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Buck, a cross between a St. Bernard and a Scotch Shepherd, is the protagonist of the novel. He is stolen from his home in California and sold to Francois and Perrault to work in the harsh Yukon Territory.
The general antagonist is nature, in its brutal Arctic character, and a fight for survival in spite of the hardships. Buck, a spoiled ranch dog from warm California, must adjust to the miserably cold weather and the extremely hard work. He learns to function as member of a dogsled team, endure horrible treatment at the hands of cruel owners, and survive in the harsh Arctic wilderness that offers little food. In the wild, his particular enemy becomes Spitz, the Husky dog who is Curly's killer and Buck's tormentor.
The turning point, or climax, comes when Buck fights Spitz and defeats him. As a result, Buck eventually becomes the leader of the dog sled team and a survivor of all the Arctic challenges. When he successfully overcomes Spitz, he foreshadows that he is strong enough to take on everything in the Yukon and win.
Buck learns to cope with the Arctic wilderness, defeats Spitz, becomes the leader of the team, earns a kind master in John Thornton, and is prepared to leave civilization and care for himself. After Thornton's death, Buck can answer the call of the wild, for he is totally capable of fending for himself in the harsh Arctic wilderness.