27 April 2012
There is a quote that states that “The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing or changing conditions.” This quote describes Buck, who is a dog and the main character in Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. When forcibly taken from his home in Santa Clara Valley and smuggled into the Alaskan wilderness to work as a sled dog, Buck in order to survive, must change his current lifestyle and learn to habituate to the harsh and bitter terrain of the Yukon. Throughout the story, Jack London puts an emphasis on Buck’s retrogression from a sated and aristocratic dog, into a wild and vicious creature of the primitive world. Buck’s ability to change from a tame, kingly dog into a fierce and primordial monster supports London’s underlying theme that out in the cruel realms of the wilderness, one must be able to learn and adapt to prove himself one of the fittest in order to survive.
In the beginning of the story, Buck lived a civilized life full of ease and contentment at the Judge Miller’s house in Santa Clara Valley. He was very dignified and considered himself king, not being a house-dog or a kennel-dog. He was the ruler over the vast demesne of the Judge’s place, where he was free to do whatever he wanted. This is shown when the author writes “Among the terriers, he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king,---king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included” (London 2). Another example is “During the four years since his puppy hood he had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had fine pride in himself, was even a trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes become because of their insular situation” (London 2). These two quotes clearly show how Buck’s life has been “lazy and sun-kissed” ever since he was born. Ever since he could remember, he has always been living as a fully sated prince, right in the heart of civilization. So as you can see, Buck wholly exhibits a prince of refined dignity, whose life has been spent gratifyingly in the midst of modern humanity.
Near the completion of the story, Buck has been transmogrified into the complete opposite of what he was in the beginning of the novel. Ever since he learned to adapt to the harsh and beastly orientation of the Alaskan wilderness, he has retrogressed into a merciless and rudimentary being. Jack London shows this when he writes:
His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became hard as
iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He achieved internal as
well as external economy. He could eat anything, no matter how loathsome
or indigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of his 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 of 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 (16).
Gone was his character of a domesticated and civilized nobleman. Instead it its place, was the character of a bloodthirsty and demonic monster. Another example of Buck’s dramatic change of character is when the author writes: “And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him” (16). So not only did Buck adapt to his surroundings physically, but mentally as well. His long-buried primordial instincts have been excavated at long last, and now he is living his life the way his long-dead ancestors lived theirs before him. Therefore, it is clearly shown that Buck has undergone a vivid transformation, that of which has turned him into a completely different being than he was before being introduced to a new environment, which he has so impressively adapted to.
The overall theme of this story, as London described it, is that in order to survive, one must be able to change and adapt to his surroundings and prove himself one of the fittest. London vividly describes this theme through Buck’s metamorphosis in the novel. Although Buck was thrust out of the heart of civilization on such short notice, he is amazingly able to adapt so quickly to his new lifestyle through learning vicariously and of own experience. He learned vicariously that out in the wild, showing any sign of weakness is fatal, when he witnessed one of his comrades mauled by a bunch of huskies because she was not able to adapt quickly enough to the new lifestyle she was given. Through his own experience, Buck understood more of how inevitable death was if you were weak, therefore making sure he himself never showed any sign of weakness. In other words, Buck’s quick learning ability to adapt to his surroundings is what helped him survive all throughout and beyond the period of his metamorphosis.
In final consideration, London’s theme of “survival of the fittest” is reinforced by Buck’s learning capacity and his capability to adapt to a brand-new lifestyle. It is clear that the way London describes Buck’s metamorphosis is his method of affirming his own theme. In the beginning of the novel, Buck is a distinguished and tamed prince, living a life of comfort and luxury in the hub of civilized life. Nevertheless, after being thrown into the Yukon terrain to work as a sled dog, he is forced to change his ways of life in order to survive in the new environment. This leads to the conclusion of Buck adapting not only mentally, but physically as well, making way for his retrogression into a vicious fiend, a creature of the primordial world. Through his adaptation and therefore retrogression, Buck has finally proven himself worthy of being called the “fittest” and has survived.