White Fang

White Fang

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Themes and Colors
The Struggle for Survival Theme Icon
Domestic Yearnings v. Natural Instinct Theme Icon
Nature v. Nurture Theme Icon
Mastery Theme Icon
Domestication Theme Icon
Mating and Parenthood Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in White Fang, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Domestication Theme Icon

From bitter and hateful beast to man's best friend, White Fang undergoes a process of domestication. He is born a wild wolf, becomes a morose and aloof pariah in the Indian camp, is trained as a vicious fighting dog under Beauty Smith, and finally transforms into a loving and loyal companion dog to Weedon Scott. Yet, White Fang becomes domesticated because he's trained, rather than tamed. Gray Beaver and Beauty tame White Fang to obey them with their clubs, but he still maintains his naturally fierce demeanor. Under the "tutelage" of Scott, however, White Fang's character actually changes and adapts to society's ways. From Scott's stern warnings with his voice and the cuff of his hand, White Fang learns not to attack other humans, and to never hunt farm animals. At the same time, Scott's patience and confidence in White Fang also teaches him to be a dutiful canine that embraces his owner's laughter and barks at the sign of trouble.

Above all, White Fang's unswerving devotion to his master marks him as a domesticated creature. That White Fang nearly sacrifices his life to defend Judge Scott against the maniacal Jim Hall demonstrates this transition. In this instance, White Fang exercises his natural instincts not to hunt or fend for himself, but in order to defend and service his human owners. Because White Fang selflessly fights for his human family, he shows himself to be a loyal and devoted canine. Fathering a litter of pups with Collie, a domesticated animal, also confirms his place in the domestic sphere. Although Scott trains White Fang well, his natural instincts are still present. London gives White Fang various names, a "tame wolf," a "Blessed wolf," and "the sleeping wolf," all of which suggest that White Fang's inner beast, though trained, lies dormant. In this way, London reminds us that within every domesticated dog there lies a trace of the wild.

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Domestication Quotes in White Fang

Below you will find the important quotes in White Fang related to the theme of Domestication.
Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

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.


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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 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.