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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 7: The Sounding of the Call
Buck, by pulling the sled, has earned sixteen hundred dollars for Thornton; he has also earned a reputation for himself, for his fame seems to have spread throughout Alaska. But Buck is still torn between the lure of Thornton's love and the call of the wild. He is delighted when Thornton decides to travel in search of a lost gold mine that many have sought and none have found. Buck is eager to start out on the quest with Hans, Pete, and Thornton, for the journey will take him to strange new places, far away from civilization.
As Buck and the men travel through primitive lands that are void of signs of humanity, the going is rough, but the dog is invigorated by the natural surroundings; he does not even seem to greatly mind when they can find nothing to eat. Finally in the spring, they arrive in the area where the gold mine is supposed to be. The men pan for gold and "heaped the treasure up." Buck often lies by the fire, watching his master at work and dreaming of the hairy man from a much earlier time. He also often hears the call of the wild coming from the nearby forest.
One day Buck ventures away from camp and into the forest, where he spies a lone timber wolf, which is much smaller that Buck. With no intention of harming it, Buck chases the wolf in a playful manner and is soon running by its side. Buck feels so at home in this natural setting that he almost feels that he has lived like this before, but in another world at another time. His mind is suddenly jarred with the thought of John Thornton, and Buck races back to camp to find his master. It is obvious that Buck is very torn between the wild, symbolized by the howling wolf, and civilization, symbolized by John Thornton.
The longer they all stay in camp, the more Buck begins to wander in the woods. Sometimes he stays away for several days at a time, feeding himself with salmon that he catches. One time he kills a black bear, just to prove he can function in the wild; but the kill excites him. Two days later he kills two wolverines who are feeding on "his" bear. With each kill his "blood longing becomes stronger," urging him to kill more to prove his abilities in the natural world and his fitness to survive.
Slowly but surely, Buck is leaving behind his civilized life, trading it in for a naturalistic existence, where he must live by means of his own strength, determination, cunning, and intelligence. His natural hunting instincts emerge as seen when he relentlessly stalks a moose for four days, finally attacking and defeating it. He enjoys the thrill of the kill and the fresh meat, but he also wants to go back to camp and see Thornton. Buck is still torn between his two worlds, even though he has proven to himself that he is totally capable of existing on his own merit in the wild.
Returning towards camp, Buck picks up the scent of a strange trail and grows alert. When he nears camp, he finds Nig and another dog lying dead from arrow wounds. With cunning, he creeps the rest of the way to camp on his belly; there he finds everything in shambles. He then spies Indians and "for the last time in his life he allowed passion to usurp cunning and reason." He attacks one Indian after another, grabbing their throats. Finally, all the Indians flee from him in fear; Buck pursues them for a while, but then returns to camp, where he discovers Thornton and Pete dead.
Suddenly, Buck feels proud that he has killed some of the enemy; "he had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the law of the club and fang."
With his master gone, Buck can finally and permanently answer the call of the wild. Throughout the novel, London has prepared the dog to succeed in this final challenge. There is no doubt that Buck is fit enough to survive in the natural world. When a pack of wolves come into the camp, Buck attacks and kills the strongest one of them. He then wounds three others. The rest of the pack jumps on Buck and pins him to the ground; but Buck will not give up. He fights all of the wolves. Then one of the wolves comes up and rubs its nose against Buck, inviting him to join the pack, rather than fight it; it is the wolf that Buck has earlier chased in a friendly manner. Buck gets to his feet and runs off side-by-side with the wolves, answering the call of the wild.
London ends the novel by telling that Buck becomes a legend whose story is repeated over and over again throughout the years. There is also a change in the appearance of the timber wolves, which develop "splashes of brown on the head and muzzle, with a rift of white centering down the throat," a trait inherited from Buck.
Throughout the novel, London has carefully traced Buck's journey from the civilized world to the natural, primitive wild. In this last chapter, he emphasizes the fact that Buck, though he loves Thornton, is in constant conflict. The call of the wild, the primordial instinct is extremely strong in Buck, and he spends more and more time away from camp and out in the woods. His urge to hunt and kill returns, and he attacks a bear, a pack of wolverines, and a moose. Still, however, he cannot abandon Thornton, to whom he is devoted.
When left unprotected, Thornton is killed; ironically he is not murdered by animals in the wild, but by men. Buck takes revenge on the Indians, and is proud to have killed Thornton's enemy. With Thornton gone, Buck is free to answer the call of the wild; thus, the Darwinian circle is completed, and Buck is allowed to fulfill his quest.