Buck: A Soft Outlander or A Destined Cold-Blooded Killer? (The Call of the Wild by Jack London Book Review)
You might have a pet. How would it handle being out in the wild on its own? This is the challenge that Buck from Jack London’s Call of The Wild must face. As Buck, a St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd mix, is thrown into the life of a sled dog, he has to face instincts and feelings from the past. Some examples are the need to survive and to rule, which includes him having to kill. But should Buck be held accountable for his actions of causing the death of the previous lead dog, Spitz, and other creatures? Is he a cold-blooded killer? No, Buck should not be held accountable for those actions.
One reason is that he is inheriting the survival techniques of the wolves before him. On page 78, which says, “He killed to eat, not from wantonness; but he preferred to eat what he killed himself,” he is touching into his past. This one example of him using the survival practices of the wolves before him. Due to it already being a part of him, the rediscovery of it shouldn’t be put against him. These are natural feelings, as a sense of moral right and wrong would be to you and me. Another example of this is on page 22 when it says, “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.” This scene is showing the awaking of these instincts for the first time while out in the wild. You get to see the transformation that happens both physically and mentally when he is reunited with nature.
Another reason is that Buck does what is needed to protect the people he loves. In the book, he loves his last master, John Thornton, so much that he would do anything for him. To further support this, on page 82, it says, “For the last time in his life he allowed passion to usurp cunning and reason, and it was because of his love for John Thornton that he lost his head.” Buck, after this, killed some members of a tribe to scare the rest of them away from John. Love for others can set off something in you that tells you to protect them at all costs.
Now some might say Buck is a killer because he never let anything he had already attacked live. This is a good point, but his reasons were that if he showed mercy, it is shown as a weakness in a world where only the strong survive. Adding to this, on page 62 it says, “He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in primordial life. It was misunderstood for fear, and such misunderstandings made for death.” His life is full of harsh conditions and high expectations. It is very different from the life that you and I face every day. One of them being that kindness is a weakness. You do not have much of a choice when it comes to being nice. He was objected to killing to killed himself. In another spot in the book, it says, “There was no hope for him. Buck was inexorable. Mercy was a thing reserved for gentler climes. He maneuvered for the final rush. The circle had tightened till he could feel the breaths of the huskies on his flanks.” This applies to an actual event that happened. It shows that you can’t avoid it once you are in the situation. There is no turning back once you get into a fight.
Lastly, In the wild with dogsleds, the system is one of hierarchy. To be himself, he needed to move up in that system, which meant killing Spitz. One way the text proves this is by saying, “It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, he had been gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace… (30)”. This ties into the first point too, this natural feeling drives the dogs to want this spot. To get this spot, he needs to kill the leader in place, which happens to be his enemy, Spitz. Once he does kill Spitz, he notes that he wanted to be the leader. This is stated on page 38 when it says, “He wanted, not to escape a clubbing, but to have the leadership. It was his by right. He had earned it, and he would not be content with less.” He shows his want for the power of being the lead dog and how he feels he shouldn’t be robbed of it.
Overall, Buck is not a cold-blood killer. He does what he needs to do to survive in his harsh conditions that he is experiencing along with tapping into his instincts. Buck does what he has to protect the people he loves. By using the survival techniques he has from his ancestors, meanwhile keeping up in the system of club and fang. While you might consider Buck a killer, these are the things that are needed to do to survive. Buck is a survivor, and not everyone can be.