Throughout the novel, White Fang struggles to reconcile his feral instincts with the expectations of the domestic world, highlighting the conflict between nature and society. Part wolf and raised in the wild, White Fang's natural instincts to fight and hunt are at odds with man's ways. For instance, White Fang bristles at being petted, or tied down with a leather thong by his human masters. Through these measures, humans expect and demand obedience and respect from their dog, but White Fang, being a wild animal, perceives such behaviors and devices as threats to his survival.
White Fang often misreads human behavior, as well. When he sees Scott embrace his mother, White Fang interprets the hug as a "hostile act," and nearly attacks the woman. White Fang similarly misunderstands human laws of hunting. When he lays out all the chickens he has killed before Scott's front door, he thinks that he is honoring his master with food, but really he has committed a grave crime by hunting a domesticated animal. Even though White Fang's nature conflicts with society's rules, there is a certain aspect of White Fang's character that inclines him towards deeply respecting mankind. White Fang not only considers humans to be gods, he is capable of expressing loyalty, faithfulness, and obedience towards man, especially Scott. It is these traits, which make White Fang long for the "security" and "companionship" of man. When White Fang escapes from Gray Beaver, he is overcome by an intense loneliness, compelling him to return to the Indian camp and give himself over to man's care. White Fang's internal struggle between his wild nature and his yearnings for companionship highlights the conflict between nature and civilization, but also shows that they are not mutually exclusive worlds. White Fang's movement from one realm into the other demonstrates the permeability of these borders, while his transformation into a domesticated animal with wolfish instincts shows him to be a hybrid animal of both environments. Through White Fang's transformation, London shows the natural and human worlds to be opposed, but also linked.
Domestic Yearnings v. Natural Instinct ThemeTracker
Domestic Yearnings v. Natural Instinct Quotes in White Fang
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
[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.
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.
[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.