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In Call of the Wild, a woman named Mercedes becomes the owner of a sled dog team along with her husband Charles and brother Hal when a Scotch Half Breed decides to give them up.

She becomes a problematic figure throughout the journey and has no idea how to survive in the wild. Although she is the only woman in the book I don’t think the author John London is using Mercedes as an example that women shouldn’t be out there, rather that she is a flawed person, regardless of her gender.

The bad things Mercedes does aren’t because of her gender. Mercedes is solely an inexperienced and ignorant person and it affects her in the wild. She gives orders on how to pack, persisting the men to pack, unpack, and then repack the sleds multiple times, and can’t make up her mind on what to pack and how things should be organized. After the sled fails to move multiple people advise Mercedes and her companions to leave some unnecessary belongings behind but Mercedes whins, “Mercedes cried when her clothes bags were dumped on the ground and article after article was thrown out. She cried in general, and she cried in particular over each discarded thing”(34). Mercedes’s problems with just packing the sled demonstrate her unwillingness to adapt to Klondike conditions. Her possessions are more valuable than traveling efficiently. When you’re in the wild you have to be reasonable and plan according to the conditions, therefore you have to know what is most necessary and what is not but Mercedes fails to do this. Mercedes’s pity for the dogs displays her complete lack of knowledge. When Hal beats the dogs for failing to pull the sled, Mercedes hates it, “You poor poor dears”, she cries sympathetically”, Why don’t you pull hard? Then you wouldn’t be whipped”(34). She shows compassion for the dogs but she fails to care that they are suffering just as much to pull her luxuries and ignores their need for rest. In another incident Mercedes steals food to feed more to the dogs, thinking it will help them, “She stole from the fish- Saks and fed them slyly. But it was not the food that Buck and the huskies needed, but rest” (36). Feeding the dogs only interferes with the trip because they have only traveled ¼ of the way and the food was gone to fuel the animals. Her incompetence and unsuitability for the Klondike are responsible for her flaws and ultimately take her, her companions, and the dogs down with her. Her behavior and inexperience, London suggests, demonstrates how ignorant people are unsuited for life in the wild, being that they have no clue what they’re doing.

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The author John London makes it apparent that Charles and Hal are callows, ignorant, and stubborn as well by describing that they have many flaws too. There are many indications Hal and Charles aren’t fit for the Klondike either. The men are lured to the anticipation of gold but they are completely unprepared for the conditions as well. The first mistake they make is packing the sled with an unstable amount of dogs, “Like Arctic travel, there was a reason why fourteen dogs should not drag one sled, and that was that one sled could not carry the food for fourteen dogs. But Charles and Hal did not know this”(36). Charles and Hal are ignorant because they think having more dogs will be better for them and the journey but what they fail to recognize is that they haven’t brought enough food for that amount of dogs and the duration of the journey. “It was inevitable that they should go short on dog food. But they hastened it by overfeeding, and Hal decided that the orthodox ration was too small. He doubled it. Then came the underfeeding. Hal awoke one day to the fact that his dog food was half gone and the distance only quarter covered. So he cut down even the orthodox ration and tried to increase the day’s travel”(36). The men give the dogs too much food and quickly run out and then make the mistake of underfeeding them and then expect them to travel faster! These men are in a sense worse than Mercedes because they have no respect for the dogs and beat and overwork them. Hal believes the animals need to get accustomed to beatings and hits the dogs often, “They’re lazy, I tell you, and you’ve got to whip them to get anything out of them. That’s their way. You ask anyone. Ask one of those men.” The men fail to understand that for the dogs to give their best performance it’s significant to feed and care for them frequently but they believe they are experts and know what to do and how to do it. They are wrong because they haul an unjust load in the sled, work and beat the dogs excessively, and fail to bring enough food for the trip. Charles and Hals’s ignorance and stubbornness put the team in danger as well.

London identifies that Buck sees Hal and Charles just as unreliable. Buck notices, “Not only did they not know how to work the dogs, but they did not know how to work themselves,” (36). London goes on to say, “Buck felt vaguely that there was no depending upon these two men and the woman. They did not know how to do anything, and as the days went by it became apparent that they could not learn. They were slack in all things, without order or discipline. It took them half the night to pitch a slovenly camp and half the morning to break that camp and get the sled loaded in fashion so slovenly that for the rest of the day they were occupied in stopping and rearranging the load”(36). Mercedes, Hal, and Charles are all unfit for the sled dogs and the journey because they don’t know what they are doing, and it is apparent to Buck. John Thornton advises Hal and Charles to not travel across the ice and he tells them, “The bottoms likely to drop out any minute”(40). Hal and Charles ignore him and force the dogs back into their harnesses by beating them. Hal forces the team to stagger along the ice and they fall through the and die. “They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of the ice gives way and the dogs and humans disappear”(41)This quote demonstrates that Charles, Hal, and Mercedes are not fit for Yukon because they are not experienced enough to notice that the season has changed, therefore it is extremely dangerous to try and tread the ice. Spring arrives and the ice is weak but they refuse to listen to any warnings and it ultimately costs them and the sled dogs their lives. Mercedes, Hal, and Charles are cruel and irresponsible with their dogs and are stubborn and simply make bad decisions.

The Arctic travel was too harsh for all three Americans. In the Klondike, incompetence is dangerous, not only for Mercedes but for Charles and Hal as well. The author indicates neither Mercedes, Hal, nor Charles are suited for the Yukon because they are clueless about the dogs, the North, and dog sledding. They don’t know how to treat and care for the dogs, have no idea about what provisions or baggage to take, and don’t listen to people’s advice that the season has changed. John London displays that the entire group was totally out of place in the harsh environment, and their flaws ultimately prove fatal and take the only ones that were fit for the Yukon down with them. I believe John London’s message is moreover, no matter if you are a woman or man you must be strong, cunning, and able to adapt to survive in the wild. You cannot thrive if you are unprepared and inexperienced.  

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