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It's widely believed that people are either virtuous or immoral, and when it comes to "the wild", it's very easy for the line between the two to become blurred. So at what point do we decide which is which. The term "wild" is defined as uncivilized or savage, with a lack of moral restraint; lack of naivety or innocence. (Oxford Dictionary)
We will discuss two stories, The Call of the Wild, by Jack London and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane. London's wild is a physical environment, which although it can be adapted to, poses a significant hardship to Buck, while London's wild is an unknown, unhindered emotional environment that poses additional emotional, physical and mental hardships upon Maggie.
In Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a young woman's life is flipped inside-out because of the situation that she was born into, and once she is disowned by her family and community, must learn how to fend for herself and live off the streets. The Call of the Wild is a story of integration in which Buck must transform mentally in order to be able to adjust to the harsher realities of life in northern Canada, where survival is and always will be the only objective. Both Maggie and Buck had to learn to endure their respective wilds and both learned how to adapt in a cruel, uncaring world, where only the strong survive.
In Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Maggie lives in a tenement that is described as, "a dark region whereâ€¦a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter" (5). Maggie "blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of the tenement district, a pretty girl" (16). Buck on the other hand was born into a home that was owned by a Judge and was above all of the other dogs on the land, because Buck "was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog, the whole realm was his" (3). He "lived the life of a sated aristocrat" (5) and upheld a moral code and has a sense of curiosity, right and wrong, and shame.
Maggie was born into a poor family, which was run by parents whose own lives were taken over by alcohol and the need to be violent toward everyone they encountered. Through all of this, Maggie possessed a certain kind of virtue that would inevitably lead to her demise. Maggie's virtue was that she was innocent enough to see that her home life was not a good situation and that she wanted to move up in the world. Despite her violent upbringing, she has led a very naÃ¯ve and sheltered life. She falls for the first man who even looked at her with sympathetic eyes. "Say, Mag, I'm stuck on yer shape. It's outa sight" (45).
"Her eyes dwelt wonderingly and rather wistfully upon Pete's face" (43). Maggie was enamored at the fact that Pete was seemingly interested in her. She is a good girl who wanted nothing more than to find someone to love, who would love her back. "Maggie perceived that here was the ideal man" (44). However, everyone around her, even her own family, worked synonymously to not only stop her from achieving that goal, but to ruin her mentally along the way. Her fault was that she was naÃ¯ve to believe that the people her brother associated with would have treated her any better than her own family.
Mary (mom), Jimmie (brother) and Pete (ex-lover) rationalize and accept Maggie's ruin by values they pretend to uphold yet they fail to achieve this level "holiness" themselves. Mary is a drunkard and a brawler - she rains violence upon the heads of her children and she smashes their belongings. Yet she judges Maggie to be worthy of damnation for what society believes to be her compromised virtue. "She was terrific in denunciation of the girl's wickedness" (105).
Of the three, Jimmie comes closest to seeing the various causes that have contributed to her downfall. He briefly considers the idea that Maggie might "have been more firmly good had she better known why" (111) and reflects that the girls he has pursued might also have brothers but fails to see the similarities between them and his own sisters circumstance. Jimmie believed that Maggie was not like other ruined girls, "He was trying to formulate a theory that he had always unconsciously held, that all sisters, excepting his own, could advisedly be ruined" (84).
"She went the deh devil deh first chance she got" (110)! Mary is insisting that because her daughter stayed away for many days at Pete's place, that her virtue has been lost. "A girl of the painted cohorts of the city went along the street" (140), it is implied that she has turned to prostitution in order to survive.
In The Call of the Wild, Buck was "suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial" (16). When forced out of the comforts of home, it's possible for animals to endure the wilderness if he is driven by a quest for survival and has the will-power to survive. Buck feels at ease while living at Judge Miller's place, he's happy, and he doesn't yet know what abuse is. Buck is given the freedom to run around on his own without a leash, and because of this he lives a worry-free existence, content with his way of life.
London graphically portrays the brutality and cruelty of men and animals alike throughout the story, and we can see that Buck's experiences transform him by strengthening his animal instincts for survival. Again and again, this extraordinary dog is ruthless in his self preservation, yet never loses the affection for the few people that he cares for.
"He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club" (13). Initially we can see that in London's wild, we have different definitions of virtue. "Demanding instant obedience, and by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience" (18). But throughout the violence and all of the attempts on Buck's life, he found a sacred trust and love in one human, who saved his life. In the end, compassion and love is Buck's virtue, while freedom is his vice.
Over the time, primal impulses began to surge strongly within Buck. When he lived in California, he didn't have an opportunity to express himself fully - to howl or hunt or even associate with other wild dogs. Now all of this has changed, and Buck quickly adapts to his new surroundings. These primal impulses, long since dormant, begin to fill Buck's body, and he now knows that his life on the Judges estate is not who he is.
Unlike the feelings of intense remorse that Buck had felt after witnessing Curly's death in the beginning, he now readily accepts Dave's death as a fact of life, because he is not strong enough to survive. Survival has become a harsh reality of life, and those who are not strong enough merely die. Buck feels acceptance about death now, rather than being emotionally distraught about it. Instead of worrying about others, he worries about himself only - his own survival.
Buck eventually becomes the victim of different desires raging a war from within him. First and foremost there is his intense love for John Thornton, but there is this growing restlessness inside of him. His ancestral, primal impulses are fighting to get out, encouraging him to wander off into the forest, to hunt and to howl like the wild beast that he knows he has become. For the time being though, Thornton's power is stronger than the voice of the wild, and Buck chooses to stay by his side.
Maggie once had a virtue of innocence, and the loss of it later became her vice and the death of her. Maggie was not as strong as some of her counterparts, and therefore did not win any of her battles. In the end, Maggie dies because her family and the society of the Bowery consider her "ruined" and chastise her for this by not allowing her to be a part of the town any longer. Buck, on the other hand fought many battles, and won all of them. Buck overcame the obstacle of being taken away, unwillingly, from the only home he ever knew, and chartered around a place he had no familiarity with. Bucks virtue was his strength and desire to live, his vice was the undying desire to be free. He was destined to be a hero for generations to come, "by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive," (108) and seen as the "ghost dog that runs at the head of the pack" (123).