Jack London:


From Jack London: by Earle Labor

Twayne Publishers, Inc., New York, 1974


The plot is animated by one of the most basic of archetypal motifs:  the Myth of the Hero.  The call to adventure, departure, initiation, the perilous journey to the “world navel” or mysterious life-center, transformation, and apotheosis—these are the phases of the Myth; and all are present in Buck’s progress from the civilized world through the natural and beyond to the supernatural world.  His journey carries him not only through space but also through time and ultimately into the still center of a world that is timeless.


The seven chapters of the work fall into four major parts or movements.  Each of these movements is distinguished by its own theme, rhythm, and tone; each is climaxed by an event of dramatic intensity; and each marks a stage in the hero’s transformation from a phenomenal into an ideal figure.


Part I:  (three chapters)  Emphasis is upon physical violence and amoral survival, the most Naturalistic—and the most literal of the book.  Images of intense struggle, pain, and blood predominate.


·        “Into the Primitive” – kidnapping from the judge’s pastoral ranch—his subsequent endurance of the first rites of his initiation—the beginning of the transformation that ultimately carries him deep into Nature’s heart of darkness—the figure in the red sweater pounds into the hero a disciplined submission of the code of violence and toil.—Buck passes the test of adaptability

·        “The Law of Club and Fang”  Buck goes to the Northland—encounters dogs and men who will be his traveling companions—absorbs the lessons of survival—Curly is killed—“So that was the way.  No fairplay.  Once down, that was the end of you.” – Learns the motivation of the veteran sled-dogs: the extraordinary love of toil.  But more important is the metamorphosis of his moral values.  He learns, for example, that stealing, an unthinkable misdeed in his former state, can be the difference between survival and death:

·        “The Dominant Primordial Beast” – Marks the conclusion of the first major phase of Buck’s initiation; for it reveals that he is not merely qualified as a member of the pack but that he is worthy of leadership.   Buck challenges Spitz for leadership of the team.  “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise.”  This is the thematic epitome of the whole work and it functions as a prologue to the moonlit scene in which Buck challenges Spitz for leadership of the team, a scene which Frazer traced in The Golden Bough, and of that primitive ritual to which Freud himself attributed both a sense of original sin and the fundamental ceremony of religious exorcism.


Chapter Four: “Who Has Won to Mastership  Buck is a hero and a leader but he is not yet a god.  He must go through a ritualistic death and rebirth


Chapter Five:  The Toil of Trace and Trail – Dominate images are those of pain and fatigue as Buck and his teammates suffer under the ownership of the three chechaquos:  Charles, Mercedes, and Hal


Chapter Six – “For the Love of a Man  -- Buck’s rebirth—chapter also functions as the third and transitional movement of the narrative.  Rescued by John Thornton, the helper who appears in the Myth to lead the hero to his goal.  Time of year is the spring.  He recognizes the “deep in the forest a call was sounding…but his love for John Thornton draws him back.  When Buck wins the $1000 race for pulling a half-ton sled 100 yards, he demonstrates a legendary feat which concludes the third movement of the narrative, foreshadows the hero’s supernatural appointment in the fourth and final movement.


Chapter VII.  “The Sounding of the Call”—Consummates Buck’s transformation.  The setting and tone shift—the spiritual center of gravity moves from the “society” to the unknown:  danger, forest, dream state, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds and impossible delight.”  This is a far cry from the judge’s pastoral ranch and from the raw frontier of the Klondike gold rush.  It is the landscape of myth.  Buck is transformed into the immortal Ghost Dog of Northland legend.  He incarnates the eternal mystery of creation and life.