The story opens with Buck, a powerful 140-pound St. Bernard–Scotch Collie mix, living happily in California's Santa Clara Valley as the pampered pet of rich Judge Miller and his family. However, the secretive assistant gardener Manuel, in desperate need of money to finance his Chinese lottery addiction, steals Buck and sells him for a large, lucrative amount of cash. Buck is shipped to Seattle. Put in a crate, he is starved and ill-treated. When released, he attacks his overseer, known only as the "man in the red sweater" but this man teaches the "law of the club", hitting Buck until he is sufficiently cowed (but the man shows some kindness after Buck stops). Buck is then sold to a pair of French-Canadian dispatchers from the Canadian government, François and Perrault, who take him with them to Alaska. There, they train him as a sled dog, and drive him through the Klondike region of Canada. From his teammates, he quickly learns to adapt to survive cold winter nights and the pack society. A rivalry develops between Buck and the lead dog, Spitz, a vicious and quarrelsome white husky. Buck eventually beats Spitz in a fight and kills him, and then becomes the team's new lead dog.
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