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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 1: Into the Primitive
Buck is an active and proud dog who carries himself in a royal fashion. Buck's father, Elmo, is a huge St. Bernard and his mother; Shep is a huge Scotch Shepherd. Buck was born in 1892 on the Miller ranch in Santa Clara, California. He lives in a big house and has enjoyed an aristocratic lifestyle for five years. Unlike the other dogs, Buck is not restricted; no place is out of bounds for him, for he is considered neither a housedog nor a kennel dog. Buck goes hunting with the Judge's sons, escorts the Judge's daughters on their walks, and carries the Judge's grandsons on his back. In fact, Buck rules over the entire household, for he is "king - king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller's place - humans included." London describes him as a "stated aristocrat," who carries himself in a royal fashion. He is obviously proud of himself, perhaps a trifle egotistical. His saving grace is that he has had an active outdoor life; as a result, he is healthy and has not become a pampered housedog.
In 1897, the year the novel begins, prospectors are groping in the Arctic darkness for gold. They are in need of strong and healthy dogs that will be able to withstand the cold and hard work of the Klondike. Buck seems to be a perfectly suited dog for the challenges of the Arctic.
While travelling on the train for two days and nights, Buck refuses to eat or drink; instead, he repeatedly tries to break out of his cage and grows more ferocious in his failures. By the end of the trip, he has accumulated "a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first falls foul of him." He has become a raging fiend that even the Judge would have trouble recognizing.
When Buck arrives in Seattle, a man opens his cage with a hatchet and a club. Buck, thinking he is free, prepares for battle. Just as he is about to ferociously close in on the man, he receives the shock of his life; a club strikes him for the first time ever. Each time he springs towards his tormentor, Buck is clubbed again until he is knocked "utterly senseless." The man then tells Buck, "Be a good dog and all will go well. Be a bad dog and I'll whale the stuffin outa you." Although Buck feels beaten, he is not broken; but he has learned to fear the club.
In Seattle, Buck is sold to a French Canadian named Perrault, who pays $300 for him. Perrault also purchases Curly, who becomes Buck's friend. He takes both dogs on the Narwhal, a ship bound for the Yukon. On the boat, Buck meets Perrault's partner, Francois, and judges both men to be fair and just. Throughout the rest of the novel, Buck will continue to judge the humans around him.
When Buck arrives in the north, it is snowing. Since it is his first encounter with the white stuff, he is fascinated with it. When some people nearby laugh at his reaction, he feels embarrassed and ashamed. But if Buck is to survive, he must quickly learn how to handle the snow.
The title of the first chapter, "Into the primitive," foreshadows the future adventures in the harsh wilderness for the protagonist, Buck. The poem that begins the novel summarizes the naturalistic theme, that within every creature, human or animal, there is a "primitive beast" that can emerge when needed in times of stress. London will use Buck, an enormous, intelligent, and powerful dog, to develop the theme. In order to make Buck a symbol for humankind, he gives him characteristics such as loyalty, love, ambition, and revenge, traits that usually describe humans. In fact, at the end of the first chapter, Buck is feeling embarrassed and ashamed that the humans have laughed about his reaction to snow.
In order to make Buck's transition seem harsher and to prove that even the most gentle of creatures has a beast within, London gives Buck the softest of beginnings, the best of civilization. Buck's master, Judge Miller, is gentle and kind. Buck also has the run of the house and is loved by everyone. Finally, he is well fed and lives a life of ease. In fact, London says that Buck is a "stated aristocrat," who has no reason to be untrusting. As a result, he willingly goes with Manuel, the thief who sells him, believes the Judge or his sons will rescue him from his cage, and is totally shocked when he is beaten. But this poor treatment quickly brings out the "beast" in Buck. He bites the man who chokes him and attacks his beater in "unbridled anger." It is important to note that when his captors file off his heavy brass collar, it will be Buck's last contract with the civilized world into which he was born and raised.
Buck's endurance of the first rites of initiation into the uncivilized world foreshadow the final transformation of Buck into the unbelievably disciplined and powerful animal that can pull 1000 pounds and survive on his own in the Yukon. During his harsh train trip, Buck accumulates a "fund of wrath." His metamorphosis into ferocity is so complete that even the judge would have failed to recognize him when he arrived in Seattle. He is, indeed, a new creature, an antithesis to the animal that would let children ride on his back.
Buck's first reaction to the rough treatment in the uncivilized world is a spirit of rebellion, and yet Buck recognizes the new "law" when he sees it and knows when to give in to save himself. The club is the "new law" for him (ironically a flashback to the olden days of the cavemen with their clubs), and it symbolizes uncivilized ways or primitive law. Buck knows he must change and adapt. To prove that he is able to understand the change, he allows the man in the red sweater to bring him food and water for the first time and even eats out of his hand. Buck has learned the first true law of the wilderness---adaptability