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.
Mastery Theme Icon

Though White Fang is born a free and wild wolf, he gives up his independence for the security and companionship that man's mastery over animals and matter provides. For White Fang, however, his subservience to man is a normal configuration of the natural code he lives by: "obey the strong, oppress the weak." He participates in this social order by giving himself over to the care of strong human lords, like Gray Beaver, whom he regards as powerful and superior gods, and persecuting the animals that are weaker than him, like the puppies at the Indian camp. In this way, London suggests that the tendency towards mastery is a condition common to nature and civilization.

Over the course of his life, White Fang has three masters: Gray Beaver, Beauty Smith, and Weedon Scott. Though White Fang obeys most humans out of awe, each human owner commands his authority over White Fang in a different manner. Gray Beaver masters White Fang through the disciplinary power of the club, but also by providing him with food, shelter, companionship, and work. A feeling of mutual respect characterizes their relationship. Beauty Smith controls White Fang through violence. He clubs White Fang into submission and pits him against other fighting dogs, causing his most ferocious and bitter characteristics to come out. Their relationship is marked by antagonism and bitterness. Weedon Scott casts violence aside, gaining White Fang's trust and confidence through care and respect. Their companionship is one of loyalty and love. By portraying three different forms of mastery, London shows that the mastery of man over canine is characterized by violence and obedience, but also tempered by love and faithfulness.

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Mastery Quotes in White Fang

Below you will find the important quotes in White Fang related to the theme of Mastery.
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.

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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 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. 

Part 4, Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

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.

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.