Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!

Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Spoiler warning for the end of the novel! (Though that’s probably obvious….)

This is a tough question for me because I think the answer is entirely dependent on what one most values, and valid arguments could be made for both positions.

Buck faces a tough life and a large number of challenges throughout the novel, but by the end, he has found a truly good master, a friend.  Various men had tried to beat the wildness and passion out of Buck, but Thornton is kind to him, and the two have a great relationship.  Ultimately, however, Thornton still ties Busk to civilization, and one of the primary questions the book asks is “Is that tie to civilization good?”

The ending is at least a little sad because Thornton dies and Buck is left on his own.  The narrator writes: “…He knew John Thornton was dead.  It left a great void in him, somewhat akin to hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which food could not fill.” Yet because of Thornton’s death, Buck is able to join a pack of wild wolves, and he appears to thrive.  He becomes a prince among wolves, the head of a pack that the humans tell legends about: “They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning greater than they.”

So the question is really about whether you believe the “returning to the wild” is a positive or a negative.  For Buck, it seems to work out.  He seems to regain his “true nature,” to be able to develop a prowess his human masters often stunted in him.  In that way, the ending seems decently positive to me.  However, if the question is whether “returning to the wild” is good for all animals, or for humans (a question the book definitely raises in spite of the fact that the protagonist is a dog), the answer is probably more complex.

You can read my review of The Call of the Wild here.

What do think? Link us to your post or tell us your answer in the comments!


10 thoughts on “Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive? (Classic Remarks)

  1. The Hermit Librarian says:

    I haven’t read the book myself, but going based on what you’ve said in this post, I’d say Buck’s situation was very unique. I’d say the idea of returning an animal to the wild, one that has become so comfortable and possibly domesticated, would be a huge mistake.

    Unlike Buck, most animals, if not handled by professionals (rescuers, zoo keepers), will not survive the transition. They’ve become too dependent and won’t have the skills or will to make it in their natural habitat.


    • Briana says:

      That’s actually what I was thinking about too, a bit. The book is always going on and on about how special Buck is, how he stands out even among the other sled dogs for his intelligence, bravery, strength, etc. It’d probably go badly for many of the other dogs in his situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Hermit Librarian says:

        I’d hate to think what another dog would be feeling. Never mind how it would survive in the wild, what about it’s emotional well-being? I see stories in the news from time to time about pets that stay by their humans grave long after they’ve passed.

        Have you ever heard the story of Hachiko? After his master died, he waited for his train every day until Hachiko himself passed. 😭


  2. suzannedavis11 says:

    Buck’s triumph in the wild portrays the author’s assertions about civilization, not simply a dog’s survival among wolves in the Yukon. For instance, London’s long passages about Buck looking into the fire and seeing the “hairy man” and the “primordial beast” reflect the 19th Century’s new understanding of evolution; London is making a statement about civilization when Buck rises to power among the wild pack of wolves. As for John–Buck no longer needed a human to provide and protect. Adult readers should explore some contextual criticism in order to understand the depth of the novel.


    • Krysta says:

      I think that a good edition of the book would have an introduction noting many of the things you say here and that it could be quite interesting for readers to learn more about the context of the work in this way. I would hesitate, however, to suggest that adult readers should read criticism on all the novels they read, both because this can be somewhat difficult to access without a good library or without access to an academic library, and because I think it’s valid for individuals to read for entertainment or pleasure and not a research component to the act. I wouldn’t want to suggest to readers hesitant to approach classics that they are “doing it wrong” or that by approaching works from a reader response perspective, they are not having a valid reading experience. But I am a reader who finds more pleasure from reading when I know more about the context of the work, so I always appreciate a thorough introduction and notes!


    • Briana says:

      Yes, that’s why I said it’s perhaps a happy ending for Buck, but if we’re trying to extend the metaphor for humans, it’s probably more complicated.


  3. fairydancer221 says:

    When I read the title of your post, I thought about the ending only within the bounds of the book. I liked the ending for Buck when I read it. I thought he should return to the wild. Now that I think about it to the whole of humanity, I agree that the answer is more complex.


  4. Zezee says:

    I thought it was a positive ending, but that’s because I was focused on Buck as I read. My reason is the same as yours, I thought it best for Buck to be who/what he really is and a better version of himself that wasn’t attainable when he’s someone’s pet.


    • Briana says:

      Right. I think it’s difficult because the book does represent it as a great ending that allows Buck to reach his potential, but the book is also always noting how exceptional Buck is, so how well could it work out for anyone else?


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