As an adventure novel, The Call of the Wild tracks Buck’s journey through an unknown environment with perilous obstacles and the personal growth that occurs as a result. Buck takes on a heroic identity early in the novel as he instinctively begins defending himself against the threats he faces, and his courage and resilience are ultimately what enable him to continue on his quest. Although Buck’s arrival in the North is an event over which he has no control, this change inspires his need to pursue a new, wilder way of life. This journey tests his survival skills in more ways than one, putting him into conflict with the environment, humans, and other dogs, but mere survival is not his ultimate goal. Instead, Buck aims to achieve dominance over the uncertainty and brutality of the wilderness itself. This ambition serves as the novel’s central conflict and, because achieving it requires Buck to embody the spirit of his ancestors, transforms him by the end of his adventure. By crafting a narrative that draws inspiration from the traditional structure of a hero’s journey, London invites readers to identify with Buck’s struggle and celebrate his ferocious nature. 

Buck’s desire for mastery is not something that he is fully conscious of until he finds himself pulled from the familiar world of his home in California, and he initially resists this unexpected change. As a dog who presides like royalty over his safe and comfortable territory, the loss of control that Buck experiences as Manuel kidnaps him proves rather frightening. His subsequent arrival in the North under the watchful eye of the man in the red sweater serves as the novel’s inciting incident and, in terms of the hero’s journey, his call to adventure. The opportunity to create a new life awaits him, yet his aggressive attitude toward his captors reflects a refusal of this call. Buck fears the unknown because, unlike in his world in California, he has no power or control over what happens to him. As the novel’s rising action begins, however, Buck quickly learns how to navigate his new environment by joining Francois and Perrault’s dog sled team. He receives a kind of mentorship from dogs like Dave and Sol-leks who teach him how to work as a part of the team while Spitz, the violent leader of the group, forces him to learn how to fend for himself. These experiences train Buck to follow the law of club and fang and instigate the connection he feels between himself and his primordial ancestors.

As with most adventure novels, Buck goes on to face a series of challenges that continually shape him into a stronger, more empowered version of himself. He aspires to be the lead dog of Francois and Perrault’s team, a position which Spitz holds, and their rivalry leads to a violent fight to the death from which Buck emerges victorious. This win positions Buck in a dominant role among the other dogs, although he still finds himself under the rule of Francois and Perrault. His survival skills continue to develop as a new man, a “Scotch half-breed,” takes over the team and uses them to deliver mail across the region, a job even more taxing than the last. Buck’s physical exhaustion reaches a peak when he finds himself under the rule of Hal, Charles, and Mercedes, and London heightens the suspense of this moment by describing the deaths of other dogs on the team as well as Buck’s inability to respond to the blows from Hal’s club. When Buck’s death seems almost inevitable, however, John Thornton steps in and gives him a new chance at life. This act, which serves as a metaphorical rebirth for the novel’s hero, gets Buck yet another step closer to his goal of dominating the wilderness around him. He achieves a large amount of freedom in his life with Thornton, although the love he develops for his master serves as the final barrier between him and bestiality. 

While London deviates from the traditional structure of the hero’s journey as his narrative draws to an end, he nevertheless emphasizes Buck’s heroic qualities and celebrates the dog he becomes. The call of the wild that Buck has instinctively felt throughout the novel becomes real in the final chapters, and while he seeks out the wolf whose howl he hears, his loyalty to Thornton makes it difficult for him to fully embrace his wildness. This perspective changes, however, during the climax of the novel when Buck finds that the Yeehats have attacked their camp and killed Thornton in the process. In this moment, Buck foregoes the law of club and fang, brutally attacking any human he can sink his teeth into. By asserting his dominance over humans, Buck finally reaches the peak of his new, primordial identity. Rather than returning home as is traditional for the falling action of an adventure story, Buck joins the wolf pack in the forest. This new home provides him with the ultimate sense of freedom and symbolizes his adoption of an ancient way of life. While Buck may end the novel as a legendary beast, London pushes the reader to celebrate his hero’s success in achieving mastery over his surroundings.