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The Call of the Wild

Study Guide


Follow the directions for each section. Study guides will be checked on due dates and then collected and graded at end of the unit.
CHAPTER I. INTO THE PRIMITIVE (1–10)

Answer in complete sentences:

1. In the beginning of Chapter I, how is Buck described? Based on this description, how do you think he will deal with the hardships of the Yukon Territory? Which of his traits will serve him well in his new life? Which will he have to abandon to survive?

2. What important lesson did Buck learn from the man with the club? What is meant by the line, “It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway.”?

3. How did François begin to earn Buck’s respect? From the description of this incident, predict what Buck’s relationship will be with “a big, snowy-white fellow from Spitzbergen.”

4. What is the significance of the title of this chapter?

VOCABULARY

demesne (1): domain

populous (2): with many people; well-populated

imperiously (2): like a king

sated (2): filled up; full

insular (2): protected; inexperienced

progeny (3): children; offspring

deft (3): skilled

futilely (3): unsuccessfully

vilely (3): rudely

hydrophobia (4): rabies

impending (5): soon to happen

calamity (5): disaster

surcharged (7): charged over normal price

slaver (7): saliva; slobber

primitive (8): early, not sophisticated, raw, uncivilized

dormant (8): hidden, buried, sleeping

cunning (8): wisdom, experienced; wily

QUOTATIONS: Choose 3 and explain significance of each quote (who, what, why). Use complete sentences.



  1. “He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by the vague sense of impending calamity.” (5)

  2. “And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for the spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his bloodshot eyes.” (6)

  3. “In midair, just as his jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that checked his body and brought his teeth together with an agonizing clip.” (7)

  4. “That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway.” (8)

  5. “Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked at Buck he knew that he was one in a thousand.” (9)

  6. “He was friendly, in a treacherous sort of way, smiling into one’s face the while he meditated some underhanded trick, as, for instance, when he stole from Buck’s food at the first meal.” (9)

  7. “It bit like fire, and the next instant was gone.” (10)

Activities: Choose one

1. Read the beginning quotation (also known as an epigraph) that prefaces this novel. (1) Draw a picture that represents the conflict.

2. In a reflective journal, tell about a time you felt nervous or scared of a situation or person. Were your instincts correct? Explain.

3. Write a definition of “being good” as pertains to your life at school or at home. What actions does that include? What behaviors does it exclude? How does school “good behavior” differ from home “good behavior”?

4. Is there “primitive law” (8) in your life? Create a collage that shows what primitive law entails.

5. Recall your first time at the beach or your first snowfall, or another experience that was completely foreign to you. What were your reactions? Sensations? Fears? Feelings? Write a jot list of your memories and select the most vivid to turn into a poem.


CHAPTER II. THE LAW OF CLUB AND FANG (11-19)

1. What are the “laws of club and fang” that Buck learned in chapter II? How are these laws different from what Buck was used to?

2. What is the one thing that Dave and Sol-leks live for? Why do you think they are like this? How do you think they got this way? Can you think of examples of other animals or humans that show these traits? What does this tell you about animal and human nature?

3. If you were Buck, which of the other sled dogs would you chose to be your teacher and why? How is this dog like or unlike François as a teacher?

4. What trait insures that Buck will survive in the north? How is this aspect of his character shown in the story? How would this trait be accepted in his former life? What does this say about the differences in the two worlds?

5. Explain the meaning of the following quotation from page 18:

“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. . . . Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again.”

6. In adapting to his new world, has Buck developed or retrogressed? Defend your answer.


VOCABULARY

primordial (10): ancient, prehistoric

reproof (12): blame, criticism

tuition (12): instruction; teaching

appeasingly (12): in an attempt to please

diabolically (13): with evil intent

disconsolate (13): unhappy, gloomy

gee (16): right

haw (17): left
ACTIVITIES

1. Write about a time you were in a completely new situation. How did you feel? Did you become more comfortable over time? If so, how? If not, why not?

2. Describe an unforgettable lesson you learned.

3. Rewrite Curly’s death as if the characters were human. How would the scene change?

4. Draw a picture of Spitz as a person. How would his “personality” translate into human behavior?

5. Perrault’s accent is captured in dialect on page 12, where he describes Buck’s “personality.” Using a dialect style, write Perrault’s description of one of the other dogs on the sled team.

6. Illustrate the sled team as described in Chapter 2, paying close attention to the order of the dogs in relationship to the sled and each other.

7. Research the scientific principles of heat retention to find out why burrowing in the snow would keep the dogs warm during the night, as opposed to sleeping in the open.

8. On your map of the west coast, locate and mark Dyea Canyon, Sheep Camp, the Scales, and Chilkot Divide.

9. How fair is the division of food among the dogs? Argue for the plan or for an alternate method, giving reasons for your argument.

10. Add to your journal of Buck’s changes in character.

11. What qualifies as “moral” or “immoral” in Buck’s new world? Create a collage that represents the “more fundamental and primitive code” (17) and contrast it with the moral code of the Judge.

12. Looking at the titles of the first three chapters, make predictions about what will happen to Buck in the rest of the novel.
QUOTATIONS

“All was confusion and action, and every moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative need to be constantly

alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the

law of club and fang.” (11)

“No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you.” (11)

“The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surge of fear swept through him—the fear of the wild thing for

the trap.” (14)

“He did not steal for joy of it, but because of the clamor of his stomach.” (17)

“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.” (18-19)

CHAPTER III. THE DOMINANT PRIMORDIAL BEAST (19-31)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Describe Spitz’s character using examples from the chapter to support your answer.

2. How do François and Perrault display their true natures in this chapter? Give specific examples to support your answer.

3. How does Buck begin to undermine Spitz’s authority in this chapter? What were the effects of Buck’s actions? What does

this say about Buck’s transformation from a “southland dog?”

4. In the following quotation what does London mean by “the dominant primordial beast” ?

A pause seemed to fall. Every animal was motionless as though turned to

stone. Only Spitz quivered and bristled as he staggered back and forth,

snarling with horrible menace, as though to frighten off impending death.

Then Buck sprang in and out; but while he was in, shoulder had at last

squarely met shoulder. The dark circle became a dot on the moon-flooded

snow as Spitz disappeared from view. Buck stood and looked on, the

successful champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill

and found it good. (31)

5. What traits have helped Buck thrive in his new world? Of them, which do you think is the most important? Why?

A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild 7

VOCABULARY

malingerer (21): time waster; shirker

marauders (21): raiders, intruders

covert (26): hidden

insidious (27): sinister, dangerous

travail (27): work

placatingly (28): so as to calm down

inexorable (31): unstoppable, relentless

ACTIVITIES

1. Write a journal entry about a bully you’ve known. How is your bully similar to Spitz?

2. Write a dramatic scene in which Buck confronts Spitz. Create human dialogue for each of the characters showing their

emotional and mental states.

3. Draw the fight between the two dogs showing features illustrating their characters.

4. Create an illustration contrasting Buck and the pack animals as described on page 20.

5. Research the symptoms of rabies and the disease’s treatment during the time of the Yukon Gold Rush. What would an

outbreak of rabies mean to the dogs? The trappers?

6. Mark the mouth of the Talkeetna River and Dawson on your map of the west coast.

7. Write a poem reflecting the compassion the drivers have for their dogs.

8. Create a poem entitled “Patience is Primitive.”

9. Research temperature, weather conditions, and the aurora borealis in the Northwest.

10. In your journal tell about a time you felt most alive?

11. Compose a song describing Buck’s and Spitz’s death battle. (30)

QUOTATIONS

“Then he was a masterful dog, and what made him dangerous was the fact that the club of the man in the red sweater

had knocked all blind puck and rashness out of his desire for mastery.” (25)

“All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives men out from the sounding cities to forest and plain to kill

things by chemically propelled leaden pellets, the blood lust, the joy to kill—all this was Buck’s, only it was infinitely more

intimate. He was ranging at the head of the pack, running the wild thing down, the living meat, to kill with his own teeth

and wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.” (28-29)

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living,

this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.” (29)

CHAPTER IV. WHO HAS WON THE MASTERSHIP (31–40)

The next day Perrault and François deciphered what happened to Spitz from Buck’s fresh wounds. They decided to make Sol-leks

lead dog because of his experience and were shocked when Buck attacked the older dog demanding to take Spitz’s place. For

the rest of the morning, the men tried to force Buck back into his place in line to no avail. Aware that they were falling behind

schedule, they gave in and put Buck as lead dog. The men were delighted to find that Buck was an outstanding leader. He

made quick, sure decisions and soon forced the rest of the team to do their best. He even succeeded in bullying the fierce Joe

into shape, something Spitz had never been able to do. The team finished the run in record time and then was sold by a tearful

Perrault and François to a “Scotch-half breed.” Under his direction, the team pulled a heavy load of mail back down the trail

they had just traveled. Along the way, Dave became ill. His condition worsened until the drivers unharnessed him so that

he could run along with the team without pulling the heavy load. But, Dave’s pride as a sled dog would not accept his

new role. He forced the drivers to let him serve in the traces until he could no longer go on. At that point the driver had

to shoot him. This was another lesson for Buck.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Describe Buck’s qualities as the new team leader. How is he similar to Spitz? How is he different?

2. Describe the man in Buck’s dreams. What is the significance of these dreams? What is London trying to show us with

these dreams?

3. What is the significance of Dave’s death? Does it remind you of any other work you’ve read or of any event from your life?

VOCABULARY



obdurate (32): stubborn

celerity (34): speed

lugubriously (38): sadly, gloomily

convulsive (39): producing upheaval, shaking

ACTIVITIES

1. Write a conversation you might have with a friend about a fight you witnessed in school. Then, using the dialect found

in Chapter 4 as a model, “translate” your conversation into French Canadian dialect. Share your results out loud with a

small group or your class.

2. Create a poem, rap, or song detailing the qualities of a true leader.

3. Write a journal entry telling about a time you had to get control over or lead a group. Tell what you did to take control.

Had you intended to be the leader? If not, why did you take charge? How did others react to your actions?

4. On your map of the West Coast, mark Lake Laberge, Whitehouse Rapids, Across Marsh, Tagish, and Bennett. Since the

dogs head for Dawson with the mail train, mark it and note the distance the dogs must travel.

5. Write a journal entry or a letter from Buck to the Judge telling about his experiences and the changes they have brought him. (36)

6. Paint a picture showing the relationship of prehistoric man to early dog.

7. Research “collective memory.” Do you believe humans have this type of memory? Why or why not?

QUOTATIONS

“But it was in giving the law and making his mates live up to it that Buck excelled.” (33)

“Dave had bitten through both of Sol-lek’s traces, and was standing directly in front of the sled in his proper place.” (39)

CHAPTER V: THE TOIL OF TRACE AND TRAIL (40–53)

After a month on the trail, Buck and the rest of the team were exhausted. But, instead of receiving the rest they needed

and deserved, they were sold to greenhorns from the United States. Hal, Charles, and Mercedes were weak, inexperienced,

and foolish. They did not listen to the experienced drivers but left town with the team still weak and exhausted. Early in

the trip they overfed the dogs to try to strengthen them. This resulted in their having to underfeed the dogs later in the

trip. Several of the new team dogs starved and the experienced dogs suffered horribly under the men’s callous care. When

they reached John Thornton’s camp, the dogs were near the end of their stamina and the trail was deteriorating. Ignoring

Thornton’s advice not to go on, they prepared to head out onto treacherous ice. Buck refused to go any farther due to

exhaustion and a feeling of “impending doom.” Hal whipped and beat Buck nearly to death until John Thornton saved him.

Watching together, Thornton and Buck witnessed the remaining members of the team and their foolish human drivers

disappear into the black water as the ice gave way.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Reread London’s first description of Hal and Charles. (41) What do you think will happen to them based on this initial

description?

2. What was Mercedes’ reaction when experienced men went through her belongs to lighten the load? What does this say

about her and about her relationship with her husband and brother?

3. Compare Charles, Hal, and Mercedes to any other characters you’ve met in other books, movies, plays, television shows,

or real life. What traits did Buck have that allowed him to adapt to the north that they lacked?

4. Why do you think London included these three characters in the book? What do they represent?

5. Why did Buck refuse to rise and lead the team? What did he have that his masters lacked?

VOCABULARY

salient (41): important

callow (41): inexperienced, immature

chaffering (41): discussion; bickering

apprehensively (41): with nervousness and fear

remonstrance (42): argument; objection

averred (44): claimed; avowed

jaded (45): dulled, satiated

voracious (46): extremely powerful

cajole (46): convince

innocuously (51): harmlessly

terse (51): concise, brief

inarticulate (52): tongue-tied

ACTIVITIES:

1. Write a poem detailing what it feels like to be “dead tired.” (40)

2. Draw a picture of Hal and Charles’ camp based on the description on page 41. Draw another picture of what you imagine

François and Perrault’s camp would have looked like. Explain what the manner in which the camps are kept tells about

the people who own them.

3. Write a journal entry about a time you didn’t listen to someone with more experience than you. What happened? What

did you learn?

4. Imagine you are one of Buck’s owners: François, Perrault, the Scotch half-breed, Hal, Charles, or Mercedes. Write a letter

home to a friend telling about your experience in the Yukon. Be sure your letter reflects the personality of the character

you have chosen.

5. Write a dialogue between the Insiders and the Outsiders regarding their situations.

A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild 10

6. Choose one of the survivors (50) and write a monologue detailing his perspective. Be sure to maintain the dog’s character

throughout the monologue.

7. Research the idea of “civil disobedience.” How is Buck exhibiting this principle? (52)

8. Read your local paper’s obituary section, and then write an obituary for Hal, Charles, or Mercedes as it might have

appeared in their hometown newspaper.

QUOTATIONS

“The two mongrels were without spirit at all; bones were the only things breakable about them.” (45)

“In the nature of Artic travel, there was a reason why no fourteen dogs could not drag one sled, and that was that one sled

could not carry the food for fourteen dogs.” (45)

“Not only did they not know how to work dogs, but also they did not know how to work themselves.” (47)

“The wonderful patience of the trail that comes to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet of speech and

kindly, did not come to these two men and the woman.” (47)

“Thornton went on whittling. It was idle, he knew, to get between a fool and his folly; while two or three fools more or

less would not alter the scheme of things.” (51)

“They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans

disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to be seen. The bottom had dropped out of the trail.” (53)

CHAPTER VI: FOR THE LOVE OF A MAN (53–66)

Under Thornton’s loving care, Buck regained his strength. For the first time in his life, Buck experienced “love, genuine

passionate love.” Buck more than rewarded Thornton’s care by saving his life on several occasions. The first came in Circle

City when “Black” Burton attacked Thornton. Buck nearly killed Burton and was saved from death when the local jury

ruled that he was only defending his master. The second time came when Thornton was thrown overboard into treacherous

rapids. Thornton’s partners, Pete and Hans, tied a rope around Buck and he swam to Thornton who was then pulled

to safety with his arms wrapped tightly around Buck’s neck. The last incident happened that winter in Dawson. Thornton

foolishly bet all of his and his friends’ money that Buck could break from the ice and pull a sled carrying a thousand

pounds for a hundred yards. With his love for Thornton driving him, Buck was able to complete this seemingly impossible

task.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS



1. How did Buck’s relationship with John Thornton differ from his relationships with his previous masters? How does

London illustrate Buck’s intense feelings for Thornton? How is this in keeping with his new, more primitive self? How

does Buck balance his love for Thornton with his more primitive self?

2. What does London mean by the following quotation:

“He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had drawn.” (57)

3. How does Buck’s love for Thornton compare to Dave’s love of toiling in the traces?

4. Explain the meaning of the following quotation:

[Each] day mankind and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him.

Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call,

mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon

the fire, and to plunge into the forest … But as often as he gained the soft

unbroken earth and the green shade, the love of John Thornton drew him

back to the fire again. (57)

A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild 11

VOCABULARY

eloquent (55): expressive

nudge (55); push or prod

reverently (55): respectfully, as if something were holy

feigned (55): pretended

transient (56): not permanent; traveling

aroused (56): awakened

tenderfoot (58): one new at something

contagion (63): spreadable disease

conjuration (64): something created by magic

ACTIVITIES

1. List Buck’s similarities with John Thornton.

2. Create a collage or photomontage of the pets you have owned or would like to own. Be sure to include what qualities you

have that make you (or would make you) a good pet owner.

3. Research animal rescue organizations and the behaviors of abused animals. How would Buck’s relationship with John

Thornton fit into a behavior pattern of an abused dog?

4. Using video clips from nature programs, create a montage representing the law of the wilderness as detailed on page 56.

5. Describe how Thornton exploits Buck’s love for him and why Buck continues to perform seemingly impossible, yet

unnecessary tasks for his master.

QUOTATIONS

“Buck had a trick of love expression that was akin to hurt. He would often seize Thornton’s hand in his mouth and close

so fiercely that the flesh bore the impress of his teeth for some time afterward. And as Buck understood the oaths to be

love words, so the man understood this feigned bite for a caress.” (55)

“Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and roof, were his; yet he retained is wildness and wiliness.” (56)

“He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in the primordial life. It was

misunderstood for fear, and such misunderstandings made for death. Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law; and

this mandate, down out of the depths of Time, he obeyed.” (56)

CHAPTER VII: THE SOUNDING OF THE CALL (66–81)

With the money they won betting on Buck, Thornton and his partners traveled deep into the wilderness to search for a

fabled lost mine. Buck enjoyed the hunting and fishing that went along with their travels. The men found a great gold

strike and toiled night and day. This left Buck to wander the wilderness until he met a timber wolf. Responding to the

call, he traveled with the wolf for miles. Buck then felt the pull of his master and returned to Thornton’s camp where he

didn’t leave his master’s sight for two days before he felt the call of the wild wolf again. Soon Buck was again wandering the

wilderness. He grew in strength and cunning over the months. He was at his peak when, during one of his wanderings,

he attacked and killed a giant bull moose by himself. After this he felt the call of his master and returned to camp. As he

approached camp, he found Nig, one of Thornton’s other dogs dead from a Yeehat arrow. Hurrying into camp he found

that the Yeehats had massacred Thornton, Pete, Hans, and all of the dogs. Driven into a murderous rage at the death of

his master, Buck killed several of the Yeehat party until they sought refuge in the forest. With his master dead, Buck was

free to fully answer the call of the wild. Joining the wolf pack, he quickly became their leader, and for many years afterward,

the Yeehats would tell stories of the giant wolf-like creature that ruled a hidden valley that they were afraid to enter.

A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild 12

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. London describes Buck’s dreams of the primitive man: “The salient thing of this other world seemed fear.” (68) What

does he mean by this? Why would that be true? Why isn’t Thornton’s world filled with fear?

2. Why is Buck intent on befriending the wolf? What makes him break off their travels to return to camp? What does this

say about Buck’s place in the world?

3. What does Buck’s fight with the bear and the moose display about his embrace of the call? Why do you think London

included them in the story? What predictions can you make about Buck’s future?

4. What does Buck learn from his slaughter of the Yeehats? Does this make his answering of the call harder or easier? Explain.

5. Does the book have a happy or sad ending? Explain your answer. What do you think London would say?

VOCABULARY



ramshackle (66): run-down

formidable (73): frightening; imposing

sequential (73): in order

simultaneous (73): at the same time

calamity (76): disaster

discomfited (80): ill at ease

muses (81): reflects, thinks

ACTIVITIES

1. Collect all the episodes of Buck’s dreams of the “hairy man.” Create your own diorama of one of these episodes that shows

how the wildness of man relates to the wildness of beasts.

2. Write a description of the calling you hear in your own life. When do you hear it? How does it speak to you? What senses

(sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, sights) do you connect to your call? How is that call different from the life you are living

right now?

3. Create a collage showing the conflict between the allure of the wild and Buck’s adoration for John Thornton.

4. With physical movement, demonstrate the difference in Buck’s movements in the camp and out of the camp as described

on page 73.

5. In an essay, examine how Buck’s acts of violence change throughout the novel, from his fight with Spitz to the killing of

the Yeehats’ chief. How do the acts represent the changes that are happening to Buck throughout the novel?

6. Create your own “song of the pack” based on what you know about Buck’s new wolf brothers.

QUOTATIONS

“John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of the wild. With a handful of salt and a rifle he cold

plunge into the wilderness and fare wherever he pleased and as long as he pleased.” (66)

“Like giants they toiled, days flashing on the heels of days like dreams as they heaped the treasure up.” (66)

“[The call] filled him with a great unrest and strange desires. It caused him to feel a vague, sweet gladness, and he was

aware of wild yearnings and stirring for he knew not what.” (69)

“He knew he was at last answering the call, running by the side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call

surely came.” (71)

“He had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the law of club and fang.” (78)

“The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him.” (79)

AFTER READING THE NOVEL


QUESTIONS

1. Who is wild and who is civilized in the story? Explain your answer with specific examples.

2. Do you think Buck would be able to rejoin man at some point in his future? Explain.

3. Compare and contrast all of Buck’s masters. What did he learn from each? Which lesson or lessons were most important

to his survival? His happiness?

4. Critics write that London was heavily influenced by Darwin’s idea of survival of the fittest. Give examples from the novel

to support this position.

ACTIVITIES

1. Research Jack London’s life, then research and compare it to that of contemporary author Gary Paulsen. How are their

lives similar? Different? How is Gary Paulsen influenced by Jack London’s work?

2. Collect poetic lines from the novel to create your own poem entitled “The Call of the Wild.”

3. Write an alternative ending to the novel telling what would have happened if John Thornton had not died.

4. Look back at the epigraph (lines of poetry at the beginning of the novel). Write an essay explaining how the epigraph

serves to highlight the themes and spirit of this novel. How does Buck’s journey reflect these words?



5. Write an essay comparing London’s tale with one or more works by Gary Paulsen.

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