An exciting adventure story, The Call of the Wild was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1903 and was published in book form shortly thereafter. This novella is a great way to introduce students to naturalism, a literary movement that focuses on Darwin's idea of "survival of the fittest." Students should learn about this Darwinian theory and consider how it relates to the story. Naturalism also emphasizes the power of primitive emotions over human reason. Your class can discuss how Jack London anthropomorphizes the dog, Buck, in order to examine this concept.

The Call of the Wild centers around the Klondike Gold Rush, so providing a historical background on this event and information on the climate and general geography of the Yukon will give students a better understanding of the setting. The story can also be linked to other lessons on the history of the American frontier.


Key Facts:

  • Length: 104 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1120
  • Publication Date: 1903
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7 – 8

The story opens with Buck, the canine protagonist, being stolen from a California ranch and transported to Yukon, Canada to serve as a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. On the trip north, Buck experiences the harshness of men and other sled dogs, both of which treat him brutally. As Buck adapts to this merciless environment, his primitive instincts come to life, and he reverts to his wolfish nature.

Content Warning: The Call of the Wild contains some violence and animal abuse.

Your students will love:

  • The descriptions of the northern wilderness
  • The canine protagonist's exciting adventure

Students may have problems with:

  • The anthropomorphism of Buck
  • The slow pacing and lack of dialogue

Objectives for Teaching The Call of the Wild

  • Explain why the novel is a good example of naturalistic writing.
  • List the major incidents in the plot and explain why the plot is considered episodic.
  • Show how the contrast of the Southland and Northland settings illustrates a return to and preference for the primitive.
  • Describe how this novel promotes Darwin's theory of "the survival of the fittest."
  • Comment on Jack London's style of writing.
  • Draw inferences about plot and characters.
  • Discuss how the call of wilderness represents adventure, strength, hardship, and Buck himself.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Anthropomorphism
  • Episodic Novel
  • Foreshadowing
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Naturalism
  • Personification
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

Survival — As Buck struggles to survive in the hostile Northland, he must quickly adapt and develop necessary skills.

Related Works:

Wilderness — The novel depicts the harshness of the Yukon, which both antagonizes and stimulates Buck, shaping him into a wilder, stronger being.

Related Works:

Nature vs. Nurture —  Although Buck is a domesticated dog influenced by his human masters, his time in the wilderness transforms him into a primeval wolf.

Related Works:


The Call of the Wild has been made into a number of movies, although some deviate significantly from the source material. The most accurate adaptation is a 1997 film, Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon, directed by Peter Svatek.

External Resources

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