Monday, February 27, 2017

The Call of the Wild...

The Call of the Wild by Jack London was our February Middle School Socratic Book Club read. A couple of quotes from my commonplace are as follows...
But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness - imagination. (Ch. 3)
For the last time in his life he allowed passion to usurp cunning and reason, and it was because of his great love for John Thornton that he lost his head. (Ch. 7) 
I found it interesting that the author equated having love with giving up reason, as if one could not have both. However, upon investigation and learning of Jack London's worldview, it was not surprising. London was a prominent socialist and atheist, who wrote from a point of realism and naturalism. He was also interested in Marxism, Nietzschean philosophy, and Darwinism.

The Call of the Wild is one of London's most famous works. It was originally serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1903. It is the story of dog named Buck, half St. Bernard and half sheepdog, living a comfortable life on Judge Miller's estate in California until one day, when Buck is stolen and sold to dog traders, who teach Buck obedience by beating him.

The Call of the Wild is set in the late 1890's and the Klondike Gold Rush is on. Throughout the story, we see Buck being sold from one cruel master to the other, until eventually, he is rescued by John Thornton, a veteran gold prospector. From there, a relationship is built between man and beast. However, when Thornton is killed, Buck decides to leave civilization for good and return to the wild. Theorists say, the theme in The Call of the Wild is based on Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest. I agree and could definitely see evolutionary ideas at work.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect and, while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. (Ch. 1)
He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old life. A dainty eater, he found that his mates, finishing first, robbed him of his unfinished ration. There was no defending it. While he was fighting off two or three, it was disappearing down the throats of the others. To remedy this, he ate as fast as they; and, so greatly did hunger compel him., he was not above taking what did not belong to him. He watched and learned...
...This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment....
...His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became hard as iron and he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He achieved an internal as well as external economy. He could eat anything, no matter how loathsome or indigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of this stomach extracted the last least particle of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reaches of his body, building it into the toughest and stoutest tissues. Sight and scent became remarkably keen, while his hearing developed such acuteness that in his sleep he heard the faintest sound and knew whether it heralded peace or peril. He learned to bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected between his toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice over the water hole, he would break it by rearing and striking it with stiff forelegs. His most conspicuous trait was an inability to scent the wind and forecast it a night in advance. No matter how breathless the air when he dug his nest by tree or bank, the wind that later blew inevitably found him to leeward, sheltered and snug. 
And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. It was no task for him to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery, as though they had been his always. And when, on the still, cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness and the cold and dark. 
Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again. And he came because men had found a yellow metal in the North, and because Manuel was a gardener's helper whose wages did not lap over the needs of his wife and divers small copies of himself. (Ch. 2) 
Despite, London's worldview, or maybe because of it, The Call of the Wild is a worthy read. It lent a great opportunity for worldview discussion. It would make a fitting piece for older students discovering rhetorical thinking.

Aside from London's worldview, The Call of the Wild is action packed and has been a favorite of many outdoorsmen over the years. The boys in our group enjoyed it much more than the girls.

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