First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Serial, Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||298 pp (2001 Scholastic paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Call of the Wild|
White Fang is a novel by American author Jack London (1876–1916) — and the name of the book's eponymous character, a wild wolfdog. First serialized in Outing magazine, it was published in 1906. The story takes place in Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories, Canada, during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush and details White Fang's journey to domestication. It is a companion novel (and a thematic mirror) to London's best-known work, The Call of the Wild, which is about a kidnapped, domesticated dog embracing his wild ancestry to survive and thrive in the wild.
Much of White Fang is written from the viewpoint of the titular canine character, enabling London to explore how animals view their world and how they view humans. White Fang examines the violent world of wild animals and the equally violent world of humans. The book also explores complex themes including morality and redemption.
The story begins before the three-quarters wolf-dog hybrid is born, with two men and their sled dog team on a journey to deliver a coffin to a remote town named Fort McGurry in the higher area of the Yukon Territory, Canada. The men, Bill and Henry, are stalked by a large pack of starving wolves over the course of several days. Finally, after all of their dogs and Bill have been eaten, four more teams find Henry trying to escape from the wolves; the wolf pack scatters when they hear the large group of people coming.
The story then follows the pack, which has been robbed of its last prey. When the pack finally brings down a moose, the famine is ended; they eventually split up, and the story now follows a she-wolf and her mate, One Eye. The she-wolf gives birth to a litter of five cubs by the Mackenzie River, and all but one die from hunger. One Eye is killed by a lynx while trying to rob her den for food for the she-wolf and her cub; his mate later discovers his remains near the lynx's den. The surviving cub and the she-wolf are left to fend for themselves. Shortly afterward (possibly as revenge), the she-wolf kills all the lynx's kittens to feed her cub, prompting the lynx to track her down, and a vicious fight breaks out. The she-wolf eventually kills the lynx but suffers severe injury; the lynx carcass is devoured over a period of seven days as the she-wolf recovers from her injuries.
The cub comes across five Native Americans one day, and the she-wolf comes to his rescue. One man, Grey Beaver, recognizes the she-wolf as Kiche, his brother's wolfdog, who left during a famine. Grey Beaver's brother is dead, so he takes Kiche and her cub and christens the cub White Fang. White Fang has a harsh life in the Indian camp; the current puppy pack, seeing him as a wolf, immediately attacks him. The Indians save him, but the pups never accept him, and the leader, Lip-lip, singles him out for persecution. White Fang grows to become a savage, callous, morose, solitary, and deadly fighter, "the enemy of his kind".
It is at this time that White Fang is separated from his mother who is sold off to another Indian Camp. He realizes how hard life in the wild is when he runs away from camp and earns the respect of Gray Beaver when he saves his son Mit-Sah from a gang of bullies. When a famine occurs, he runs away into the woods and reunites with his mother Kiche, only for her to chase him away for she has a new litter of Cubs. He also encounters Lip-Lip whom he fights and kills before returning to the camp.
When White Fang is five years old, he is taken to Fort Yukon so that Grey Beaver can trade with the gold-hunters. There, he is bought with several bottles of whiskey by a dog-fighter, Beauty Smith, who gets Grey Beaver addicted to alcohol. White Fang defeats all opponents pitted against him, including several wolves and a lynx, until a bulldog called Cherokee is brought in to fight him. Cherokee has the upper hand in the fight when he grips the skin and fur of White Fang's neck and begins to throttle him. White Fang nearly suffocates but is rescued when a rich, young gold hunter, Weedon Scott, stops the fight and forcefully buys White Fang from Beauty Smith.
Scott attempts to tame White Fang, and after a long, patient effort, he succeeds. When Scott attempts to return to California alone, White Fang pursues him, and Scott decides to take the dog with him back home. In Sierra Vista, White Fang must adjust to the laws of the estate. At the end of the book, a murderous criminal, Jim Hall, tries to kill Scott's father, Judge Scott, for sentencing him to prison, not knowing that Hall was "railroaded". White Fang kills Hall and is nearly killed himself but survives. As a result, the women of Scott's estate name him "The Blessed Wolf." The story ends with White Fang relaxing in the sun with the puppies he has fathered with the sheep-dog Collie.
- White Fang is the book's main character. He is three-quarters wolf and one-quarter dog. He is born wild but becomes more dog-like after Grey Beaver domesticates him. He grows up fierce and unloved, constantly bullied by other dogs, like Lip-Lip, and becomes a fighting dog after Beauty Smith buys him. He eventually becomes more loving and friendly after he is bought and tamed by Weedon Scott. He saves Judge Scott’s life by killing Jim Hall and eventually has six pups with Collie.
- Weedon Scott is White Fang's third master and the first to show affection towards him. He saves White Fang from the bulldog Cherokee and forcefully buys him from Beauty Smith. He tries to tame White Fang and slowly gains his trust, then finally his love. He takes White Fang to live with him in California.
- Grey Beaver is White Fang's first master. He is harsh and shows no affection for his dog, but White Fang still displays loyalty toward him out of respect for his superiority. Grey Beaver only sells White Fang after becoming addicted to alcohol.
- Kiche is White Fang's mother; she is known as the "she-wolf" at the beginning of the novel. She is half wolf, half dog and used to be Grey Beaver’s brother’s dog, but escaped during a famine. When she returns to the Native Americans, she gets sent away from White Fang and only sees him twice more in the novel, once after White Fang has turned of age, the second time during a famine when she again escaped into the wild, as did some other dogs including White Fang——in both cases she chased him off to protect her new pups.
- Lip-Lip is a canine pup who also lives in the Native American village. He brutally bullies White Fang throughout his puppyhood and encourages the other dogs to attack him. White Fang kills him after he flees into the woods during a famine.
- Beauty Smith is White Fang's second master. He is an ugly man who gets Grey Beaver addicted to alcohol so that he can buy White Fang. He trains White Fang to become a fighting dog. He tries to steal White Fang back after Scott forcefully buys him, but White Fang brutally attacks him.
- One Eye is White Fang's father. He is full wolf and kills his rivals to mate with Kiche. He is killed by a lynx when he tries to rob her den for food during a famine.
- Jim Hall is a criminal who escapes from prison after Judge Scott unjustly sentences him. He attempts to murder Judge Scott, but White Fang attacks and kills him.
- Judge Scott is Weedon Scott's father. He does not trust White Fang completely until he saves his life from Jim Hall.
- Collie is a sheepdog on Scott’s farm. She does not trust White Fang at first, but he works his way into her confidence, and they become mates.
- Henry is a musher who appears in the first part of the novel with Bill. He is the only one who escapes being eaten by the wolves.
- Bill is a musher who appears in the first part of the novel with Henry. The wolves eat him when he attempts to go after the pack with a gun.
- Mit-sah is Grey Beaver's son. He runs White Fang and the other puppies on a sled.
- Matt is Scott's musher. He feeds White Fang and works him on the sled during the day.
- Cherokee is a bulldog that faces White Fang during one of the fights Beauty Smith hosts. He is the only dog to ever get close to killing White Fang.
Critics have identified many underlying themes in the novel. Tom Feller describes the story as "an allegory of humanity’s progression from nature to civilization." He also expresses that "the [story's] implication is that the metamorphosis of both the individual and society will require violence at some point." Paul Deane states that "[in the novel,] society demands a conformity that undermines individualism." London himself took influence from Herbert Spencer's words: "survival of the fittest", as well as Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of a "superman" (or "superdog", in this instance) and of "the worship of power".
The novel is partly an autobiographical allegory based on London’s conversion from teenage hoodlum to married, middle-class writer. In writing it, he was influenced by the ideas of Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Conditions in the US also influenced the story.
Upon its release, White Fang was an immediate success worldwide. The novel became popular, especially among younger readers. Robert Greenwood called White Fang "one of London’s most interesting and ambitious works." Virginia Crane claims that the novel is "generally regarded as artistically inferior to its companion piece [The Call of the Wild], but [that it] helped establish London as a popular American literary figure."
Shortly after the book's publication, London became a target in what would later be called the nature fakers controversy, a literary debate highlighting the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature writing. President Theodore Roosevelt, who first spoke out against the "sham naturalists" in 1907, specifically named London as one of the so-called "nature fakers". Citing an example from White Fang, Roosevelt referred to the fight between the bulldog and the wolfdog "the very sublimity of absurdity." London only responded to the criticism after the controversy had ended. He wrote in an 1908 essay entitled "The Other Animals":
I have been guilty of writing two animal—two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the "humanizing" of animals, of which it seemed to me several "animal writers" had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: "He did not think these things; he merely did them," etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research, and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers.
- Feller, Tom (January 2000). Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition. 6. Salem Press. pp. 2,975. ISBN 978-0-89356-871-9.
- Deane, Paul (1968). "Jack London: The Paradox of Individualism.". The English Record. New York State. 19: 7. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- Greenwood, Robert (March 1, 2011). "Jack London's White Fang Revisited.". California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Sacramento California (99): 7–13. ISSN 0741-0344. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- Wismer, Don (February 1, 1994). "Audio Reviews". Library Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- Crane, Virginia (March 1997). Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Supplement. Salem Press. ISBN 978-0-89356-916-7.
- Carson, Gerald (February 1971). "T.R. And The "Nature Fakers"". American Heritage. 22 (2). ISSN 0002-8738. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- Roy Tennant and Clarice Stasz. "Revolution and Other Essays: The Other Animals". london.sonoma.edu. The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
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