Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Read to Improve your English - "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London

This book is awesome because it is told from the point-of-view of a dog. It's not obvious, because Jack London's protagonist is a very human-like dog: he has human thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, in this story, he experiences the drive we all have from time to time--that to return to nature. That's The Call of the Wild.

Read the introductory paragraphs, and then scroll down below for my brief commentary on them.  For your convenience, literary tools are highlighted in a lovely pale orange.

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. 

Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by gravelled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious scale than at the front. There were great stables, where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.

The mood shifts in these two paragraphs, from a hint of the danger that is to come in the first paragraph, to the pleasant surroundings that Buck will leave behind in the second. In the first paragraph, words like "groping," "darkness," "yellow metal" (instead of "gold"), "booming," "toil" and "frost" foreshadow a challenging future for Buck, working hard for men in the dark, cold north.  In contrast, in the second paragraph, we are introduced to Buck's comfortable home.  A pleasant atmosphere is built through words like "sun-kissed," "wide," and "cool." The second paragraph builds delightful visual imagery of Buck's home: "half hidden among the trees" shows that the house is approachable yet still private, and embedded in a natural environment. The word "approached" echoes the idea that friends and neighbours are welcome there. "Wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs" lets the reader imagine a wonderful place for a dog--space to play, and shade to relax in. Then London takes us to the back of the property, where "things were on even a more spacious scale" -- a big dog can truly have a wonderful day here.  The author then goes on to describe the surroundings in a consistently pleasant way: "vine-clad servants' cottages:" this personification make the buildings seem friendly; "orderly array:" the repeated 'r' sound echoes the orderly arrangement of these small buildings. Finally, the reader can see the rainbow of colours in the "grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches."  This visual imagery truly reveals Buck's home as a special place that no dog would ever want to leave.

You can see from all the orange how simple it is to pepper your commentary with literary terminology, in order to score highly in the third section of the marking criteria.

Read the entire novel on Project Gutenberg, and learn more about it at Shmoop. Whether you are reading for class or for pleasure, read The Call of the Wild to improve your English!

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