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A Study of Jack London’s Belief in Darwinism
Jack London has a strong belief in Darwinism, survival of the fittest, during the
late 1800’s through the early 1900’s, when he wrote. Throughout his writings, many
characters display London’s belief in Darwinism. In the novel, The Call of the Wild,
Jack London’s belief in social darwinism is portrayed by animals interacting with
humans, each other, and the environment. This can be shown through Buck, a house dog
turned sled dog, interacting with his masters, other dogs, and the Yukon wilderness.
As Buck travels from master to master throughout the course of the novel he
learns, through trial and error, what behavior brings rewards, and that which brings
[Buck] had never been struck by a club in his life, and did
not understand. ...he was [now] aware that it was a club,
but his madness knew no caution. A dozen times he
charged, and as often the club broke the charge and smashed
him down (London 18).
Buck “...had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. ...the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed...” (London 20). Buck learned to do as his masters say. “...he grew honestly to respect them. He speedily learned that Perrault and Francois were fair men...” (London 21). Buck also learned when and how to defend himself against man.
London’s depiction of Buck’s struggle to learn how to survive in an unfamiliar
environment has been compared to western society’s struggle with encroaching communism. “The study of Jack London’s work became a mirror of the turbulent McCarthy era...” (Veggian 2). Through these struggles, Buck was able to adapt and survive in a world controlled by man.
Buck also had to learn when and how to fight other dogs. Eventually Buck
Fought and killed Spitz to become lead dog. “Buck stood and looked on, the successful
champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and found it good”
(London 42). London often witnessed these dog fights and this influenced his writing.
“...he found the first successful theme for his writing in a last frontier splurge...” (Walker 12). Although Buck had troubles with his new peers, he also had a great conflict with his new home.
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Buck also must adapt to survive in his new home, the Yukon Wilderness:
In London’s Klondike, the game of Natural Selection meant
the survival of the fittest. It was a world of inhuman cold, of
blinding snow, and of sudden blizzards that obscure the trail
and portend a death by freezing (Tuttleton 290).
The first Lesson Buck learns is that he must sleep buried in the snow to stay warm overnight. “Buck selected a spot and... proceeded to dig a hole for himself. In a trice the heat from his body filled the confined space and he was asleep” (London 25). This shows how Buck quickly adapted to live in this new environment. Another method in
which Buck learned to keep warm was to stay close to the campfire. Buck soon learned
of wolves in the territory, and from fighting with other dogs Buck could now defend
In The Call of the Wild, Buck represents the “blond beast” or the “Nietzschean
hound”, the animal which struggles, and as a result survives (Tuttelton 293, Kazin 88).
Another critic, Maxwell Geismar, also believes that The Call of the Wild is a celebration
of animal instincts (153). The critics and I both feel that London does believe in
Darwinism, and he portrays this belief throughout the novel. This also shows that the
novel is very true-to-life, because it employs Natural Selection, a fact of nature.