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.
Mastery Quotes in White Fang
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
[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.