I.3 The Hunger Cry
When the sled overturns, One Ear breaks away, lured by the she-wolf by playfully "flirting" with him and leading him into an ambush by the wolf pack. Bill pursues with his rifle. Henry listens, helpless, as Bill uses up his ammunition; he also hears One Ear's death cry. He knows that he has lost both the dog and Bill. Wearily, Henry makes camp, and the wolf pack again gathers, forming a close ring around him and his fire, which he strives to keep burning. In the morning, to lighten his load, he builds a scaffold and leaves the coffin behind before continuing on.
The wolves grow bolder in their pursuit of Henry. The she-wolf, in particular, seems to eye Henry with a certainty that she will soon be devouring him. Eventually, not even the break of day sends the wolves scattering. Henry gives up his journey; at night, he struggles mightily to remain awake, but his exhaustion overpowers him. He dreams that he has reached Fort McGurry, but that the fort is being attacked by wolves. The howling he hears in his dream blends with the wolves' howling in real life as they finally descend upon him. Henry fights them with firebrands, burning himself in the process. But his resistance is short-lived; in the end, he sits and says to the wolves, "I guess you can come an' get me any time." He dozes off again. When he wakes, the wolves have gone and a rescue party has found him. Broken and spent, Henry is carried away, and the wolves seek other meat.
In this chapter, London increases readers' suspense by depicting the increasingly bold behavior of the wolves. He connects this suspense to his theme of survival with such characterization statements as, "[The wolf was] looking upon [Henry] with a possessive eye, as if, in truth, he were merely a delayed meal that was soon to be eaten." Henry also experiences a shift of perception in this chapter: believing his death by the wolf pack to be imminent, he gains a new appreciation of himself as a physical creature: "like a blow the realization would strike him that this wonderful body of his, this living flesh, was no more than so much meat." Such moments serve to "equalize" man and beast in London's conception of the Wild: it is a place where all life is equal, both in its vulnerability and in its will to survive. Some life will demonstrate enough will; other life will not.
London's "Wild" thus very much shows the influence of Darwinian thought, with its emphasis upon "the survival of the fittest." This chapter's portrayal of Henry exposes how ill-suited human beings are, by nature, to the Wild. They survive only to the degree to which they adapt, but London could be suggesting that such adaptation is only temporary at best. By the end of the chapter, the Wild has broken Henry's will completely. His last-minute rescue is entirely fortuitous, and is not the result of his survival tactics. Even though Henry survives, the Wild, thematically speaking, has conquered him.