Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 2: The Law of Club and Fang
This chapter takes Buck to the Northland. Dyea Beach is like a nightmare, as if Buck has been suddenly taken from civilization and thrown into the "heart of the primordial." Here, he encounters the dogs that will become his teammates and companions on the long journey ahead. He learns another lesson of survival when Curly, in her friendly way, tries to befriend Spitz, a Husky that is the size of a full-grown wolf. He grows angry and knocks Curly down, while a nearby group of Huskies watch in eagerness. Once Curly is on the ground and unable to rise, the Huskies close in and rip her apart while she is "screaming in agony." This death scene haunts Buck's memory and troubles his sleep for a long time. It also causes him to hate Spitz, the Husky who is responsible for Curly's death. Buck now realizes, however, that he must be constantly alert; once a dog is "down," he becomes easy prey with no flair play.
Before he recovers from the shock of Curly's death, Buck learns what it means to be harnessed and part of a dogsled team. It is not a pleasant experience, for Francois demands obedience with his whip (recalling the law of the club) and Spitz, Buck's enemy, leads the pack. On the team, Buck is placed between Sol-leks, which means Angry One and Dave, who asks nothing and gives nothing. Buck learns quickly from the two of them; "apt scholar that he was, they were equally apt teachers." As Perrault remarked, "Dat Buck for sure learn queek as anything."
Besides learning how to pull the sled, Buck learns other lessons. At night when he has a problem sleeping, he tries to enter a tent, but Francois and Perrault bombard him with utensils and curses and wound his shoulder. Miserable and disconsolate, Buck roams outside in search of the other dogs. He finally hears a friendly yelp. Buck finds Billee underneath the snow, snuggling like a ball. Buck imitates Billee, learning how to spend nights in the cold Arctic wasteland.
Another sign of Buck's adaptability to his environment is the fact that he quickly loses many of his old ways, including his fastidiousness. Although he has always been a dainty eater, he soon is behaving like the other sled dogs, eating anything. He learns that a pound of fish is not enough to assuage his hunger, and even that will be snatched and eaten if he is not fast enough. He also watches the other dogs and learns from them. He duplicates the performance of one of the dogs, stealing food. Even though an uproar is raised over the theft, Dub, an awkward blunderer, is blamed and punished for Buck's misdeed. The theft is another mark of Buck's adaptability to the harsh conditions of the Yukon. London comments that his theft "marked further, the decay. . .of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence."
Besides learning to survive, Buck also undergoes physical changes, as "instincts long dead became alive." He seems to remember instinctively what his ancestors had done. His body grows firm, and his sight and scent become very keen. He learns how to bite the ice and smell the wind. It is almost as if Buck has become a true Arctic dog.
In this chapter, the author describes how Buck learns to survive in the wild Yukon region. Because of his adaptable nature, he learns his lessons quickly. He is soon pulling the sled with the other dogs on the team, quickly learning the meaning of Francois' whip. Buck also learns to be less fastidious and, driven by hunger, will eat anything. He even deserts his moral principles and steals food from the other dogs. Most important of all, as the title of the chapter suggests, he learns how to fight, from watching what has happened to Curly. He realizes that in the Arctic there is no fair play. "Once down, that was the end of you."
London also begins to emphasize in this chapter a key theme of the novel: if one is fit, one survives. No moral considerations come into play. All the armor of civilization vanishes when one has to struggle to live each day. Buck decides that his "moral nature" is a "vain thing and a handicap in the struggle for existence." He determines that he will change in order to survive.
The author also drives home the point that Buck has regressed. With the veneer of civilization gone, he becomes like a wild dog. London wants to emphasize the fact that in the struggle for existence, man is a puppet. When man leaves civilization and its trappings, he becomes like his ancestors. Here he is trying to say that the Darwinian concept of the evolution of man is true.