52 in 52 Week 8: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Other writers associated with naturalism include Jack London (1876-1916), who often explored the Darwinian contiguity between humans and animals and how the otherwise buried animalistic survival instinct surfaces in extreme circumstances. This is exemplified in THE SEA-WOLF (1904), but is frequently a theme in London's Klondike stories, and distinctions between human and animal behavior were often blurred in his writing, as in THE CALL OF THE WILD (1903) and WHITE FANG (1906). http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/timeline/naturalism.html
Naturalists (literary determinists) believed that life is determined by environment, heredity, and chance. Jack London's THE CALL OF THE WILD, seven interrelated short stories -- each with its own characters, plot, and climax -- is unified by Buck, a tame dog that reverts to his original primitive state when removed from his comfortable California estate and thrust into the rugged terrain of the Klondike. Told from Buck's point of view, THE CALL OF THE WILD is a naturalistic novel that can be read on several levels.
On the surface, the book tells the story of a dog who learns to survive by reverting to his wild wolf background. Symbolically, the novel can be read as revealing what London himself endured as he climbed out of poverty and obscurity to become affluent and celebrated. In this interpretation, Buck represents London, whose struggle for success taught him cruel lessons about the universe's indifference and brutality. On political and philosophical levels, the novel exemplifies the naturalists' theory of social Darwinism, that only the fittest survive. According to London, buried within each individual is a "ferine strain," a bestial instinct, which has been subdued by civilization but never eliminated.
The novel shows that life is more than just survival;it is also the struggle for mastery: beneath our veneer of civilization, London saw a prehistoric beast who fought and conquered through might and deceit. For this theme, he drew from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche's dichotomy between masters and those they dominated. London celebrates Buck's fierce battle for dominance, despite its inherent and inescapable savagery. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/timeline/thecallofthewild.html
I read that London converted Nietzsche's "Superman" into animal form in The Call of the Wild" (The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics, p. 104).
I read this more as an adventure novel and hoped it wasn't tragic because of previous ones this week! LOL! I am not a social Darwinist, but I do believe that man has a sinful nature, and eventually it comes out, as we one can observe in many of the human characters in this story. We aren't descended from beasts, but we can act like beasts!
My favorite character was John Thornton. He was my hope that we don't have to beasts even in the hardest situations. :)