He 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.
After Manuel secretly sells Buck, Buck is put into a crate and brought to Seattle. A man with a club and a hatchet comes to release Buck from the cage, and Buck lunges at him, knowing that this man means him harm. Here, the narrator reveals Buck’s understanding after the man ruthlessly beats Buck into submission with a club. With this act, Buck has had his first introduction to the “law of club and fang,” the law that rules life in the wild Klondike and stands in sharp contrast to the laws that rule the civilized life from which Buck comes.
There was no warning, only a leap in like a flash, a metallic clip of teeth, a leap out equally swift, and Curly’s face was ripped open from eye to jaw.
The narrator recounts Buck’s second introduction to the law of club and fang when he witnesses the death of Curly, a female dog whose timidity leads to her demise among the brutal pack of sled dogs. Buck watches as a gang of dogs viciously attack Curly out of nowhere and proceed to surround her and tear her to pieces. Curly’s death shows that the law of club and fang applies not only between humans and dogs in the wilderness but between dogs themselves as well. Nowhere seems safe for Buck at this moment.
The scene often came back to Buck to trouble him in his sleep. So that was the way. No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that he never went down.
After witnessing Curly’s death, Buck has trouble sleeping. As revealed by the narrator, Buck realizes that “fair play” no longer exists as it did back in Santa Clara, California, on Judge Miller’s estate. No rules exist to keep the bounds of civility in place, either. Buck understands that once you’re down, you’re down. This moment stands as an important one for Buck because he realizes a very important truth about survival in the wild, which sparks a crucial resolution in him to win, a resolution that unfolds over the story.
He did not rob openly, but stole secretly and cunningly, out of respect for club and fang. In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them.
Back on Judge Miller’s estate, Buck operated as a “dainty eater,” as he lived under the law of “love and fellowship.” But in the wild, he knows he won’t survive playing by those rules. As explained by the narrator, Buck quickly learns he needs to steal to be able to eat and get other necessities to survive. Buck’s willingness to steal marks him as fit to survive in the Klondike, and more importantly, such behavior reveals his adaptability, a crucial capacity under the rule of the survival of the fittest.
Then an old wolf, gaunt and battle-scarred, came forward. Buck writhed his lips into the preliminary of a snarl, but sniffed noses with him. Whereupon the old wolf sat down, pointed his nose at the moon, and broke out the long wolf howl.
When Buck first meets the wolves, he addresses them on the offense, as this approach is needed to survive under the law of club and fang. But the wizened, grizzled wolves who live at the far reaches of the frontier utilize a deeper, more abiding order that teaches a primal respect for nature and others. The old wolf doesn’t respond to Buck’s offense but rather redirects their attention to nature, the true master.