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Foreshadowing in The Call of the Wild

Foreshadowing Examples in The Call of the Wild:

Chapter I

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"for it was his first snow..."   (Chapter I)

There is some humor here to lighten the mood as the narration once again clearly enters into Buck’s perception of the world around him. There’s also a bit of an ambiguous foreshadowing, especially since we’re told that this is his last departure from the “warm Southland” above. This is Buck’s “first” snow; what will the others have in store?

"“Old longings nomadic leap, Chafing at custom's chain; Again from its brumal sleep Wakens the ferine strain.”..."   (Chapter I)

This epigraph is drawn from the opening lines of a poem titled “Atavism” by John Myers O’Hara (The Bookman, 1902). London does not identify this for the reader, but it is a significant clue for the events that will unfold. The noun “atavism” is defined as a tendency to return to ancestral ways or to resemble ancestral types. During the 19th century, when American culture was preoccupied with different forms of progress, the term had a negative—and even threatening—connotation because it suggested a reversion from “civilized” status to “barbarism.” The following lines from the same poem echo London’s title more directly and foreshadow what is to come: “Voices of solitude call/ Whisper of sedge and stream;/ Loosen the fetters that gall/ Back to the primal scheme” (l. 21-24).

"Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again, and from that moment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless hatred...."   (Chapter II)

Notice that this is the first instance in the novel that we are given a tangible antagonist. Spitz is characterized as confrontational and mean-spirited and readers are told directly that Buck hates him in this passage. This foreshadows later confrontation between the two characters.

"“You poor devil,” said John Thornton, and Buck licked his hand...."   (Chapter V)

Notice how very soon after meeting Thorton, Buck performs his first affectionate and pet-like action in a long time. This is the beginning of Buck and Thorton’s companionship, and it already appears as though it will be the best human relationship Buck will have.

"And so it went, the inexorable elimination of the superfluous...."   (Chapter V)

Notice the word choice in this sentence. The adjective “inexorable” means “impossible to stop,” and “superfluous” means “unnecessary.” This mirrors the idea of survival of the fittest, which is especially relevant in the harsh, life-threatening journey through the Yukon. In order to survive, a sled team must carry only what it needs. Likewise, in evolutionary thought, individuals which are unable to endure will be eliminated, and their detrimental genes removed. This word choice shows the human characters’ inexperience and poor planning, which will eventually lead to destruction.

"The tent was rolled into an awkward bundle three times as large as it should have been. The tin dishes were packed away unwashed...."   (Chapter V)

Notice through these small details how Buck can tell that this new expedition party is not ready for the rigors of the wilderness. An unwashed dish may not seem like much of a misstep on its own, but in conjunction with other sloppy habits, it contributes to a sense of impending disaster.

"This belt was the most salient thing about him. It advertised his callowness..."   (Chapter V)

The adjective “salient” means to stand out significantly. In this case, Hal’s belt and his overabundance of ammo show the depth of his callowness, a noun which means “immature” or “lacking sophistication.” What keeps prospectors alive in the Yukon is not over-preparation, as overloading one’s sled is dangerous, but thoughtful planning for necessities only. This lack of appropriate preparation foreshadows the tragedy that will befall Buck’s new owners and the rest of the sled team.

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