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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 4: Who Has Won To Mastership
Having defeated Spitz, Buck cannot hope to become the dog sled team leader automatically; he knows he must prove himself to Francois and Perrault, just as he has proven himself against Spitz. The next day the men discover that Spitz is missing. Seeing the wounds on Buck, they realize what has happened. Francois feels relieved, for now the dogs can settle down and work as a team. Sol-leks is selected to replace Spitz as the leader of the team; but Buck does not accept this and attacks Sol-leks angrily. Every time that Francois separates the dogs, Buck attacks again. Francois then gets his club and threatens Buck. Remembering the beaten he has received earlier, Buck crouches in fear.
Buck still will not take his original place in the team. Francois tries calling him, but Buck retreats. He then tries chasing him, but he cannot catch Buck; neither can he spare the dog, for he has already lost one member of the team. Thinking that Buck fears a thrashing, Francois throws down the club. Buck still refuses to budge, showing "open revolt." He is trying to express his desire for leadership; he feels he has earned it and will not be content with less. Perrault too tries his best to make Buck take his old place, but the dog is adamant. He holds his ground and retreats when approached. He makes it clear that when his desire is met, he will come into the team as the leader.
Francois and Perrault are frustrated, for they are losing valuable travel time. Understanding what Buck wants, Francois finally puts Sol-leks in Buck's old place, leaving the place at the front of the team the only open slot. Once more Francois calls, but Buck does not come, seeing the club in his master's hand. Perrault commands Francois to throw down the club. At this, Buck trots over and swings into position at the head of the team. Even though Francois and Perrault know that Buck is very capable, they are in for a surprise over his leadership abilities. Buck outdoes himself, surpassing the leadership provided by Spitz. He leads and disciplines the entire dog team, which travels further and faster each day under Buck's leadership.
For fourteen days straight, the party travels onward, averaging forty miles a day. They reach Skagway in record time. Francois and Perrault, having no further use for Buck or the team of dogs, sell them to a Scotch Half-breed. The team has to travel the weary trail back to Dawson, again weighed down with supplies. Although is tiring and heavy labor, Buck bears it well. He also makes sure that the other dogs do their fair share of work.
In the evenings, Buck loves to lie near the fire. He dreams of his past life in Judge Miller's house, but he does not long to return. It is just a vague memory for him. Sometimes, when he crouches near the fire, the Half-breed reminds him of a different, primitive man, who is short, with long hands and knotty muscles. He is naked, but his body is covered with hair. He cannot stand erect, for his legs are bent at the knees. There is a "peculiar springiness, or resilience, almost cat-like, and a quick alertness as of one who lived in perpetual fear of things seen and unseen." Sometimes this man squats by the fire and utters strange sounds. Beyond the fire, Buck sees the gleaming eyes of great beasts of prey. Dreaming about such "sounds and sights of another world," Buck's hair rises and he growls softly.
During the return journey to Dawson, the team is exhausted. They have traveled 1800 miles, and it has taken its toll. Dave suffers most, sometimes crying out in pain. By the time, the team reaches Caesar Bar, Dave is so weak he falls repeatedly. The Half-breed, wanting to rest Dave, puts Sol-leks in Dave's place. Dave cannot bear that another dog should do his work. He attacks Sol-leks. Realizing the reason for the skirmish, the Half-breed again gives Dave his old place, allowing him to retain his pride until his death. Dave tries to pull his load, but continues to fall. Once the sled runs over him. Although he is limping badly, he persists. Finally, his strength leaves him, and he lies gasping in the snow. His teammates pass on, leaving him behind. When the team reaches a stopping place, the Half-breed retraces his steps and shoots the dog.
In this chapter, Buck wins the position of leadership of the team of dogs. When he defeats Spitz, the honor does not come to him automatically. In fact, Francois and Perrault attempt to make Sol- leks the head dog. Buck refuses to accept their decision and will not join the team until he is made leader. Francois and Perrault finally relent and put Buck at the front. It is a wise decision, for no other dog has ever worked harder at being a good and demanding leader. The team works as a unity under his leadership; they travel further and faster each day and reach Skagway in record time.
London's description of Dave is very touching. The dog is in pain and misery, obviously on the verge of death; but he refuses to let another dog do his work. When he is removed from the team, he runs alongside the sled even though he is in terrible pain. The driver finally decides to harness Dave again and let him take his rightful place even though he knows the work will soon kill him; he wants dog to retain his pride. Dave proves worthy. Although he continually falls down, he never gives up. Finally, he has to be permanently removed from the team, for he is causing the other dogs to trip and stumble. The Scotch half-breed mercifully shoots Dave, putting an end to his misery.
Buck's dreams are again symbolic of his regressive tendencies; he continues to retreat into the primordial as he becomes one with the wild. Earlier he felt an alignment with the huskies; now he goes even further back in time. When he looks at the Half-breed crouching by the fire, he sees a primitive man; his body is covered with hair, and he is unable to stand upright. Buck feels a part of this man and understands his strange utterance. London is again supporting the Darwinian theory of the evolution of man and nature.
The juxtaposition of Buck's dream and Dave's death seem to symbolize the cycle of life and death. The dream is of a primitive time and the dawn of man. The memory of the Judge's home symbolizes the period of civilization. Buck's time in the Yukon symbolizes a return to the wild and a natural state of being. The death of Dave symbolizes the natural cycle coming to an end.