White Fang


Jack London

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White Fang: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

White Fang is an example of a Bildungsroman, a genre of novel that focuses on the moral and psychological development of its protagonist, starting in childhood and ending when they reach maturity in adulthood. Bildungsromans often feature a protagonist that faces various trials and difficulties in their lifetime, leading to the shaping of their character for the better; a journey from immaturity to maturity; a spiritual crisis that gives rise to personal transformation; and a feeling of loneliness and alienation in youth that, by the novel’s end, has given way to a sense of security, belonging, and self-realization once they have found their place in society.

The word “Bildungsroman” is a compound of two German words: bildung, which means formation, and roman, or novel. Thus, a Bildungsroman is a novel about the formation of its protagonist’s character. White Fang has many of the features of a typical Bildungsroman, and the novel focuses on the formation of White Fang’s character, from his perilous puppyhood in the Yukon wilderness to his comfortable old age living with his final owner, Weedon Scott, in California.

At the beginning of a Bildungsroman, the protagonist generally feels alienated from society or their family in some way—they may be an orphan, a runaway, an artist, or a misfit that has been shunned by those around them. Although White Fang is not an orphan, he is separated from his mother Kiche when he is still a pup, growing up with his human master, Gray Beaver, in civilization rather than with his parents in the wild. He is a misfit among dogs and wolves alike—born in the wild and three-quarters wolf, he is viewed by domesticated dogs as an outsider and a threat, representing the unknown of the wild which they have, after thousands of years of domestication, evolved to fear. However, he doesn’t fit in with wolves in the wild either; he fears the cold and silence of the wilderness after growing accustomed to the warmth and activity of civilization, and Kiche doesn’t recognize him when he briefly returns to the wild. Throughout the novel, he is mistreated and persecuted by those around him, developing something of a “lone wolf” persona. By the novel’s end, however, he is shown love by Weedon Scott, who offers him a place in society as a family dog. The novel ends with White Fang sleepily drowsing in the sun as his first litter of puppies (which he’s had with Collie, a sheep dog) tumble all over him. This final, domestic image represents his full integration into society, a typical ending for a Bildungsroman.

Another feature of White Fang that marks it as a Bildungsroman is its title. Many famous novels in this genre are simply titled with the name of its protagonist—for example, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. By simply titling his novel White Fang, Jack London gives a nod to the literary tradition he is working within.