And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him.
Early on, Buck’s primal instincts begin to awaken, as he spends his first nights sleeping outside in the cold, battling the harsh elements. Slowly, Buck’s domesticated nature begins to slough off. Here, the narrator reveals the night Buck is surprised to find himself pointing his nose to the sky and howling. The harsh, cold environment is working to revert him to his primitive nature and connect him back to his primal ancestry, the wolf.
He was preeminently cunning, and could bide his time with a patience that was nothing less than primitive.
The days and nights Buck spends surviving the harsh, cold conditions of the frontier, working his physical body to exhaustion and enduring the brutality of his fellow dogs and owners teach Buck a special kind of patience that London describes as “primitive.” Readers learn that Buck uses this persistent patience to defeat Spitz. London suggests that living in the wild teaches skills that are more primal in nature than those gained from living in civilization, a theme that plays out over the novella, as those who have such patience survive and those who don’t perish.
But in spite of this great love he bore John Thornton, which seemed to bespeak the soft civilizing influence, the strain of the primitive, which the Northland had aroused in him, remained alive and active.
During the story, Buck learns the “love of man” through his relationship with John Thornton. Buck and John have achieved a balanced, reciprocal relationship based on love and respect that creates a bond much deeper than he ever shared with Judge Miller. Here, the narrator reveals that despite this almost perfect bond between man and dog, Buck feels himself pulled away from John by a deeper call toward his primitive nature, which is awakened more and more with each trial he endures in the wild.
There is a patience of the wild—dogged, tireless, persistent as life itself[.]
Buck begins to learn how to hunt for food since he is often severely underfed. In this passage, Buck is hunting a herd of deer. He masterfully “multiplies” himself, attacking the herd from all sides and quickly cutting out his victims with ease. As explained by the narrator, Buck can achieve these kills because living in the wild has taught him a patience that endures. Living in a primitive environment has allowed Buck to regain primitive skills that exist in him from his wolf ancestry.
John Thornton was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him.
When Buck discovers John’s body, Buck knows he is finally free from his obligations to man. Through the story of Buck’s life, London traces an arc from civilization to primitiveness, which seems counterintuitive. In reality, Buck’s reversion to his primitive nature allows him to gain a sophisticated mastery of himself, which represents his ultimate destiny as a dog. Similarly, man, London suggests, can also achieve this kind of self-mastery through the same arc, as shown through John Thornton, an accomplished frontiersman whose finely tuned sympathies appear as the most sophisticated and elegant in the novella.