White Fang

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of White Fang published in 1991.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted, Northland Wild.

Related Symbols: The Northland
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel begins at the ends of the earth (the same harsh setting as The Call of the Wild, the companion novel to White Fang). The dogs are pulling a cargo through a snowy, desolate landscape, which London describes as the Northland Wild.

Why does London begin his novel in such a frightening, desolate place? London intended his novel to be an allegory for the evolution from primitivism to civilization (or even a metaphor for his own ascension from a rough young hoodlum to a well-off adult writer). By beginning his novel in the Northland Wild, then, he makes it clear where he's starting from: a place entirely unfriendly to mankind or any kind of "domestication," where survival and brute force are the only laws.

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It is not the way of the Wild to like movement. Life is an offense to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.

Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The other key point that London establishes in the first paragraphs of the novel is the contrast between life and nature. In contrast to idyllic visions of animals in harmony with their environment, London portrays all life as being at war with its environment. The natural world is a harsh, dangerous place--it's just not designed for survival. Animals and human beings, therefore, must try their hardest to stake out a place for themselves in the dangerous natural world. There's a constant struggle between beings and the elements: the cold, the wind, and the snow seem to be trying their hardest to destroy life. In such a way, the novel shows how one animal, White Fang, struggles against nature to make a place for himself and become a happy, peaceful dog.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

[The she-wolf] looked at [Bill and Henry] in a strangely wistful way, after the manner of a dog; but in its wistfulness there was none of the dog affection.

Related Characters: Bill, Henry, Kiche, the she-wolf
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to the "she-wolf" (later Kiche), the wolf that has been menacing Bill and Henry's cargo and leading some of the sled dogs off into the wilderness. Bill and Henry can tell immediately that the she-wolf is dog-like, but is certainly not a dog: although it shares some of its DNA with dogs, it hasn't been domesticated at all--it's a completely wild, instinctual animal.

The passage poses an important contrast between domesticated and wild animals. White Fang, who's partly dog and partly wolf, is both. The she-wolf, then, is a symbol of the divide between nature and civilization--she's so close to being a "civilized" dog," and yet so far away.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

[Henry] discovered an appreciation of his own body which he had never felt before. He watched his moving muscles and was interested in the cunning mechanism of his fingers.... It fascinated him, and he grew suddenly fond of this subtle flesh of his that worked so beautifully and smoothly and delicately.

Related Characters: Henry
Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry is surrounded by death: he's stranded in the wilderness, and many of the sled dogs have been eaten by wolves. Fearing for own life, Henry builds a fire and tries to fend off the dangerous wolves. As he tries to defend himself, Henry becomes acutely aware of his own body--it's exhilarating for him to struggle for life and appreciate the wonderful physicality of his own body and existence.

The passage illustrates the paradox that we only become fully aware of our lives in the instants during which we try to defend ourselves from death. That's why adventures are so fun, even when they're dangerous: they alert us to the value of our own lives, and allow us to savor our bodies' power.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

In [the she-wolf's] instinct, which was the experience of all the mothers of wolves, there lurked a memory of fathers that had eaten their newborn progeny. It manifested itself as a fear strong within her, that made her prevent One Eye from more closely inspecting the cubs he had fathered.

Related Characters: Kiche, the she-wolf, One Eye
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the importance of instinct is clear. The she-wolf has mothered a brood of pups with One Eye. One Eye, the she-wolf senses (due to thousands of years of instinct that extend far beyond her own personal experience, and into a kind of "collective memory"), may be thinking about eating his own children for food. She then defends her pups from their own father, perhaps saving their lives.

London doesn't pass moral judgment on anything that happens in the passage--he takes a harsh, Darwinian view of survival, recognizing that the she-wolf's actions are "good" insofar as they ensure a new generation of wolves.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

The life that was so swiftly expanding within [White Fang] urged him continually toward the wall of light.

Related Characters: White Fang
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage has often been interpreted as a reflection of White Fang's boundless capacity to grow, thrive, and savor life. White Fang is still a young pup, recently born, but he has a great excitement about the future. Here, he runs toward what he perceives as a "wall of light" (really, the entrance to his cave) in an effort to explore the unknown.

The passage helps us understand how London chooses a protagonist for his adventure story. White Fang is just another wolf, of course, but he's also a particularly curious, lively wolf--the embodiment of the life-force itself. As such, he's a perfect hero for a story of danger and adventure: we admire and respect his ambition and curiosity, and even identify with it.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

But there were forces at work in the cub, the greatest of which was growth. Instinct and law demanded of him obedience. But growth demanded disobedience. His mother and fear impelled him to keep away from the white wall. Growth is life, and life is forever destined to make for life.

Related Characters: White Fang
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Life, at its most elemental, is a struggle between desire and fear, growth and self-control. White Fang is an interesting character in the novel because, as a young wolf, he feels a boundless sense of excitement--a desire to explore the big, unknowable universe. And yet White Fang's mother makes sure that he also exercises some caution: the fact is, the world is a dangerous place, and White Fang will die if he tries to explore it too recklessly before he's ready.

The passage is important, then, because it establishes the two primary forces at work in White Fang's life: fear and growth. Only when White Fang learns to respect both of these forces will grow into a "mature" wolf.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

The aim of life was meat. Life itself was meat. Life lived on life. There were the eaters and the eaten. The law was: EAT OR BE EATEN.

Related Symbols: The Law of Meat
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

London sketches out the laws of a world that's both exhilarating and horrifying. There is no morality, no right or wrong, in the wild: just the law of "kill or be killed," or rather, "eat or be eaten." (This is an obvious echo of The Call of the Wild's "law of club and fang.") As he grows up, White Fang gradually learns the laws of the universe--everything else is just a distraction from the reality of meat.

At this point in the novel, White Fang isn't a very complicated character: he's just a wolf trying to get enough food to survive. And yet we can sense that there's a little more to even White Fang's life than just "eat or be eaten." If White Fang's mother hadn't defended him from his potentially-cannibalistic father, he might not be alive today--the universe hinges on affection and love, not just food.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

Every instinct of [White Fang's] nature would have impelled him to dash wildly away [from the Indians], had there not suddenly and for the first time arisen in him another and counter instinct. A great awe descended upon him. He was beaten down to movelessness by an overwhelming sense of his own weakness and littleness. Here was mastery and power, something far and away beyond him.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

London makes an interesting point here. White Fang sees a group of humans approaching, but instead of running away--as every natural instinct in his body is telling him to do--he stays and stares. White Fang is awestruck by the presence of the humans; it's as if he feels a natural inclination to be loyal to these figures.

The passage reinforces the idea that sometimes, nature wants animals to join forces, even if they're not the same species. Furthermore, there may be a feeling of something like "religious awe" even in entirely wild animals (at least as London portrays it here). Here, White Fang feels a powerful instinct to submit to man's power, regarding the people he sees as something like gods. Presumably it's because other wolves felt such a feeling that human beings were able to domesticate the dog millennia ago.

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

For behind any wish of [man's] was power to enforce that wish, power that hurt, power that expressed itself in clouts and clubs, in flying stones and stinging lashes of whips.

Related Symbols: The Club, Man's Hand
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Again, London suggests that wolves (or at least dogs) must be subservient to men because of the natural order of life. White Fang is just a young wolf (and part dog), meaning he hasn't really learned how to be wild yet. Moreover, White Fang wouldn't be able to defend himself against most humans' weapons, even if he were a mature wolf.

The natural law of the universe, it's suggested, is force and mastery. All power stems from the ability to wield force quickly and skillfully. White Fang has to learn to submit to his human masters because they have clubs and he has none--it's that simple. Over the course of the novel, White Fang will learn how to obey many different kinds of masters--and yet at all times, it's implied that White Fang needs to obey a master.

He [White Fang] belonged to [men]. His actions were theirs to command. His body was theirs to maul, to stamp upon, to tolerate. Such was the lesson that was quickly borne in upon him. It came hard – counter to much that was strong and dominant in his own nature; and while he disliked it – unknown to himself he was learning to like it. It was a placing of his destiny in another's hands, a shifting of the responsibilities of existence. This in itself was a compensation, for it is always easier to lean upon another than to stand alone.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:

Over time, White Fang gradually learns to be obedient to his human masters because they beat him into submission. at first, White Fang struggles with the concept of loyalty--he's a wolf, meaning that he's instinctively going to look out for himself and obey nobody else. And yet, pretty quickly, White Fang discovers that he likes having a master: because he's partly wolf and partly dog, he has the ability to be either wild or domestic. Furthermore, London suggests, it's easier to lean on someone else rather than trying to do everything oneself. Men might beat or abuse White Fang, but as long as they provide him with food and shelter, there's something comforting about relying on them instead of relying on his own wits and skill alone.

London may intend White Fang to be a symbol for humanity itself. White Fang has the capability to be violent and independent, and yet he chooses to be a part of "society"--thus sacrificing some of his freedom for a new measure of security.

There was something calling to him [White Fang] out there in the open. His mother heard it, too. But she heard also that other and louder call, the call of the fire and of man—the call which it has been given alone of all animals to the wolf to answer.

Related Characters: White Fang, Kiche, the she-wolf
Related Symbols: Fire, The Call
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see White Fang torn between the two halves of his nature: his wild, independent half, and his subservient, domestic half. White Fang could easily run away from his human owners and live in the wild for the rest of his life. Or he could stay behind and live with his masters. In the end, he and his mother choose to live with humans, perhaps because they're given warmth and food there, and perhaps because they've had loyalty beaten into them. London presents this choice as the conflict of two different "calls": the "call of the wild" (the title of London's other most famous novel) and the "call of man."

The passage shows a kind of "social contract" in the animals' lives: they have a free choice between wildness and civilization. In the end, they choose civilization perhaps because it's just better; their quality of life is simply higher. White Fang sacrifices some of his freedom (i.e., he has an owner), but in return he gets a warm fire and plenty of food. And yet there's still a question of whether or not White Fang's choice is truly free--he's loyal to his masters, but perhaps that's because he's been hurt so many times.

Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

There was a difference between White Fang and them. Perhaps they sensed his wild-wood breed, and instinctively felt for him the enmity that the domestic dog feels for the wolf.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Here London presents another natural law of animals: different is bad. The dogs that live with Gray Beaver, White Fang's current owner, hate White Fang because they can sense that he's a wild animal, and so fundamentally separate from them. Because he's different, White Fang is bullied and attacked by the other dogs, and as a result, White Fang learns to defend himself from an early age.

The "herd mentality" on display in this passage will be important to the rest of the novel. The dogs in this chapter are a model of civilization: they do everything together, often making their decisions simply because everyone else is going along.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

[White Fang's] development was in the direction of power. In order to face the constant danger of hurt and even of destruction, his predatory and protective faculties were unduly developed. He became quicker of movement than the other dogs, swifter of foot, craftier, deadlier, more lithe, more lean with ironlike muscle and sinew, more enduring, more cruel, more ferocious, and more intelligent. He had to become all these things, else he would not have held his own nor survive the hostile environment in which he found himself.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn that White Fang's bullying and persecution are ultimately working in his favor. The end result is that White Fang is forced to adapt to his environment and become a stronger, tougher animal. He learns to run faster and defend himself from bullies of all kinds. Such skills make him the most powerful of all the dogs--and they begin to fear him.

The passage could function as a subtle bit of self-praise from Jack London, who grew up in a tough, working-class environment, but quickly learned to take care of himself, not unlike White Fang. The passage is also a great example of how London's "protagonists" are often those who are fundamentally tougher, more skilled, and better at survival than others--he's a Darwinian at heart.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

White Fang's feel of Beauty Smith was bad. From the man's distorted body and twisted mind, in occult ways, like mists rising from malarial marshes, came emanations of the unhealth within. Not by reasoning, not by the five senses alone, but by other and remoter and uncharted senses, came the feeling to White Fang that the man was ominous with evil, pregnant with hurtfulness, and therefore a thing bad, and wisely to be hated.

Related Characters: White Fang, Beauty Smith
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

White Fang becomes aware of a man who lives in town named Beauty Smith. Smith is ugly and deformed, and it's both for this reason and because of some natural instinct regarding character that White Fang distrusts him. Because Beauty's body is ugly, White Fang senses that he must be a cruel, evil person--and White Fang uses a kind of "sixth sense," too, in judging Beauty as fundamentally "bad." Not because of Smith's body, but because of intangible things like his body language and his voice, White Fang regards him as dangerous. As with many dogs, White Fang is a keen observer of human beings--he sizes them up and makes judgments about their personalities in a way that most human beings could never do. 

[Beauty Smith] had come into the world with a twisted body and brute intelligence. This had constituted the clay of him, and it had not been kindly molded by the world.

Related Characters: Beauty Smith
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Beauty Smith, no less than anyone else in the novel, is the product of both nature and nurture. Naturally, he's been dealt a certain hand in life: because of his DNA, he's an ugly, misshapen man. But Smith has also had a hard time in life: he's been treated badly by other people, and suffered as a result.

London makes it clear that all life is the product of both nature and nurture, not one or the other. Whether we're talking about a wolf or a human being, life consists of a constant interaction between oneself and one's environment (nurture), during which certain inborn traits may be advantageous (nature). Furthermore, the struggle for survival isn't limited to creatures of the wild Northland--the way any adult human has turned out is the result of his or her struggle to adapt and overcome obstacles.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

[Men] were molding the clay of him into a more ferocious thing than had been intended by Nature. Nevertheless, Nature had given him plasticity. Where many another animal would have died or had its spirit broken, he adjusted himself and lived, and at not expense of the spirit.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

White Fang comes into the captivity of Beauty Smith, a cruel, greedy man who mistreats White Fang in horrible ways. Smith tries to make White Fang mean and dangerous--and Fang responds accordingly.

London notes that White Fang has been given a certain set of skills and instincts--what we would call his DNA. One of these skills is his ability to adapt to different circumstances--what Lindon calls "plasticity." White Fang is, in many ways, the embodiment of the life force itself: instead of giving up when he comes upon difficult circumstances, he responds accordingly, adapting to his environment. It's because White Fang is so flexible and strong that he survives Beauty Smith's tough ownership.

Part 4, Chapter 4 Quotes

The basic life that was in [White Fang] took charge of him. The will to exist of his body surged over him. He was dominated by this mere flesh-love of life.

Related Characters: White Fang
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, White Fang is in a pit-fight with a bulldog. White Fang is intimidated by the bulldog, an especially dangerous opponent. He manages to bite the bulldog, at the same instant that the bulldog grips White Fang by the throat. White Fang is locked in a life-or-death battle, and he has no intention of giving up. Instead of releasing his grip and submitting to the bulldog, White Fang continues to bite.

It's pure survival instinct that compels White Fang in this scene. He's always been a lively, adventurous animal, but here, he's focused on one thing: living. In times of crisis, the animals in a London's book show their true colors: their strength, their desire to live, or their weakness.

You cowards! You beasts!

Related Characters: Weedon Scott (speaker), Beauty Smith
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Just when it seems that White Fang is about to die in the fight with the bulldog, a man intervenes. His name is Weedon Scott, and as we'll see, he'll become White Fang's final owner. Here, though, Scott acts as a kind of deus ex machina device, saving White Fang when there's no other way out. Scott is an almost divine character--he gives White Fang another chance at life.

The passage reinforces the idea that life isn't just about living or dying. There are times when people intervene to help out others, even when it's not exactly in their own self-interest to do so. Scott is impelled to help White Fang because he despises the environment of dog-fighting: he hates that humans get pleasure out out of seeing weaker animals trying to kill each other.

Part 4, Chapter 5 Quotes

[White Fang] did not want to bite the hand, and he endured the peril of it until his instinct surged up in him, mastering him with its insatiable yearning for life.

Related Characters: White Fang, Weedon Scott
Related Symbols: Man's Hand
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, White Fang bites the hand that saved his life. Weedon Scott is a sympathetic man who doesn't want to do White Fang any harm. And yet White Fang doesn't realize that his new owner is better than Beauty Smith: Scott isn't going to hurt him or torture him. Because White Fang has been raised and nurtured to be brutal to all strangers, he bites Scott's hand--even though in his mind, he doesn't "want" to.

The passage shows the interplay between instinct and training; nature and nurture. One could argue that White Fang was bred and trained to be brutal--before he was with Smith, he wasn't nearly so dangerous. And yet one could also argue that White Fang's time with Beauty Smith merely brought out instincts in White Fang that had been suppressed previously. In any case, it's clear that White Fang is the product of his environment, as much as his parents.

I agree with you, Mr. Scott. That dog's too intelligent to kill.

Related Characters: Matt (speaker), White Fang, Weedon Scott
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

For the second time in the novel, Scott saves White Fang from death. Scott's fellow workers were going to shoot White Fang for fighting another dog and for biting Scott's hand. But Scott--much to everybody's surprise--doesn't want White Fang dead. On the contrary, he recognizes that White Fang is a talented, strong dog--and therefore, they'd be stupid to kill him.

When Scott saved White Fang from the dogfighting arena, he did so out of sympathy. In that situation, the choice was relatively easy: White Fang was a victim. But here, the situation is more complicated, and Scott makes a choice about what to do with White Fang based not just on what White Fang is, but on what White Fang could be. Scott and those with him recognize White Fang's fundamental strengths – his intelligence, for instance – and believe that they can mold those traits and mold White Fang more generally into a valuable dog and companion.

Part 4, Chapter 6 Quotes

[Scott's] voice was soft and soothing. In spite of the menacing hand, the voice inspired confidence. And in spite of the assuring voice, the hand inspired distrust. White Fang was torn by conflicting feelings, impulses. It seemed he would fly to pieces, so terrible was the control he was exerting, holding together by an unwonted indecision the counter-forces that struggled within him for mastery.

Related Characters: White Fang, Weedon Scott
Related Symbols: Man's Hand
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, White Fang faces an incredible crisis. Internally, he's presented with a dilemma. Weedon Scott has taken him home and offered him some comfort. Previously, Scott has saved White Fang's life, not once but twice. And yet White Fang has long been trained to be brutal and savage to those who get close to him.

In short, White Fang faces a conflict between gentleness and aggression: should he accept his new master, or fight him? In times of crisis, animals in the novel always show their true colors. Here, we're left to see which side of White Fang is truly stronger, his friendly side or his aggressive side.

It was the beginning of the end for White Fang—the ending of the old life and the reign of hate. A new and incomprehensibly fairer life was dawning. It required much thinking and endless patience on the part of Weedon Scott to accomplish this. And on the part of White Fang it required nothing less than a revolution. He had to ignore the urges and promptings of instinct and reason, defy experience, give the lie to life itself.

Related Characters: White Fang, Weedon Scott
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

White Fang's domesticity has won out, and he has just accepted the friendship of his new master, Weedon Scott. White Fang has undergone a total revolution: previously, he was trained to be brutal and savage, but now, he's decided to be calm and peaceful, accepting that his new master is gentler than Beauty Smith or the harsh realities of the Northland.

London conveys the full extent of White Fang's "revolution." The animal has had to suppress some of the most basic instincts in his body--instincts to fight and bite. The process is not unlike the process by which humans founded civilization. Instead of constantly fighting to survive, some human beings learned to share with and support each other. Doing so was tough, because humans had to suppress some of their violent, selfish instincts (instincts which live on in all of us). 

Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

[White Fang] obeyed his natural impulses until they ran counter to some law... But most potent in his education were the cuff of his master's hand, the censure of the master's voice. It was the compass by which he steered and learned to chart the manners of a new land and life.

Related Characters: White Fang, Weedon Scott
Related Symbols: Man's Hand
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

White Fang has now been moved to live with Weedon Scott's family. White Fang is still a somewhat wild animal, with wild instincts, and yet he learns quickly to be calm and docile. White Fang changes his behavior, not just because a master beats him into submission (although Scott does "cuff" him when he's disobedient), but because Scott treats him with love and encourages him to learn.

The passage could easily be interpreted as a metaphor for the development of society. After the "epiphany" of accepting cooperation and peace, our ancestors had to gradually transition to a civilization in which cooperation and peace were the norms, not exceptions. By the same token, White Fang gradually learns how to be civilized and domesticated--to accept the mastery of a human in exchange for consistent food, shelter, and love.

No matches.