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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 3: The Dominant Primordial Beast
The survival instinct is now primary in Buck's life, and he understands that only the fittest survive. To prove himself the most fit of all, Buck knows that he must some day take on his hated enemy, Spitz. He is tired of Spitz's constant teasing and stealing of his food. Buck also remembers that Spitz is responsible for Curly's death. Additionally, he is resentful that Spitz is the leader of the dog team, and he must follow him. Buck is wise enough, however, to try and avoid Spitz until he himself is ready for the fight. When he finds that Spitz has taken over his resting-place, Buck can hold his anger no more and attacks Spitz. Francois breaks up the fight, not wanting any sled dog to be hurt; but it is not the last time that the two enemy dogs will tangle.
London carefully shows that Buck has changed during his time in the wild. An intelligent and quick learner, he has become an excellent sled dog. He works well as part of the team and can go the distance. He is also recognized by all as a strong, determined animal. Francois says that he has perceived that Buck can be mean as "two devils," and yet the dog is normally able to control his emotions, even against his enemy Spitz. London, however, clearly foreshadows that a showdown between the two dogs in inevitable. It will be a hard fought battle, because Buck "matched the husky in strength, savagery and cunning."
London often compares Buck with mankind. He believes that in humanity, like in the wild, the fittest also survive and rise to the top. He also believes that sometimes men revert to natural ways. When Buck remembers his primordial past, London says, "All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives men out from the sounding cities to forest and plain to kill things by chemically propelled leaden pellets, the blood lust, the joy to kill - all this was Buck's." Thus, human beings are invested with the same qualities as wild dogs. When men go out on a hunt, there is no moral force or fair play in them. They become animal-like in their lust to kill.
It is ironic that Buck's evolutionary process in the novel is regressive. He goes backward into his primordial past through a combination of natural selection and of other Darwinian "accidents." But the more wild and natural he becomes, the more he is invested with human traits. Buck is shown to have pride, loyalty, ambition, patience, poise, and revenge, characteristics that are usually reserved for descriptions of humans. Most importantly, Buck is described as having imagination, the trait that allows him to eventually overcome Spitz. If man is superior to animals, it is only because of his ability to think and imagine, and now London even gives a dog these qualities.
It is important to notice that although Francois is a stern master and strict disciplinarian, who often uses the whip to control the dog team, he can also be kind. When Buck is being chased by Dolly, Francois comes up with a plan to save him from the mad dog. He whistles for Buck to come back to camp, and when he returns, still pursued by Dolly, Francois hits her with an ax, killing her and saving Buck. When Buck is exhausted and in pain from his tender feet, Francois brings his food to him. He also fashions a kind of moccasin for Buck to wear on his feet to protect them from the beating they are taking. Francois is also the one who recognizes the innate ability of Buck, calling him meaner than two devils.
London shows his ability as a writer in this climatic chapter. Slowly and steadily he leads up to the final vicious, bloody fight between Spitz and Buck. From chapter one, he has carefully developed the hatred that exists between the two enemies. In this chapter, he leads Buck to the final fight. First there are several skirmishes: Buck attacks Spitz when he seizes Buck's resting place; Spitz attacks Buck when he is fighting the Huskies, trying to push Buck to a certain death; as they pull the sled, they often battle each other, fighting for authority; Spitz again attacks Buck when the dog returns to camp exhausted after being chased by Dolly. Each of these encounters infuriates Buck and brings out the primordial beast in him - the lust for Spitz's blood.
The climax of the novel occurs when Buck finally attacks and defeats Spitz. He is angry at his enemy for taking a short cut during a chase after a rabbit and killing the hunted animal prematurely; Buck is invigorated by the hunt and ready for the kill. When he is cheated out of a trophy by Spitz, he can no longer contain his anger. He attacks repeatedly, but seems to be losing the battle. Buck then calls upon his imagination to help him win the victory. Instead of going for Spitz's throat, as is normal in a dogfight, he attacks Spitz's front legs, breaking both of them. Unable to stand, Spitz goes down and the other dogs come in for the final kill. It is a sweet victory for Buck and proves that he has truly become a dog of the wild.