NEA Big Read
The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

No man ever became great who did not achieve the impossible.

  1. When news of the Klondike Gold Rush reached San Francisco in 1897, thousands of men (and some women) left their homes and families to search for gold with no certainty that they would be successful. Would you have made a treacherous journey on such a hope?
  2. The Call of the Wild has an unnamed narrator, who tells the story entirely from the perspective of Buck—a St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd dog. How effective is Jack London’s ability to sustain the story from a dog’s point of view? What other stories have been told from an animal’s viewpoint?
  3. Describe "the law of club and fang” that Buck learns from the “man with the red sweater.” Is this lesson relevant for the survival of humans today?
  4. How does Buck respond when he is “suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial”? Why does the narrator believe his “imagination” is his greatest attribute?
  5. How does Buck’s first theft prove he will survive his new, hostile environment? What happens to his “moral consideration” after this transforming experience?
  6. One of the novel’s most important scenes is the fight between Buck and his rival, Spitz. Who initiates this fight? Does it have to end the way it does? Why or why not?
  7. Buck begins to hear a mysterious, mournful song only after he is removed from his life as a domesticated pet and taken to the harsh natural environment of the Klondike. Why couldn’t he hear this “call” in California?
  8. Are Hal, Charles, and Mercedes the novel’s primary antagonists? What does London suggest by including humans who seek gold at the expense of their own well-being?
  9. How does John Thornton differ from Buck’s previous masters? Why does Buck respond to Thornton with such devotion?
  10. Ultimately, John Thornton discovers gold “like yellow butter.” How does Buck respond to this new lifestyle, compared to the other dogs? Why does the “strain of the primitive” remain “alive and active” in Buck?
  11. The Call of the Wild begins with the opening lines of “Atavism,” a poem by John Myers O’Hara published in 1902. Although Jack London didn’t know the full poem at the time, he felt these four lines perfectly summarized his novel. Do you agree?
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