Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
The main theme of The Call of the Wild is "Survival of the Fittest," as evidenced in Buck. This philosophy, or theme, is developed from several sources:
1) Natural Selection
The mechanism of evolutionary change was suggested by Darwin in 1858. This theory asserts that evolution occurs because those individuals of a species, whose characteristics best fit them for survival, are the ones who contribute most of the offspring to the next generation. These offspring will tend to have the characteristics, by virtue of which their parents survived, and in this way, the adaptation of the species to its environment will gradually improve.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) made a great contribution to science when he put forward the theory of evolution. Darwin saw the evolutionary process as a series of adaptations. Plants and animals differ from one another in their hereditary qualities. Those variants, which equip an organism to meet the needs of the environment, will be preserved in the "struggle for existence." Darwin used the term natural selection for this process of discrimination.
In literature, this term is used to describe those works which give a harsh, realistic view of nature, with mankind at its mercy. In naturalism, only the strong will survive. Since naturalism is basically post-Darwinian, it inclines towards an evolutionary view of life, stating that the fittest will survive to have descendent who are even more fit.
In the novel, London relies upon all three philosophies in telling his story about Buck, who has evolved into a near perfect creature to withstand the harsh realities of the naturalistic world of the Arctic wild.
A secondary theme in the novel is man's desire to have an adventure or a quest. Every culture has stories of heroes going in search of the unattainable. They undergo trials, overcome hardships, and finally succeed. Jack London's The Call of the Wild is based upon a quest. The story of Buck and his adventures, his transformation from ranch pet to magnificent dog of the wilderness, is his quest to answer the call of the wild. In a similar manner, each of his masters in the Yukon is on a quest, all of them searching for gold. Francois and Perrault are in the Klondike to make a living for themselves; Charles, Hal, and Mercedes are greedy, seeking to get wealthy from the gold. Thornton goes after gold for a sense of adventure; he wants to go where no other man has gone and returned. He loves the natural world, as Buck does, and understands the call of the wild.