Jack London

The Call of the Wild

  • This summary of The Call of the Wild includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

The Call of the Wild Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The Call of the Wild is a 1903 novel written by Jack London. It originally appeared in serialized form in The Saturday Evening Post and was published as a book shortly afterward. It stands as London’s first major literary success. The novel has been adapted into films several times, the first of which was in 1923.

The main character of the novel is Buck, a St. Bernard dog who lives happily at the home of his owner, Judge Miller. However, Buck is stolen by the gardener’s assistant and sold to a dealer who takes him to Seattle. Mistreated along the way, Buck attacks his handler at the first opportunity, though he is quickly cowed by a beating with a club. Buck is eventually shipped to the Klondike region of Alaska where he is trained to serve as a sled dog.

Immediately upon arrival in the Klondike, Curly, another dog that has been traveling with Buck, is attacked by a pack of huskies. Buck watches the other dogs kill Curly and vows not to let the same thing happen to him. He adapts quickly to the pack mentality of the other dogs, recovering the instincts of his wild ancestors in order to survive. Buck quickly learns to fight, burrow under the snow to sleep, and hunt for food.

The lead dog of the team, Spitz, does not like Buck and they quarrel frequently. Eventually, Buck begins to undercut Spitz’s authority in a variety of ways. The two dogs have a major fight, which Buck wins. After Spitz is defeated, the other dogs in the pack attack and kill him. Buck takes Spitz’s place as the lead dog, excelling in the role.

Francois and Perrault, the two men in charge of the dog team, begin to make record time with Buck as the lead dog. The two men, who work as mail carriers, are experienced at driving sleds and know how to treat their dogs. However, after one run, they turn the team over to a new driver who makes the dogs pull much heavier loads and does not care for their feet on the ice. After several dogs get sick and can no longer work, the driver is forced to shoot them. The remaining dogs are exhausted by the trip and the mail carrier sells them to a group of American prospectors.

Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, the prospectors, are not experienced with wilderness travel. They overload the sled and balance the load poorly so that the dogs often upset it when they are pulling. In addition, they beat their animals and plan poorly so that they run out of food before they reach their destination. The humans begin to fight, and the weaker dogs gradually starve to death. Only five of the original fourteen dogs are still alive when the group reaches John Thornton’s camp.

John warns them that the ice is beginning to melt and it is no longer safe to cross the river with a heavy sled. The prospectors ignore his advice and try to get the sled moving again. However, Buck refuses to stand up. Hal begins to beat Buck, but John intervenes, rescuing the dog. John cuts Buck loose and takes him back to his camp. The prospectors and remaining dogs set off, but as they begin to cross the ice it breaks and humans and dogs alike fall through to their deaths.

Buck recovers his strength quickly at John’s camp. John is experienced with wilderness survival and treats his animals well. Buck becomes totally devoted to him; John is the first human that he has trusted since being taken from Judge Miller’s house. Buck saves John from drowning and attacks a man who tries to start a fight with him. He also pulls a heavy sled a short distance in order to help John win a bet.

Though he is very close to John, Buck also feels a growing attraction to the wild. When the two travel out into the wilderness to look for a lost mine, Buck is accepted by a wolf pack. He roams through the wild with his new wolf friends, but always feels obligated to return to John in the end. However, one day he returns to camp to find that John has been killed by Yeehat Indians.

Buck attacks the Indian camp, killing several of them before returning to the wolves in the wilderness. He comes to lead the pack and fathers countless cubs. To the local Yeehat, he is known as the Ghost Dog, a fearsome creature that terrorizes the humans in the region. Every year, Buck returns to the spot where John died to mourn his master. After that, he goes back to his life in the wild.