The Call of the Wild
Jack London
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
Motifs
Motifs are devices or structures that are used by artists or authors to help in the development of a theme.
Violent Struggle

Violent struggle is a reoccurring subject in The Call of the Wild. Here, life-and-death battles not only serve as reminders of the dangers of life in the Klondike, but mainly as indicators of the gradual assimilation of Buck into his new environment. When Buck immediately arrives in the north, he witnesses the brutal killing of Curly by other dogs. Soon after, he finds himself in a rivalry with Spitz, which culminates with the locking of one another in head-to-head combat. From this battle, it is only Buck that emerges alive — and with this victory, Buck becomes the leading dog. Nonetheless, he has to continue proving himself with other creatures: a bear, a moose, and (lastly) humans. Eventually, Buck kills the Yeehat Indians in his revenge for John Thornton’s death. In fighting for his life against humans for the very first time, it is an indisputable indication of his integration into the wild. 

Visions

An important subject in The Call of the Wild is “atavism” or the reversion to something ancestral — in this case, the instincts of wild animal ancestors. When Buck is forced into wilderness, the instincts of his wild ancestors are slowly awaken inside of him in the form of recurring visions of his primordial past. He vividly visualizes a man sitting by a campfire, looking fearfully into the dark, with “fire-scorched skin” and body air matted like “thick fur”. Next, Buck has visions of himself as a primeval wild being, hunting prey in a primitive forest. Later, when sitting with Thornton by the fire, he senses the presence of “other dogs, half-wolves, and wild wolves”. Each one of these visions brings Buck closer to his destiny, which is the recovery of the ways of his ancestors and becoming a wild animal. Ultimately, Buck fully answers the call of the wild.

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