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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 3: The Dominant Primordial Beast
All the ancestral instincts have awakened in Buck. He knows what must be done and what must not be done. To survive, he has become cunning and sly, with "poise and control." Even though he hates Spitz, who never misses an opportunity to tease him, Buck does not allow himself to be bullied into a fight.
One day when it is snowing heavily, the team has to take an unexpected break on the shore of Lake Le Barge. Buck finds a resting-place sheltered by a rock and burrows under the snow. He reluctantly leaves his spot when Francois is distributing fish. When he finishes eating and returns, he finds that Spitz has occupied his resting-place, an action that infuriates Buck. "The beast in him roared" in response. Spitz is surprised by Buck's anger, for he has believed that Buck is an unusually "timid dog" who manages to hold his own because of his weight and size.
Buck springs at Spitz, who is ready for the fight. The noises that they make awaken the other dogs and attract the attention of Francois and Perrault; the two men quickly put an end to the fight. Then the camp is suddenly invaded by "skulking furry forms - starving Huskies." Perrault finds one Husky eating from the breadbox and beats it with a club. The Huskies are so famished that they refuse to leave, despite receiving many blows. In the ensuing confusion, the team dogs are bitten and attacked by the starving Huskies. Buck is attacked by three of them. He catches one adversary by the throat and is "sprayed with blood;" the fight makes him even more fierce. His fierceness increases further when Spitz attacks him while he is fighting the Huskies and when Spitz later tries to put Buck in the path of a group of oncoming Huskies, who could easily devour him. Buck's hatred for Spitz now knows no limits.
Before Buck can free himself of the Huskies, Billee flees over the ice, with the rest of the wounded team following. When they finally return to camp, they learn that the sled lashings and canvas coverings have been chewed by the Huskies. A pair of Perrault's moosehide moccasins is also eaten, and even two feet of the lash from the end of Francois' whip has been devoured. Most importantly, the sled dogs realize that the wild Huskies have seized half of their food supplies. This loss creates additional difficulties for their remaining trip to Dawson, which will be over 400 miles across frozen land.
Francois and Perrault break camp and begin the arduous journey. It takes them six days to cross the area known as Thirty Mile River, for the ice keeps breaking beneath them. Once the sled breaks through, and Dave and Buck are nearly drowned. Another time Spitz falls through the broken ice and pulls the rest of the dog team with him, except for Buck; it takes the men most of the day to rescue all the dogs. Each time the dogs or the men get wet, it greatly slows them down; they must stop, and Francois and Perrault must build fires in order to dry them out and keep them from freezing, for the temperature is fifty degrees below zero.
By the time they reach Hontalinqua, Buck is exhausted and limping in pain. Because of his aristocratic upbringing, he has tender feet that have not acclimated to the ice and snow, nor the long distances. When food is served to the dog, Buck does not even go and get any, for he is hurting too badly. Francois notices Buck's absence and brings his food to him. Noticing his feet, Francois rubs them and then makes moccasins for Buck to wear; the little "shoes" are a great relief for Buck. One day, when Francois forgets to put on Buck's moccasins, he waves his feet in the air and refuses to get up.
One day, Dolly, one of the more gentle team dogs, suddenly becomes mad and froths at the mouth. She chases Buck, who runs into the forest and across a frozen river, never looking back in his attempt to escape. Dolly, however, stays on his tail. When Francois calls Buck, he reverses his direction without slowing down. When Buck runs into the camp, with Dolly still following behind, Francois hits and kills Dolly with an ax. Seeing an opportunity, Spitz springs upon the exhausted Buck, tearing his flesh to the bone. Fortunately, Francois sees the attack and uses his whip on Spitz, averting an unfair fight. When Perrault remarks that Spitz is a devil and will probably kill Buck one day, Francois remarks, "Dat Buck is two devils. . .All de tam I watch dat Buck I know for sure. Lissen some dam fine day heem get mad like hell."
Buck can no longer hide his hatred for Spitz, and the feeling is clearly mutual. Spitz can hardly believe that Buck has not succumbed to him like all the others; of all the dogs Spitz has known, he judges Buck to be the hardiest, which makes Spitz want to defeat him all the more. Buck, however, is always on guard against Spitz and challenges his authority at every opportunity. It seems inevitable that one day the two dogs will fight until one is proven to be the stronger; the proud Buck has a burning desire to become the leader "because it is his nature." London foreshadows that Buck will be victorious in the end, because of his superior strength, intelligence, and desire.
On the way to Dawson, the two enemies continue to skirmish with one another, disrupting the team, which must work together as a unit. Perrault and Francois, already exhausted by the journey, grow impatient with the Buck and Spitz; they intervene in their fights and push the team on towards the destination. Finally arriving in Dawson and delivering their goods, the exhausted party stays in the town for a week in order for all to rest. After recuperating, the party prepares for the return journey. At least things are a little easier for the dogs, for the sled is much lighter without the supplies and the trail has been broken by their journey towards Dawson. The team is, however, still slowed by the fighting between the two enemy dogs. Many of the other sled dogs have joined with Buck to rebel against Spitz.
London prepares the reader for the final fight between Buck and Spitz by showing the final transformation of the aristocratic mixed breed from California; he has totally acclimated to his harsh environment, reverting to his primordial ways. London states that Buck, regularly, three times a night joined the wild Huskies in their nocturnal song; it was a long drawn wailing that represented the "pleading of life, the articulate travails of existence. . .It was an old song, old as the breed itself. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations. . .the pain of his wild fathers and the fear and mystery of the cold and dark."
The fight finally occurs when Dub, one of the dog team, comes upon a rabbit, which tries to escape. All of the dogs pursue the rabbit, including Buck, who is invigorated by his lust to kill. When Spitz takes a shortcut and kills the rabbit, Buck is furious that he has not played fair and shortened the chase. Fired by primordial passions, Buck charges Spitz, for the time had come to fight "to the death. As they circled about snarling, ears laid back, keenly watching for the advantage, the scene came to Buck with a sense of familiarity. He seemed to remember it all. . .To Buck it was nothing new or strange. . .It was as though it had always been, the wanted way of things."
The fight is cruel and bloody. Spitz at first has the upper hand, slashing Buck's shoulder. When Buck is on the point of exhaustion and defeat, he challenges himself to fight with imagination as well as instinct. Instead of going for the throat, Buck lunges for and breaks both of Spitz's front legs, catching the dog totally off guard. Spitz is forced to go down, and the other dogs eagerly wait to come in for the kill. By defeating Spitz, Buck has become "the dominant primordial beast, which had made his kill and found it good." After his victory, Buck must work to become the leader of the dog team; although the other dogs respect his strength and skill, he must prove himself worthy to Francois and Perrault.