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The Call of the Wild

Jack London

Theme: Surviving in the Wild
Grades: Grades 7-8

The Call of the Wild is a classic dog story that explores the role environment plays in shaping character. Buck is a privileged, dignified dog who is taken from his southern Californian home and shipped to Alaska during the 1890's Gold Rush. Along the way, Buck is mistreated by a series of owners, and he learns to survive as a member of a dog sled team. As a result, Buck soon realizes that in these more primitive settings, "the law of club and fang" overrides the rules of civilized society. With each new experience Buck regressess, or reverts to a more primitive state. Finally, an experience of loss challenges Buck's last ties to civilization.

  1. Concept Web.
    Ask students to work independently or in small groups to create a word web, a spider map, or another graphic organizer that explores one or more of the following concepts: the wild, nobility, instinct, civilization. You might encourage students who are having difficulty getting started to 1) define the concept, perhaps beginning with a dictionary entry; 2) give specific examples from their own experience to illustrate it; and 3) list their personal reactions to and associations with the concept.
  1. Panel Discussion.
    Have students hold a panel discussion on the characteristics of dogs and wolves. Students may focus on some of the questions that follow:

    • What physical characteristics do dogs and wolves share? How do they differ?
    • In what ways are the instincts and behaviors of dogs like those of wolves? How do they differ? What are the advantages and disadvantages of trying to "tame" a wolf?
    • What might it take to make a tame animal turn wild?
  1. Debate!
    Ask students the following question: Who is civilized in The Call of the Wild and who is wild, or uncivilized? Divide students into two groups and have them debate two sides to the question. Instruct them to define each term, answer the question, and cite specific examples from the novel. Have each side explain what, in their opinion, is the most important difference between being civilized and uncivilized.

  1. Letter to the Author.
    Have your students identify three of Buck's character traits; instruct them to first identify the traits that the narrator admires, and then identify the traits that they agree are positive and admirable traits. Have them imagine that they could converse with Jack London about their opinions; have them write a letter to Jack London in which they explain why they agree or disagree with London's evaluations.
  1. Dog Training.
    Have your students research different methods for training "wild" dogs, and write a comparison of their finding with Buck's training as a sled dog.

  2. Return to Civilization?
    Instruct students to research incidents of dogs taken from the wild and "tamed," and vice versa. Have them answer the following question after they have completed their research: Could Buck have returned to civilized life on the plantation?