Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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The Grain of Sand That Builds a Pearl

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on April 16, 2008

Every novel, book, short story, play has a theme to start with and gradually gets built. I have read any number of interviews where writers have confessed that a majority of the times they have started on their work with vague ideas, themes and wove their stories as they went along without knowing how it is all going to end. In this piece I am going to think aloud about one such grain of sand around which a pearl got built. A small detour before I proceed:

Jack London is one of my favourite authors. His novels and short stories are characterised by their virility where tough men, women and animals (especially dogs) get pitted against inclement weather, situations or other human beings. The typical story endings are either the protagonists beat the odds or get smothered leading to ruin or death. Despite these endings almost all his stories reaffirm faith in humanity and its immense resilience in facing odds. He has written two famous novels viz. The Call of the Wild and White Fang. The Call of the wild is about a domesticated dog, Buck, journeying through various ups and downs from the sunny climes of California to end up as a wild dog leading a wolf pack in the Klondike regions of Alaska. The journey of the dog is gradual, bristling with extraordinary struggles, harsh adjustments, quick learnings and full of tenacity. I have read this novel many times over for I always, in my mind, cheered and envied Buck’s journey to complete freedom. On the other hand White Fang is the journey in the opposite direction — A wild dog ending up as a domesticated animal.

So what is the Grain of Sand and what is the Pearl here?   Consider this small poem which is given as preamble to the first chapter of the book:

Old longings nomadic leap
Chafing at the customs chain
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain

In these four lines is the entire journey of Buck to wilderness encapsulated. Over centuries a variety of wild animals have been domesticated for use by man. Dogs and livestock have been first of the lot. Then probably came horses. The frustrating chains and customs of domestication are cut free by Buck to be free and wild. The old longings are the atavistic urges to be wild (ferine strain). These wild urges are gradually awakened from the long slumber (brumal= wintry, frozen) that they have been nudged into by the forces of domestication acting on generations of Buck’s ancestors.

I am not sure if this poem has been written by Jack London himself or he has spotted this somewhere and used it as the necessary trigger to build the pearl of a novel called The Call of the Wild.

It would be my endeavour to collect more examples of these grains of sand from which the pearls get made. 

Need I say who the Oyesters are ??

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One Response to “The Grain of Sand That Builds a Pearl”

  1. Harsha said

    Brilliantly written! From whatever little i can comprehend from Jack London’s writing, i feel he has deeply investigated man’s desire to be wild and free and demonstrated this using the character ‘Buck’… While i presume he wrote ‘Call of the Wild’ before ‘White Fang’, Buck seems to reflect what a man wants to be (and succeeds to some extent)… and in ‘White Fang’ it turns out to be the quite the opposite. We all end up as domesticated creatures who fall into our own traps of situations and circumstances.

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