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•W . -INSTITUTE of , ., 

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The Call 
of the Wild 






The Call 
of the Wild 



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The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1 965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nations largest 
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for 
the nations 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institutes mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums mat connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain 
heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts 
opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based 
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state 
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South 
Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United 
States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

Additional support for the Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 

Published by 

National Endowment for the Arts 
1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W 
Washington, D.C. 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 


Berton, Pierre. The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. New York: Carroll & 
Graf Publishers, Inc., 1985. 

Fisher, John. Think Dog! An Owner's Guide to Canine Psychology. Chicago: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. 1903. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2003. 

- — . The Portable Jack London. Ed. by Earle Labor. New York: Viking, 1994. 

Millan, Cesar. Cesar's Way: The Natural Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog 
Problems. New York: Harmony Books, 2006. 

Walker, FxwcMm. Jack London and the Klondike. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1966. 


David Kipen, NEA Director of National Reading Initiatives 

Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education 

Writers: Erika Koss and Dan Brady for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a preface by Dana Gioia 

Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington D.C. 

Image Credits 

Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for the Big Read. Page iv: Photo © Paul Souders/Corbis, book cover 
courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back cover: 
© Bettman/Corbis. 

Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Biography 4 

Lesson Two: Culture and History 5 

Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 

Lesson Four: Characters 7 

Lesson Five: Symbols and Metaphors 8 

Lesson Six: Jack London's Writing Style 9 

Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 

Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 

Lesson Nine: Themes of the Book 12 

Lesson Ten: What Makes a Great Book? 13 

Essay Topics 14 

Capstone Projects 15 

Handout One: The Klondike Gold Rush 16 

Handout Two: Pack Mentality 17 

Handout Three: Jack London and Naturalism 1 8 

Teaching Resources 19 

NCTE Standards 20 

"There is an ecstasy that 
marks the summit of life, 
and beyond which life 
cannot rise. And such is 
the paradox of living, this 
ecstasy comes when one is 
most alive, and it comes as 
complete forgetfulness that 
one is alive. This ecstasy... 
came to Buck, leading the 
pack, sounding the old wolf- 
cry, straining after the food 
that was alive and that fled 
swiftly before him through 
the moonlight." 

—from The Call of the Wild 


National Endowment for the Arts 


* **ff" ■# fty*H 


Welcome to the Big Read, a major initiative from the National Endowment 
for the Arts. Designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American 
culture, the Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, 
as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. 

This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through 
Jack London's classic novel, The Call oftheWild. Each lesson has four 
sections: a focus topic, discussion activities, writing exercises, and 
homework assignments. In addition, we have provided capstone projects 
and suggested essay topics, as well as handouts with more background 
information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All 
lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the 
fiction genre. 

The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, 
commentaries, and excerpts from the book, the Big Read CD presents 
first-hand accounts of why The Call oftheWild remains so compelling more 
than a century after its initial publication. Some of America's most 
celebrated writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their time to 
make these Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. 

Finally, the Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
interviews, booklists, timelines, and historical information. We hope this 
guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while 
introducing them to the work of a great American author. 

From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year. 

"^UAU H$l&H^ 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | 




Day One 

FOCUS: Biography 

Activities: Listen to the Big Read CD. Discuss 
Reader's Guide essays. Have students write 
about their work experience and reading 

Homework: Read Chapter I ."Into the 
Primitive" and Handout One. 


Day Two 

FOCUS: Culture and History 

Activities: Discuss the Klondike and the gold 
seekers' arduous journey across the Yukon 
Territory. Map Buck's journey. 

Homework: Read Chapter 2: "The Law of 
Club and Fang." 


Day Three 

FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View 

Activities: Discuss the book's narrative point 
of view. Analyze passages that reveal Buck's 
perspective. Write a story from the 
perspective of an animal. 

Homework Read Chapter 3: "The Dominant 
Primordial Beast" and Handout Two. 


Day Four 

FOCUS: Characters 

Activities: Discuss Handout Three. Analyze 
each dog's personality and place in the pack. 
Write an essay considering the importance of 
the fight between Buck and Spitz. 

Homework: Read Chapter 4: "Who Has Won 
to Mastership." 


Day Five 

FOCUS: Symbols and Metaphors 

Activities: Discuss the symbolic meaning of 
the "mysterious song" Buck hears as he 
adjusts to life in Alaska. Write an essay about 
the man Buck "sees" squatting by the 

Homework: Read Chapter 5:"TheToil of 
Trace and Trail" and Handout Three. Ask 
students to select a favorite passage from the 
book, and note three characteristics of 
London's writing style. 


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Day Six 

FOCUS: Jack London's Writing Style 

Activities: Discuss Naturalism. Analyze 
favorite passages to better understand 
London's style. Write an essay considering the 
parallel London makes between the artist, 
soldier, and Buck. 

Homework: Read Chapter 6: "For the Love 
of a Man." 


Day Eight 

FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds 

Activities: Discuss the book's turning points 
and what we learn about Buck during those 
moments. Write an essay on the novel's 

Homework: Consider whether Buck's actions 
would have differed if John Thornton had 


Day Seven 

FOCUS: Character Development 

Activities: Discuss the parallels between the 
human characters and the dogs. Discuss 
London's view of humans and animals. 

Homework: Read Chapter 7: "The Sound of 
the Call." 


Day Nine 

FOCUS: Themes of the Book 

Activities: Discuss themes of Nature and 
Civilization. Write an essay about the novel's 

Homework: Begin working on essays. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: What Makes a Great Book? 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great 
work of fiction. 

Homework: Work on essays. 

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The authors life can inform and expand the reader's understanding of a 
work of fiction. One practice of examining a literary work, biographical 
criticism, looks through the lens of an authors experience. In this lesson, 
explore the author's life to more fully understand the book. 

Jack London's formal education stopped after grammar school. As a 
teenager, he held a variety of jobs to help support his family, but never gave 
up his goal of pursuing an education. At age 19, London enrolled as a 
freshman at Oakland High School while working there as a janitor. He quit 
school after one year, but was eventually admitted to the University of 
California, Berkeley. Frustrated by the slow pace of his classes, he dropped 
out after one semester and began a life-long practice of self-education, often 
reading and studying more than fifteen hours a day. 

His brother-in-law, Captain James Shepard, asked London to join him in 
the 1 897 Klondike gold rush. They began the ill-fated adventure that 
summer. Shepard died in the Klondike, and London became stricken with 
scurvy that winter. London returned to San Francisco in July 1898, but this 
one year provided inspiration and material for many stories. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to the Big Read CD. Have students take notes as they listen. Ask students 
to read the following essays from the Reader's Guide: "Jack London" and "London 
and His Other Works." Have them present the three most important points they 
learned from the CD and Reader's Guide. 

Jack London often encouraged unpublished writers to work hard, write 
consistently, and "have a philosophy." In a letter to one such writer, London wrote, 
"There's only one way to make a beginning, and that is to begin; and begin with 
hard work, patience, prepared for all the disappointments [. . .] which were mine 
before I succeeded." Ask your students how this advice might apply to them as 
they plan their own educations and careers. 

Writing Exercise 

Jack London belonged to the working-class poor until he achieved literary fame. 
Even without a high school education, he was voracious reader, spending several 
hours reading before he fell asleep every night Ask your students to write a one- 
page essay about their work experience and reading habits. Can they relate to any 
part of Jack London's struggle to obtain an education? How does education fit into 
the pursuit of their goals and dreams? 

C3 Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter l:"lnto the Primitive" and Handout One from 
this guide. Why does Manuel steal and sell Buck? What does the "man with the 
red sweater" teach Buck? 


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Culture and 

Cultural and historical contexts give birth to the dilemmas and themes at 
the heart of a work of fiction. Studying these contexts and appreciating the 
intricate details of the time and place can assist us in comprehending the 
motivations of the characters. In this lesson, use cultural and historical 
contexts to begin to explore The Call of the Wild. 

Preparing for the journey to the Klondike was no easy task. The Canadian 
government enforced a law that required every team of prospectors to carry 
one thousand pounds of supplies with them to make it over the mountains. 
Most of this weight came from food (including the recommended 20 
pounds of flour, 12 pounds of bacon, 12 pounds of beans, 3 pounds of 
coffee, and 5 pounds of corn meal). Heavy equipment and the warmest 
clothing available made up the rest. Once a team reached Dawson, they 
found much of the land already staked. Many obtained jobs working for 
other miners, in hotels, bars, or supply shops. Mail, carried entirely by 
dogsled, was often delayed for months at a time in the winter. Cities like 
Dawson were also rife with conmen. From its impassable trails to its 
sawdust bar rooms, the Klondike was a dangerous place. 

Discussion Activities 

The Yukon Territory is so large it could cover two-thirds of the western United 
States. Gary Paulson gives a clear comparison of what the gold rushers went 
through:"put a hundred-pound pack on your back and then walk from New York 
to Chicago through dense forest and over huge mountains, subsisting only on what 
food you could hunt along the way, while working twenty-four hour days, panning 
and picking for gold in every stream or rock gorge." 

When news of the Gold Rush came in 1897, thousands of people (ninety percent 
were men) left their homes and families to search for gold, with no certainty they 
would be successful. Ask your students to describe the Klondike based on what 
they learned from listening to the CD and reading Handout One. Would your 
students be motivated to undergo such a treacherous journey? What was life like 
in your city or town during the 1890s? 

Writing Exercise 

In Chapter I , Buck is stolen from his home and sold north as a sled dog to 
Perrault and Francois. Make a map of Buck's journey, noting what he learns in each 
new place. In preparation for Lesson Three, students should also pay attention to 
the way London describes each place from a dog's point of view. 

R3 Homework 

Read The Call oftheWild, Chapter 2:"The Law of Club and Fang." What does Buck 
learn after he is "suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the 
heart of things primordial"? From this chapter, describe several specific things Buck 
learns by either experience or instinct. 

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and Point of 

The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or 
her beliefs and experiences. The narrator can be a major or minor character. 
The narrator weaves her or his point of view, including ignorance and bias, 
into the telling of the tale. A first-person narrator participates in the events 
of the book using "I." A distanced narrator (often not a character) does not 
participate in the events of the story and uses third person (he, she, they) to 
narrate the story. The distanced narrator can be omniscient, able to read the 
minds of all characters. Ultimately, the type of narrator determines the 
point of view from which the story is told. 

The Call of the Wild'is told from third-person point of view by a limited 
omniscient narrator. This narrator tells the story entirely from the 
perspective of the main character, Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd 
dog. In order to understand The Call of the Wild, students must 
understand Buck's personality and motivations. This lesson is designed to 
prepare your students to understand Buck's actions in the novel's last 

Discussion Activities 

Divide the class into groups, and give each one of the following passages to analyze. 
Ask students to answer the following questions: What does the passage reveal 
about Buck's view of himself? What does the passage tell us about his view of his 
world, especially the humans around him? 

• Chapter I : "But Buck was neither house dog nor kennel dog. The whole realm 
was his [. . .] for he was king — king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of 
Judge Miller's place, humans included." 

• Chapter I : Buck "was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, 
once and for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had 
learned the lesson, and in all his afterlife he never forgot it" 

• Chapter 2: "This first theft marked Buck fit to survive in the hostile Northland 
environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing 
conditions [. . .] It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral 
nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence." 

Writing Exercise 

Try to imitate London's storytelling devices by narrating a story from your own life 
from the point of view of a pet (or an imaginary animal). Is this technique easy or 
difficult? What other novels, poems, or stories are told from an animal's point of 

Q Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter 3:"The Dominant Primordial Beast" and 
Handout Two from this guide. Why do Buck and Spitz fight? Does it have to end 
the way it does? Why or why not? 


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The main character in a work of literature is called the "protagonist." The 
protagonist often overcomes a weakness or ignorance to achieve a new 
understanding by the work's end. A protagonist who acts with great 
courage may be called a "hero." A protagonist of dubious tenacity and 
questionable virtue is an "antihero." Readers often debate the virtues and 
motivations of the protagonists in the attempt to understand whether they 
are heroic. The protagonist's journey is made more dramatic by challenges 
presented by characters with different beliefs. A "foil" provokes the 
protagonist so as to highlight more clearly certain features of the main 
character. The most important foil, the "antagonist," opposes the 
protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. 

Buck is the protagonist of the novel. Several antagonists oppose him — dogs, 
humans, even the harsh climate and landscape. For this lesson, focus on the 
canine characters; Lesson Seven will focus on the humans. 

Discussion Activities 

Discuss Handout Two, "Pack Mentality." Assign each group one dog other than 
Buck from Chapters 1-3: Curly, Dave, Spitz, Sol-leks, Billee, or Joe. Ask students to 
find passages that reveal information about the dog's personality. Where does the 
dog fit into the pack? What does Buck think of this dog? What does the dog think 
of Buck and of the humans? Have each group present the key attributes of their 
dog's character, giving specific examples from the text to support their answers. 

Writing Exercise 

Chapter 3 centers on the fight between Buck and Spitz — one of the novel's most 
important scenes. How does the narrator prepare the reader for this scene? Who 
initiates this fight? Why does Buck win? Did the fight have to end in Spitz's death? 
Why or why not? 

E3 Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter 4: "Who Has Won to Mastership." Is it possible 
to interpret the dogs as symbolic? What passages might suggest they are more 
than just characters? 

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Symbols and 

Symbols are interpretive keys to the text. Most frequently, a specific object 
will be used to reference (or symbolize) a more abstract concept. The 
repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal or figurative 
meaning attached to the object — above and beyond face value. Symbols are 
often found in the books title, within a profound action, or captured by the 
name or personality of a character. A metaphor is a statement that one 
thing is something else, which, in a literal sense, it is not. By revealing 
similarities, metaphors provide insight into characters, events, and issues. 

While Jack London does not use figurative language frequently, some of his 
characters and themes may be interpreted as symbolic or metaphorical. For 
instance, the land in The Call of the Wild holds significance that extends 
beyond weather and terrain. 

Discussion Activities 

Buck begins to hear a mysterious song only after he is removed from his life as a 
domesticated pet and taken to the harsh environment of Alaska. Ask students to 
reread a significant passage from Chapter 3: "With the aurora borealis flaming 
coldly overhead [. . .] this song of the huskies might have been the defiance of life, 
only it was pitched in a minor key, with long-drawn wailings and half-sobs, and was 
more the pleading of life, the articulate travail of existence." There are several 
other passages that describe the allure of this song to Buck 

First, discuss what this song is literally. Then, ask your students to consider the 
ways the song functions as a metaphor. Is this song only heard by Buck? How does 
the full passage suggest a major theme of the novel for both humans and dogs? 

Writing Exercise 

After the great fight with Spitz, Buck begins to "see" a hairy man, squatting by his 
campfire (see Chapter 4). Who is he? What might he symbolize to Buck? 

Q Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter 5:"TheToil of Trace and Trail." Read Handout 
Three "Jack London and Naturalism." Ask students to find a favorite passage from 
the novel, and note three characteristics of London's writing style. 


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Jack London's 
Writing Style 

A little background information may help students appreciate the 
complexity of the novel despite London's straightforward style. In a 1900 
letter, Jack London wrote, "Never a night (whether I have gone out or not), 
but the last several hours are spent in bed with my books. All things interest 
me — the world is so very good." He maintained a disciplined, rigorous 
writing schedule throughout his life, even while travelling and exploring the 
world. He spent the mornings writing with the goal of 1,000 words each 
day. After he married his second wife, Charmian Kittredge in 1905, they 
maintained a new daily schedule until his death. While he wrote 1,000 new 
words, she would type and prepare the manuscript for the previous day's 

Discussion Activities 

Using Handout Three, ask your students to identify some of the characteristics of 
Naturalism. Have them share some of their favorite passages from the book. Do 
they feel the passages reflect a realistic view of nature and the environment? 
Other than the subject matter, is there a quality that makes London's writing seem 

London's artistic intentions were often misunderstood. In his essay, "The Other 
Animals," London explained: "The writing of [The Call of the Wild and White 
Fang]., .was in truth a protest against the 'humanizing' of animals. . .Time and 
again. . .1 wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: 'He did not think these things; he 
merely did them'... and I did it in order to hammer into the average human 
understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract 
reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning." What 
does London mean by this? Discuss this quote and its relevance to the book, using 
specific examples from the text. 

Writing Exercise 

One of The Call oftheWild's most famous and important passages occurs in 
Chapter 3: "There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which 
life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is 
most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive." Read the 
full passage closely as a class. Notice that the full passage unites the artist the 
soldier, and Buck. This comparison may come as a surprise, but consider what 
parallel London is drawing among these three types. What insight does this 
passage offer into London's writing style and artistic vision? 

Ci Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter 6: "For the Love of a Man." How does John 
Thornton differ from Buck's previous masters? Why does Buck respond to 
Thornton with such devotion? 

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Works of fiction trace the development of characters who encounter a series 
of challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and 
vices. Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, 
overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist undergoes profound 
change. A close study of character development maps the evolution of 
motivation, personality, and belief in each character. Still, the tension 
between a characters strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing 
about what might happen next, affecting the drama and the plot. 

Lesson Four focused on the dogs in The Call of the Wild; this lesson will 
focus on the humans. In "The Other Animals" London admonishes, "Let 
us be very humble. We who are so very human are very animal." As you 
move through this lesson, consider what London might have meant by this 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise 

What do you think Jack London meant by the statement cited above? As your 
class discusses the human characters, ask each student to write about the parallels 
between one human character's behavior and one dog's. (You might ask students 
to review their notes from Lesson Four.) 

• Judge Miller: Although we never meet Judge Miller, what do we learn about him 
from Buck? Does Buck respect or love him? 

• The "man in the red sweater": Upon first reading, this man may seem 
unreasonably brutal and cruel. But from another perspective, could this man's 
lesson to Buck — "the law of club and fang" — be exactly what Buck needs to 
survive in the Klondike? 

• Perrault and Francois: What special qualities does Perrault see in Buck? Why do 
they allow Buck to fight Spitz to the death, even though this means their sled 
will lose a member of their sled team? 

• Hal, Charles, and Mercedes: Can these three inept humans be viewed as The 
Call oftheWild's primary antagonists? What might London be suggesting by 
including three humans who seek gold at the expense of their own well-being? 

• John Thornton: Why does Buck develop genuine love for Thornton? Why does 
Thornton admire Buck so much? 

23 Homework 

Read The Call of the Wild, Chapter 7: "The Sound of the Call." Despite Buck's 
adoration for Thornton, why does the "strain of the primitive" remain "alive and 
active" in Buck? 


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The Plot 

The author artfully builds a plot structure to create expectations, increase 
suspense, and inform character development. The timing of events from 
beginning to middle to end can make a book predictable or riveting. A 
plot, propelled by a crisis, will reach a climax, and close with a resolution 
(sometimes called denouement). Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the 
author to defy time while telling the story. A successful author will keep a 
reader entranced by clever pacing built within the tale, sometimes 
confounding a simple plot by telling stories within stories. 

The Call of the Wild is told chronologically without any flashbacks. The 
reader witnesses Bucks transformation from the contented, civilized pet of 
Judge Miller to the "dominant primordial beast" who kills his rival, endures 
hunger and fatigue, and eventually answers the call of his wild ancestors. 

Discussion Activities 

Map the book's major turning points, plots, and subplots. In small groups, students 
will map a timeline of The Call oftheWild's major events. Students should identify 
the arc of the story including rising action, climax, and resolution. Make sure they 
include the following significant events: 

• Chapter 3: Buck defeats his rival, Spitz. How does this fight trigger Buck's more 
"primitive" nature? 

• Chapter 6: Buck wins $1,600 dollars for Thornton in a bet at Dawson City. 
How does Buck accomplish this feat? Why does this lead to Buck's fame 
throughout Alaska? 

• Chapter 7: John Thornton discovers gold "like yellow butter." How does Buck 
respond to this new lifestyle, compared to the other dogs? 

• Chapter 7: Buck leaves John Thornton, unknowingly missing a raid that wipes 
out the entire camp. How does Buck respond to Thornton's death? 

Writing Exercise 

Flashbacks are absent from the book, but many events foreshadow its conclusion. 
Was the ending a surprise to you? Why or why not? Ask students to find specific 
textual references where the narrator suggests that Buck will ultimately reject 
civilization and follow his nature. 

R] Homework 

Pretend that John Thornton survived the brutal massacre. Do you think Buck 
would stay with Thornton, or would Buck still follow the wolves into the forest? 
What might London be suggesting by killing Buck's beloved master? 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | I 


Themes of 
the Book 

Profound questions raised by the story allow the character (and the reader) 
to explore the meaning of human life and extract themes. Themes 
investigate topics explored for centuries by philosophers, politicians, 
scientists, historians, and theologians. Classic themes include intellectual 
freedom versus censorship, personal moral code in relation to political 
justice, and spiritual faith versus rational commitments. A work of fiction 
can shed light on these age-old debates by creating new situations to 
challenge and explore human nature. 

Discussion Activities 

There are many themes in The Coll oftheWild, but none as central as the tension 
between Nature and Civilization. Ask your students to discuss the various ways 
this complex theme is revealed. 

Buck ultimately struggles between his love for his master, John Thornton, and the 
enigmatic call of his ancestors. Ask students to find specific moments when this 
call captivates Buck. Use this passage from Chapter 6 to begin your discussion: 
"Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, 
mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire 
and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest [. . .] but [. . .] the 
love for John Thornton drew him back to the fire again." How does this passage 
describe an archetypal human conflict? 

Writing Exercise 

The Call oftheWild opens with a four-line epigraph from "Atavism," a poem by 
John Myers O'Hara, published in 1902. Jack London wrote to O'Hara in I907:"l 
ran across those lines from your poem 'Atavism,' in a detached fragment Never 
knew who wrote them, and never knew the rest of the poem. Won't you PLEASE 
send me the whole poem? Of all the poetry I know, there were no four lines 
within a hundred million miles as appropriate for the key to Trie Coll oftheWild as 
were those four lines of yours that I used." Do you agree or disagree that these 
lines articulate a major theme of the novel? 

EJ Homework 

Begin working on essays, choosing one of the Essay Topics in this guide. Outlines 
are due at the next class. 


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What Makes 
a Great 

Works of fiction illustrate the connections between individuals and 
questions of humanity. Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of 
our daily lives, while painting those conflicts in the larger picture of human 
struggle. Readers forge bonds with the story as the writer's voice, style, and 
sense of poetry inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating 
opportunities for learning, imagining, and reflecting, a great book is a work 
of art that affects many generations of readers, changing lives, challenging 
assumptions, and breaking new ground. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Write these on 
the board. In small groups, ask students to discuss specific books that include 
some of these characteristics. Do any of these books remind them of The Call of 

A great writer can be the voice of a generation. What kind of voice does Jack 
London create through The Call oftheWild 7 . Although the protagonist of the novel 
is a dog, what does this story suggest about the concerns and motivations of 
people during the 1890s Gold Rush? Are these concerns and motivations still 
relevant in 21 st century America? Why or why not? 

Writing Exercise 

Ask students to write a persuasive letter to a friend, perhaps one who does not 
like to read, explaining why The Call oftheWild is a good book. Develop an 
argument that explains why the novel has meaning for many people, not just a 
particular group. 

Have students work on essays in class. Be available to assist students in developing 
their thesis. Have students partner to edit outlines and/or rough drafts. Provide 
students with the characteristics of a well-written essay. 

E3 Homework 

Continue working on essays. Students will turn in a rough draft of their essays at 
the next class. 

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The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, 
as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with their 
own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the book. This statement or 
thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting 
reasons should be backed by references to the text. 

1 . Why might Jack London choose to focus on a 
dog's point of view during the Gold Rush 
rather than a humans? Choose one human 
from the novel. How might the story be 
different if it were told from his or her point 
of view? 

2. In Chapter 5, Buck endures a severe beating 
from Hal. On one level, John Thornton saves 
Buck in this scene. But what quality allows Buck 
to become the only member of his pack to 

3. Buck's first theft marks him "as fit to survive in 
the hostile Northland environment." Explain 
the significance of the description: "but the club 
of the man with the red sweater had beaten 
into him a more fundamental and primitive 
code." What happens to Buck's "moral 
consideration" after this transformative first 

Discuss the significance of the novel's title and 
the titles of each of the book's seven chapters. 
How do these titles suggest the changing 
character of Buck? 

Jack London scholar and the Curator of 
Literary Manuscripts at the Huntington Library 
in California, Sara S. Hodson asserts,"Jack 
London and Buck both share a quality of being 
able to adapt to whatever situation life hands 
to them. Buck has to become, in some way, 
brutal himself in order to survive. It's survival of 
the fittest and he knows that. The Call of the 
Wild is a timeless classic of literature because 
it's a book about survival, and survival is an 
issue for everyone no matter whether we're 
surviving a bad relationship or whether we live 
in the Klondike." Using your knowledge of Jack 
London's biography, do you agree with her 
assessment? Identify some specific parallels 
between the author and his protagonist. Is a 
certain amount of "brutality" necessary for 
survival, even today? 


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Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read 
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or 
a bookstore. 

1 . Gold has a fascinating history. Research its 
ancient uses and values compared to its 
contemporary uses and value. As a class, create 
a map of the world, indicating the places that 
gold has been found. Ask each student to 
choose one country and analyze the way the 
discovery of gold can transform a country's 
economic situation — for better and for worse. 

2. Expanding on Lesson Two, ask students to 
consider what it would take to join the Gold 
Rush of 1897. What kinds of things would they 
need to carry? How much money would they 
need for the journey? Students should learn 
more about Dawson City, the Chilkoot Pass, 
and the diseases that many gold rushers were 
likely to contract. Students with an interest in 
food might consider focusing their research on 
the food that would have been eaten, or the 
recipes that would have been popular in a 
Dawson City hotel. 

3. Use photography or artwork to create a photo 
gallery of life during the Gold Rush. The photos 
may come from books, from the Internet, or 
from family photo albums. 

4. Graphic designers and illustrators have 
imagined many different covers for Jack 
London's The Call of the Wild. Create your own 
book cover using a scene you feel embodies a 
major theme. 

5. Research the history of working dogs. What 
sorts of jobs are particularly suited to different 
breeds? How many different types of dogs are 
mentioned in The Call of the Wild 7 . Create a 
display that highlights these breeds and lists 
their dominant attributes. 

6. Buck is a dog who "becomes" a wolf; in White 
Fang, London features a wolf that "becomes" a 
dog. Research the relationship between dogs 
and wolves. Do wolves deserve such a negative 
reputation from humans? Why do you think so 
many fairytales, folk legends, and myths feature 
wolves as antagonists? 

7. Compare the Klondike of 1897 to today. Have 
the geographic boundaries changed? Highlight 
the similarities and differences, including details 
about the climate, animals, plant life, and rivers. 

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The Klondike Gold Rush 

In May of 1 896 prospector Robert Henderson 
came upon George Carmack, his wife Kate, and 
two American Indians, Skookum Jim and Tagish 
Charley, as they fished on the Thron-diuck River. 
Henderson called Carmack aside and told him of a 
small prospect he had found in a nearby creek. 

Encouraged by Hendersons tip, Carmack and his 
friends sought their own stake on Rabbit Creek, 
not far from Hendersons site. It was there on 
August 1 6 th , that the first nugget of gold was found 
by Skookum Jim. The next day Carmack filed the 
claim — a claim by an American Indian would not 
have been recognized — and word began to spread 
up and down the Klondike. Within weeks the 
surrounding land was claimed, and Rabbit Creek 
became known as Bonanza Creek. 

By mid-July 1897, the first ships loaded with gold 
docked in San Francisco and Seattle. The Seattle 
Post- Intelligencer chartered a tugboat for its 
reporters to meet the Portland steamer before it 
reached shore. The headline read "GOLD! 
GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!" Almost immediately, 
ships bound for Alaska were nearly bursting with 
those seeking a quick fortune, including the young 
Jack London. 

Most people could not afford the relatively easy 
steamship ride to Dawson City and were forced to 
choose between two deadly overland routes — 
White Pass and Chilkoot Pass, the "Golden 
Staircase." White Pass was narrow and steep, 
covered with ice, and overcrowded with novice 
fortune hunters. Upwards of 3,000 pack 

animals died along this course from exhaustion, 
starvation, and injury. Chilkoot Pass wasn't much 
better. In the summer stampeders faced rain and 
fog in their climb over enormous boulders exposed 
by the thaw. Pack animals and extra supplies were 
abandoned as the trail rose 1,000 feet in the last 
half-mile. Winter conditions were even worse. 
Blizzards and avalanches were regular occurrences. 

Of the 100,000 people who came to the Klondike, 
only 40,000 arrived in Dawson, most turning back 
during the arduous mountain journey. Those who 
did make it were disappointed to find the land 
already staked, but striking gold wasn't the only 
way to get rich in the Klondike. Many enterprising 
newcomers found wealth by establishing businesses 
in town. Saloons and supply shops were the most 
lucrative, preying on the exuberant spending of 
those who struck gold and the naivety of would-be 

By 1899, the Klondike Gold Rush was over. With 
the good land claimed, many stampeders went 
home empty-handed. Others set out for Nome, 
Alaska, where gold had just been discovered. The 
Spanish-American War took the attention of the 
country and the Klondike Gold Rush faded into 
memory — until revived imaginatively a few years 
later by Jack London's White Fang, The Son of the 
Wolf, and The Call of the Wild. 

I 6 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


Pack Mentality 

A dog is defined by his or her status in the pack. 
Status determines when he eats, works, plays, and 
sleeps. When the pack is stable, the dogs act almost 
as one, each fulfilling its role for the survival of the 
whole. This stability can only be achieved when a 
strong, confident dog is in the lead — the Alpha dog. 

The Alpha must be calm but powerful to maintain 
the respect of the others. It is his responsibility to 
lead, organize, and protect the pack, initiate the 
hunt, and defend the den. The Alpha makes it clear 
which behaviors he approves of and which he will 
not tolerate. When Buck is in the lead "where 
judgment was required, and quick thinking and 
quick acting," he sets the ground rules with the 
other sled dogs, correcting the bad habits that slow 
them down. For example, "Pike, who pulled at 
Buck's heels, and who never put an ounce more of 
his weight against the breast-band than he was 
compelled to do, was swiftly and repeatedly shaken 
for loafing; and ere the first day was done he was 
pulling more than ever before in his life." 

An Alpha expects the other dogs to follow, but does 
not force them. Aggression is a sign of weakness in 
an Alpha dog and a destabilizing force within the 
pack. The Alpha's position is maintained through 
the constant deference shown to him by the other 
dogs, rather than by force. In the case of Spitz, who 
"never lost an opportunity of showing his teeth," 
Buck is able to become the Alpha dog when Spitz's 
aggression threatens the whole pack. 

Most dogs are comfortable being followers. It is less 
stressful to live within the boundaries set by the 
leader than to set the rules. Some behaviors that 
evidence the hierarchy in a pack include allowing a 
higher-ranking dog to proceed first through a 
narrow passage, to eat first, to sleep where he 
pleases, and not greeting that dog with teeth or 

paws. The Alpha, of course, receives the most 
deference, always eating first and not being 
disturbed when asleep. If any of the pack members 
infringe on the Alpha's privileges, it takes only a 
harsh look to restore order. 

If the Alpha dog is not living up to his duties, he 
will be challenged and replaced. The pack dogs are 
receptive to the Alpha's rules, but will not accept a 
weak leader. In fact, weakness is not accepted in 
any member of the pack. If a dog is weak, he may 
be killed. The survival of the pack is more 
important than any one dog. This is illustrated by 
the pack's killing of the weak but friendly Curly 
after she approaches a superior husky. "They closed 
in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was 
buried, screaming with agony, beneath the brisding 
mass of bodies." Perhaps the best follower in The 
Call of the Wild is Dave — relaxed in his downtime 
and fiercely hardworking in the traces, he serves the 
pack until his body gives out. 

Domesticated dogs bring the pack mentality into 
their relationships with humans. Biologists believe 
that between ten and twelve thousand years ago, 
dogs began to live with humans. In exchange for 
food, dogs worked herding livestock, pulling heavy 
loads, and hunting game. The domesticated dog in 
a healthy household views its owner as the Alpha of 
the pack. From John Thornton's first appearance, 
he establishes himself as the Alpha. Thornton's 
"kindliness and largeness" win Buck's loyalty and 
respect. "Buck's love was expressed in adoration. 
While he went wild with happiness when 
Thornton touched him or spoke to him, he did 
not seek these tokens. . .Buck was content to adore 
at a distance." Buck finds in Thornton, as the other 
dogs had found in Buck, a leader fair in his 
discipline and at ease in his power. 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Jack London and Naturalism 

Naturalism is the style of fiction in which 
characters are forged by their environment. First 
introduced by the French writer Emile Zola in the 
1880 s, Naturalism, an extension of Realism, was a 
reaction to the tenets of Romanticism, which 
idealized emotion and adventure. While Realism 
attempts to depict characters and their situations as 
truthfully as possible, Naturalism moves beyond 
realistic description to also address the 
psychological and evolutionary forces that 
contribute to a characters decision making. 
Characters must confront their limitations and 
adapt in a world that can be violent, powerful, and 

At the close of the 19 th Century, the typical setting 
for a novel might be a posh drawing room, pastoral 
farm, or gruesome battlefield. The ruthless 
wilderness of the Klondike was as unexplored in 
fiction as it was in reality. When Jack London 
began publishing stories from the Great White 
North like The Son of the WW/0900), The 
Daughter of the Snows (1902), The Call of the 
W7£/(1903), and The Sea-Wolf{\<)04), his strong, 
vivid prose brought the harsh living and hard 
decisions of the frontier into the imaginations of 
American readers. 

Hardships in nature force London's characters to 
be flexible and resourceful in order to survive — and 
sometimes, fail. Often rejecting civilization in order 
to follow an inner intuition, characters like Buck 
function within Charles Darwin's construct of 
survival of the fittest — a model made clear by the 

jockeying for dominance displayed by Buck, Dave, 
Sol-leks, and Spitz. London's talent for Naturalism 
is evident in his unsentimental view of his canine 
protagonist. Sara S. Hodson, Curator of Literary 
Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, notes that 
in choosing to tell the story through a dog's point 
of view, London could have "skated very closely to 
anthropomorphism, but he never crosses the line. 
This is one of his crowning achievements: to put 
you inside the mind of a dog and make it so 
realistic and have it ring so clear and so truthfully 
without ever crossing into caricature." 

The landscape of the Klondike shaped the destiny 
of all those who entered it, some leaving as 
Klondike Kings, others heartbroken and penniless, 
or still more perishing along the pass. London left 
the Klondike in 1898 and by the time of his death 
in 1916, he was one of America's highest paid 
writers. His Naturalist writings were not 
restricted to tales of the Gold Rush. His semi- 
autobiographical works such as The Road and The 
People of the Abyss exposed issues of poverty and 
abuses of power. His work influenced a generation 
of American Naturalists including Upton Sinclair 
and Sinclair Lewis, who continued to apply 
Naturalist theory to social issues in hopes of 
reform. Like London, they aspired to tell authentic 
stories about the realities of American society, from 
the bustling city to the farthest reaches of the 
Western terrain. 


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Berton, Pierre. The Klondike Fever: The Ufe and Death of the 
Last Great Gold Rush. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 
Inc., 1985. 

Labor, Earle, ed. The Portable Jack London. New York: Penguin, 

Starr, Kevin. Americans and the California Dream. New York 
Oxford University Press, 1 973. 

Stasz, Clarice. American Dreamers. New York: St. Martin's 
Press, 1988. 

Walker, Dale and Jeanne Reesman, eds. No Mentor but 
Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers. Palo Alto: Stanford 
University Press, 1 999. 

Web sites 

The Huntington Library's archive of London's papers, 
numbering about 60,000 items, is the largest London 
collection in the world. 

National Postal Museum's Stories from the Gold Rush 

Public Broadcasting's The American Experience: Gold Fever 

University of Washington's Klondike Gold Rush:The 
Perilous Journey North 

The web site of the Alaska Gallery at the Anchorage 
Museum includes information Alaska's native people, 
exploration and settlement, the Gold Rush era, World War 
II, and Alaska's statehood. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards' 

1 . Students read a wide range of print and non- 
print texts to build an understanding of texts, 
of themselves, and of the cultures of the United 
States and the world; to acquire new 
information; to respond to the needs and 
demands of society and the workplace; and for 
personal fulfillment. Among these texts are 
fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to 
comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate 
texts. They draw on their prior experience, 
their interactions with other readers and 
writers, their knowledge of word meaning and 
of other texts, their word identification 
strategies, and their understanding of textual 
features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, 
sentence structure, context, graphics). 

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, 
language conventions (e.g., spelling and 
punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

7. Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, and 
by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and 
synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., 
print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to 
communicate their discoveries in ways that 
suit their purpose and audience. 

8. Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 

9. Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

1 0. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and to 
develop understanding of content across the 

1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, 
reflective, creative, and critical members of a 
variety of literacy communities. 

1 2. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

*This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and develop 
your application of the curriculum. 

20 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 



ir became great who did not 

achieve the impossible. It is the secret of 

greatness... But not only must he do the 

impossible, he must continue to do it... Brows 

are not laurelled for the asking, nor is the earth 

a heritage to any save to the sons of toil." 

from "The Question of a Name" (1900) 

Deep in the forest a call was 
ounding, and as often as he 
leard this call, mysteriously 
hrilling and luring, he felt 
ompelled to turn his back 
ipon the fire. . .and to 
tlunge into the forest." 


from The Call of the Wild 

"he Big Read is an initiative of the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading 
i the center of American culture. The NEA presents 
"he Big Read in partnership with the Institute of 
iuseum and Library Services and in cooperation 
nth Arts Midwest. 

V great nation deserves great art.