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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
On the surface, the novel is a simple story of Buck, a cross between a St. Bernard and a Scotch Shepherd. He is raised in an aristocratic manner on Judge Miller's ranch in California; but he is stolen and sold to become a sled dog in Alaska.
In the Klondike, he is put to work on a dog team; during his travels, he learns the law of the club and the law of fang, but they make him stronger and more determined. His experiences make his strong and wise, allowing him to survive when other dogs perish. Even though Buck is badly wounded by Spitz and pushed to near death by his masters, he endures and proves himself to be a strong and worthy leader. Thornton also recognizes these qualities in Buck and saves him from certain death at the hands of Hal. As a result, Buck becomes devoted to Thornton, saving his life on two occasions; but Buck is torn between a civilized life of love and a life in the wilderness, and tries to split his time between the two. When Thornton is brutally murdered by Indians, Buck can finally answer the call of the wild.
At a much deeper level, The Call of the Wild is a naturalistic tale about the survival of the fittest, with Buck being the perfect symbol of the natural man who can live in harmony with the wild environment. Throughout the novel, Buck proves his fitness, overcoming tender feet, miserable cold, an enemy Husky, cruel masters, many beatings, and unfathomable hunger. He is able to survive because of determination, cunning, intelligence, and imagination. He rises to the top because he understands that the natural order of things is to master or be mastered, to kill or be killed; in a harsh environment, there is no fair play. Buck wants not just to survive, but to lead.
London structures his novel, on both the plot and symbolic levels, in a traditional manner. In the first chapter, the main character is introduced, and his basic traits are developed. The problem of the plot is also introduced when Buck is stolen and sent to the Arctic. Once he is tied and caged for the journey, the rising action begins at a quick pace, which intensifies in the next chapters. The climax occurs when Buck defeats Spitz, proving that he has leaned the lessons of the wild and can take care of himself. The falling action of the last chapters is almost as exciting as the rising action, as Buck endears mistreatment from his masters, is saved by John Thornton, becomes a loyal and devoted dog, and is torn between his love for Thornton and the call of the wild. In the conclusion, Buck answers the call after Thornton is killed, going to live with a pack of wolves.
Although the plot is not unified by time or place, it is definitely held together by character. Buck is in virtually every scene in the novel, and every experience teaches his a lesson about the wild. The plot is also unified by repetition. John Thornton is a reflection of Judge Miller, only even more kind and gentle. Buck's masters in between are downward spirals of cruelty, from Francois and Perrault, through the Scotch Half-breed, to Hal and Charles. The law of the fang is also an extension, or repetition, of the law of the club and the law of the whip. Through this repetition and the interweaving of the adventure tale with its symbolic meaning, London has created a masterful novel.