miserable on the journey, Buck learns an important lesson - the law of the club. If he does not obey, he will be beaten.
In Alaska, Buck is sold to become a sled dog. Intelligent and hard working, he quickly learns to adapt to his new life. He becomes a good sled dog, working as part of the team; he also learns how to protect himself from the miserable cold, burrowing under the snow, and how to find food, stealing if necessary. He also learns he must always be alert, for there are dangers everywhere. Additionally, Buck learns the law of the whip, for if he does not obey the driver or do his fair share of pulling, he will be popped.
Buck also learns the law of the fang. Unlike the domesticated dogs at Judge Miller's house, the dogs in Alaska are fierce, never hesitating to attack an enemy, be it dog or other creature. Most of the other dogs stay away from Buck because of his size and strength, but Spitz becomes his constant enemy, from whom he learns an important lesson. Spitz fights with Curly, one of the dogs that is friendly to Buck. Buck watches as all the other dogs attack and kill Curly once he is down. Buck is determined he will never be put in the same position. He will fight to the death if necessary.
Spitz constantly picks on Buck, wanting to get in a fight with him; Buck, however, resists the challenges from Spitz. Then one time he steals the resting-place that Buck has created for himself. Buck has had enough and attacks Spitz with a vengeance. Francois and Perrault have to separate the two dogs. Although the fight is stopped, the animosity continues, and the two enemies are always in a skirmish. Then one day when Spitz prematurely kills a rabbit that all the dogs have been chasing, Buck attacks again. The battle is fierce, and Buck is losing. He then calls upon his intelligence and imagination to defeat Spitz. Instead of going for his throat, Buck attacks Spitz's front legs, breaking both of them. Once he is down, the other dogs come in for the kill.
Now that Spitz has been eliminated, Buck is determined to become the leader of the dog sled team. When Francois and Perrault harness Sol-leks at the front of the team instead of Buck, he refuses to fall into his place. When the drivers try to catch him, Buck runs out of reach. The "game" of tag continues for hours until finally Francois decides to let Buck take the place of leadership. Buck quickly proves his worthiness. He disciplines the other dogs on the team, and the sled goes faster and further each day than ever before.
When Francois and Perrault's trip is completed, they sell the team to a Scotch Half-breed. Although this new master understands the Yukon and is fair to the animals, he pushes the dogs unmercifully. Without the dogs having adequate rest to recuperate from the last long journey, he harnesses the team and starts off again. On the trip, several of the dogs perish. Buck survives, even though he is exhausted and loses weight. When the Scotch Half-breed is through with the team, he sells them to Charles, Hal, and Mercedes, three inexperienced adventurers. They overload the sled and do not take enough food; as a result, the dogs die one by one. When they arrive at the camp of John Thornton, the exhausted Buck refuses to go onward. As a result, he is brutally beaten until Thornton intervenes. The party departs without Buck; before they are out of sight, they sink beneath the ice, which has melted so much that it cannot bear the weight of the sled.
Thornton is extremely kind and generous with Buck, who learns the meaning of real love for the first time. Buck is totally loyal to this new mater who has saved his life and nursed him back to health. As a result, he will do anything for Thornton; he saves his life on two different occasions and pulls a sled packed with over a thousand pounds so that Thornton can win a bet. Although Buck loves his master dearly, he has a yearning to leave civilization behind and contemplates returning to his roots, living with the wolves. As time passes, he spends more and more time in the woods, even getting acquainted with a timber wolf. Only his devotion to Thornton stands in the way of his following his natural instincts. Because of the lessons he has learned as a sled dog, Buck is totally prepared to survive in the wilderness. As a result, when Thornton is killed by Indians, Buck can finally answer the call of the wild.