In White Fang, London prods a question at the core of "environmental determinism"—does nature determine our course, or does our environment play a greater role? Is nature, or nurture more decisive? London appears to come down on the side of nurture by suggesting that White Fang's character is a kind of "clay," shaped and molded by the circumstances he encounters and the people he meets. As White Fang's environment shifts his demeanor changes. In the Northland, White Fang must follow his instincts to hunt, fight, and kill in order to defend himself against threats and survive in the wild. But in the safe and sunny Southland, his ferociousness is allowed to dissipate, as his life becomes less dedicated to work and fighting and more dedicated to the guardianship of Scott and his family. White Fang's character also undergoes dramatic shifts under the care of his various masters. Beauty Smith accentuates White Fang's naturally fierce nature by turning him into a hateful and vicious fighting dog. Yet Scott, through love and respect, converts White Fang into a loyal and loving guardian. With every change, White Fang transforms. Therefore, London suggests that the way one is nurtured indelibly shapes his/ her nature.
Nature v. Nurture ThemeTracker
Nature v. Nurture Quotes in White Fang
But there were forces at work in the cub, the greatest of which was growth. Instinct and law demanded of him obedience. But growth demanded disobedience. His mother and fear impelled him to keep away from the white wall. Growth is life, and life is forever destined to make for life.
[White Fang's] development was in the direction of power. In order to face the constant danger of hurt and even of destruction, his predatory and protective faculties were unduly developed. He became quicker of movement than the other dogs, swifter of foot, craftier, deadlier, more lithe, more lean with ironlike muscle and sinew, more enduring, more cruel, more ferocious, and more intelligent. He had to become all these things, else he would not have held his own nor survive the hostile environment in which he found himself.
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.
[Beauty Smith] had come into the world with a twisted body and brute intelligence. This had constituted the clay of him, and it had not been kindly molded by the world.
[Men] were molding the clay of him into a more ferocious thing than had been intended by Nature. Nevertheless, Nature had given him plasticity. Where many another animal would have died or had its spirit broken, he adjusted himself and lived, and at not expense of the spirit.
You cowards! You beasts!
I agree with you, Mr. Scott. That dog's too intelligent to kill.