The Call of the Wild: Novel Summary: Chapter 2
Buck's first day on the beach at the port city of Dyea (just across from Skagway, Alaska), is a nightmare. The other dogs are savage and fight. Curly is killed by a pack of dogs after she goes down in a fight. Buck starts to hate Spitz because Spitz laughs at the scene.
Buck is again shocked when Franeois puts him in harness with the other dogs and puts him to work, pulling a sled. Franeois maintains firm discipline, and Buck learns easily to recognize and obey the commands. Spitz is the team leader.
Two more dogs arrive, Billie and Joe. Billie is good-natured, but Joe is sour, with a perpetual snarl. Then another dog, Sol-leks, arrives. His name means the Angry One. Spitz, who had bullied the other newcomers, leaves him alone.
At night, Buck is surprised to find that he is excluded from the warm tent. Outside, it is far too cold to sleep. But he soon learns to dig himself a hole in the snow, and sleeps warm.
In the morning, three more huskies are added, making nine in all. They take a trail toward the Dyea Canon. The work is hard but Buck does not despise it, and Dave and Sol-leks, who are placed either side of him, are good instructors.
They travel north across glaciers and snowdrifts and lakes, and late at night pull into camp at the head of Lake Bennett, where there are thousands of men who have come seeking gold.
The next day they travel forty miles, but in subsequent days, as they break their own trail, they cannot travel as fast. Buck toils in the traces for many long days. He is given a pound and a half of sun-dried salmon every day, but he finds it is not enough, although the other dogs, who weigh less, find it adequate. He learns how to steal bacon from Perrault, because this is necessary in order to survive. In other ways, too, he adapts to his new, ruthless environment. His muscles become hard, and he is impervious to pain. His senses become extremely acute.
The law of club and fang is Buck's interpretation of the laws that govern the new life he is leading. It is a ruthless, Darwinian world of the survival of the fittest, a total contrast to what he has known in his first four years of his life. There is no room here for kindness and love, or morality. The death of Curly shows him that just as he has learned a new relationship between man and dog, here in the north there is a new relationship between dog and dog. A dog must prevail through ferocity, strength and courage; to show weakness is to be killed. It is notable how quickly he adapts to all the challenges that face him. He has left the civilized world far behind. He is now prepared to steal food for his master, something that would not have occurred to him in his life with Judge Miller.
A key passage occurs near the end of the chapter. Buck may have had many generations before him of domesticated dogs, but he retains an instinctual memory of the behavior of his ancestors, before they were tamed by man. He learns so quickly because he is able to tap into these primitive instincts. They were always there within him, but the cosseted, lazy life he led on Judge Miller's ranch did not bring them out. Now he is bringing forth the forgotten side of his nature: "It was no task for him to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks."
At the level of the human allegory, this suggests that there is a lot more to human life and behavior than what is revealed in civilized society. Men too, in certain conditions, will revert to a more instinctual, primitive level of life, in which the law of the jungle usurps civilized morality.