White Fang is a novel by American author Jack London (1876–1916) — and the name of the book's eponymous character, a wild wolfdog. First serialized in Outing magazine, it was published in 1906. The story takes place in Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories, Canada, during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush and details White Fang's journey to domestication. It is a companion novel (and a thematic mirror) to London's best-known work, The Call of the Wild, which is about a kidnapped, domesticated dog embracing his wild ancestry to survive and thrive in the wild.
First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Serial, Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||298 pp (2001 Scholastic paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Call of the Wild|
Much of White Fang is written from the viewpoint of the titular canine character, enabling London to explore how animals view their world and how they view humans. White Fang examines the violent world of wild animals and the equally violent world of humans. The book also explores complex themes including morality and redemption.
The story begins before the wolf-dog hybrid is born, with two men and their sled dog team on a journey to deliver Lord Alfred's coffin to a remote town named Fort McGurry in the higher area of the Yukon Territory, Canada. The men, Bill and Henry, are stalked by a large pack of starving wolves over the course of several days. Finally, after all of their dogs and Bill have been eaten, four more teams find Henry trying to escape from the wolves; the wolf pack scatters when they hear the large group of people coming.
The story then follows the pack, which has been robbed of its last prey. When the pack finally brings down a moose, the famine is ended; they eventually split up, and the story now follows a she-wolf and her mate, One Eye. The she-wolf gives birth to a litter of five cubs by the Mackenzie River, and all but one die from hunger. One Eye is killed by a lynx while trying to rob her den for food for the she-wolf and her cub; his mate later discovers his remains near the lynx's den. The surviving cub and the she-wolf are left to fend for themselves. Shortly afterward, the she-wolf kills all the lynx's kittens to feed her cub, prompting the lynx to track her down, and a vicious fight breaks out. The she-wolf eventually kills the lynx but suffers severe injury; the lynx carcass is devoured over a period of seven days as the she-wolf recovers from her injuries.
The cub comes across five Native Americans one day, and the she-wolf comes to his rescue. One man, Grey Beaver, recognizes the she-wolf as Kiche, his brother's wolfdog, who left during a famine. Grey Beaver's brother is dead and so he takes Kiche and her cub and christens the cub White Fang. White Fang has a harsh life in the Indian camp; the current puppy pack, seeing him as a wolf, immediately attacks him. The Indians save him, but the pups never accept him, and the leader, Lip-lip, singles him out for persecution. White Fang grows to become a savage, callous, morose, solitary, and deadly fighter, "the enemy of his kind".
It is at this time that White Fang is separated from his mother who is sold off to another Indian Camp. He realizes how hard life in the wild is when he runs away from camp and earns the respect of Grey Beaver when he saves his son Mit-Sah from a group of boys seeking revenge. When a famine occurs, he runs away into the woods and encounters his mother Kiche, only for her to chase him away for she has a new litter of cubs. He also encounters Lip-Lip whom he fights and kills before returning to the camp.
When White Fang is five years old, he is taken to Fort Yukon so that Grey Beaver can trade with the gold-hunters. There, when Grey Beaver is drunk, White Fang is bought by an evil dog-fighter named Beauty Smith. White Fang defeats all opponents pitted against him, including several wolves and a lynx, until a bulldog called Cherokee is brought in to fight him. Cherokee has the upper hand in the fight when he grips the skin and fur of White Fang's neck and begins to throttle him. White Fang nearly suffocates but is rescued when a rich, young gold hunter, Weedon Scott, stops the fight and forcefully buys White Fang from Beauty Smith.
Scott attempts to tame White Fang, and after a long, patient effort, he succeeds. When Scott attempts to return to California alone, White Fang pursues him, and Scott decides to take the dog with him back home. In Sierra Vista, White Fang must adjust to the laws of the estate. At the end of the book, an escaped convict, Jim Hall, tries to kill Scott's father, Judge Scott, for sentencing him to prison for a crime he didn't commit, not knowing that Hall was "railroaded". White Fang kills Hall and is nearly killed himself but survives. As a result, the women of Scott's estate name him "The Blessed Wolf". The story ends with White Fang relaxing in the sun with the puppies he has fathered with the sheep-dog Collie.
- White Fang is the novel's protagonist. He is a wolfdog. He is born wild but becomes more dog-like after Grey Beaver domesticates him. While he was cared for by his mother, White Fang grows up fierce and unloved after being separated from her; he was constantly bullied by other dogs, like Lip-Lip, and becomes a fighting dog after Beauty Smith buys him. He eventually becomes more loving and friendly after he is bought and tamed by Weedon Scott. He saves Judge Scott's life by killing Jim Hall and eventually has six pups with Collie.
- Grey Beaver is White Fang's first master. He is harsh and shows no affection for his dog, but White Fang still displays loyalty toward him out of respect for his superiority. Grey Beaver only sells White Fang to Beauty Smith after becoming addicted to alcohol.
- Beauty Smith is White Fang's second master and the main antagonist of the novel. He is an ugly, cruel, and mean-spirited cook who uses alcohol to con Gray Beaver into selling White Fang. He trains White Fang to be a ferocious fighting dog. White Fang considers him to be a "mad god". He tries to steal White Fang back after Scott forcefully buys him, but White Fang brutally attacks him.
- Weedon Scott is White Fang's third master and the first to show affection towards him. He saves White Fang from the bulldog Cherokee and forcefully buys him from Beauty Smith. He tries to tame White Fang and slowly gains his trust, then finally his love. He takes White Fang to live with him in California.
- Kiche is White Fang's mother; she is known as the "she-wolf" at the beginning of the novel. She is a wolfdog and used to be Grey Beaver's brother's dog, but escaped during a famine. When she returns to the Native Americans, she gets sent away from White Fang and only sees him twice more in the novel, once after White Fang has turned of age, the second time during a famine when she again escaped into the wild, as did some other dogs including White Fang - in both cases she chased him off to protect her new pups.
- Lip-lip is a canine pup who also lives in the Native American village. He brutally bullies White Fang throughout his puppyhood and encourages the other dogs to attack him. White Fang kills him after he flees into the woods during a famine.
- One-Eye was White Fang's father. He was a pure-blooded wolf and killed his rivals to mate with Kiche. He was killed by a lynx when he tries to rob her den for food during a famine. His death is avenged by Kiche when she kills the Lynx's kittens and kills the Lynx herself in a fight.
- Jim Hall was an escaped convict. He was innocent of the crime he had been put in prison for. Judge Scott convicted him, not realizing there was a police cover up. Jim Hall wanted revenge on Judge Scott, thinking he was part of the conspiracy. He breaks into the family home in order to get revenge, but White Fang attacks and kills him.
- Judge Scott is Weedon Scott's father. He does not trust White Fang completely at first until he saves his life from Jim Hall.
- Alice Scott is Weedon Scott's mother. She calls White Fang "The Blessed Wolf" after he saves Judge Scott from Jim Hall.
- Beth Scott is one of Weedon Scott's sisters, the other being Mary.
- Mary Scott is one of Weedon Scott's sisters, the other being Beth.
- Weedon Scott Jr. is Weedon Scott's son.
- Maude is Weedon Scott's daughter.
- Collie is a sheepdog on Scott's farm. She does not trust White Fang at first, but he works his way to winning her confidence, and they become mates.
- Dick is Judge Scott's loyal and gentle deerhound.
- Henry is Bill's sledding partner. He is skeptical of Bill's theory that a wolf lurks among the sled dogs, but takes the disappearance of each dog in stride. Less impulsive than his partner, he manages to escape the wolf pack's attack, but leaves the incident deeply shaken.
- Bill was an impulsive and ill-tempered musher who works with his sled partner, Henry, to convey the remains of Lord Alfred to McGurry. He is disturbed by the gradual disappearance of his dogs. The wolf pack attacks and devours him when he attempts to assault them with his gun.
- Mit-sah is Grey Beaver's son. He runs White Fang and the other puppies on a sledge.
- Kloo-koosh is Grey Beaver's wife. She is even less of a factor than her son and still gives White Fang some food when he returns to their camp.
- Three Eagles is an Indian who buys Kiche from Grey Beaver.
- Matt is Scott's musher. He feeds White Fang and works him on the sledge during the day.
- Tim Keenan is the owner of Cherokee. When Cherokee and White Fang fight, Keenan is somewhat of a passive onlooker, and is not resentful when Weedon Scott breaks up the fight between the two dogs.
- Cherokee is a bulldog that faces White Fang during one of the fights Beauty Smith hosts. He is the only dog to ever get close to killing White Fang.
- The Lynx was a ferocious and vengeful feline. It kills One-Eye, but Kiche avenges his death by killing the lynx and the kittens herself.
- The Weasel attacks White Fang when he interferes with her young, Kiche then kills her.
- One-Ear was one of Henry and Bill's sled dogs until he was lured into the wild by Kiche.
- The Surgeon is Judge Scott's assistant. He was called to White Fang's aide after he attacks Jim Hall, but concludes that White Fang's odds for survival are low.
- Frog was the strongest sled dog on Bill and Henry's team until he was the second dog to get eaten by the wolves.
- Fatty was the first sled dog on Bill and Henry's team to get eaten by the wild wolf pack.
- Spanker was the third dog eaten by the wolf pack.
- The Young Leader was one of Kiche's suitors until One-Eye kills him.
- The Ambitious Three-Year-Old was another one of Kiche's suitors until One-Eye kills him.
- Baseek was an old dog who attempts to intimidate White Fang into giving up his meat.
- Major was one of Judge Scott's dogs until White Fang kills him when he is first taken into Scott's care.
- Lord Alfred was the man whose remains are conveyed in the coffin that Bill and Henry's sled dog team carried.
Critics have identified many underlying themes in the novel. Tom Feller describes the story as "an allegory of humanity’s progression from nature to civilization." He also expresses that "the [story's] implication is that the metamorphosis of both the individual and society will require violence at some point." Paul Deane states that "[in the novel,] society demands a conformity that undermines individualism." London himself took influence from Herbert Spencer's words: "survival of the fittest", as well as Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of a "superman" (or "superdog", in this instance) and of "the worship of power".
The novel is partly an autobiographical allegory based on London’s conversion from teenage hoodlum to married, middle-class writer. In writing it, he was influenced by the ideas of Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Conditions in the US also influenced the story.
Upon its release, White Fang was an immediate success worldwide, and became especially popular among younger readers. Robert Greenwood called White Fang "one of London’s most interesting and ambitious works." Virginia Crane claims that the novel is "generally regarded as artistically inferior to its companion piece [The Call of the Wild], but [that it] helped establish London as a popular American literary figure."
Shortly after the book's publication, London became a target in what would later be called the nature fakers controversy, a literary debate highlighting the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature writing. President Theodore Roosevelt, who first spoke out against the "sham naturalists" in 1907, specifically named London as one of the so-called "nature fakers". Citing an example from White Fang, Roosevelt referred to the fight between the bulldog and the wolfdog "the very sublimity of absurdity." London only responded to the criticism after the controversy had ended. He wrote in a 1908 essay entitled "The Other Animals":
I have been guilty of writing two animal—two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the "humanizing" of animals, of which it seemed to me several "animal writers" had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: "He did not think these things; he merely did them," etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research, and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers.
- Feller, Tom (January 2000). Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition. 6. Salem Press. pp. 2, 975. ISBN 978-0-89356-871-9.
- Deane, Paul (1968). "Jack London: The Paradox of Individualism". The English Record. New York State. 19: 7. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- Greenwood, Robert (March 1, 2011). "Jack London's White Fang Revisited". California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Sacramento California (99): 7–13. ISSN 0741-0344. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- Wismer, Don (February 1, 1994). "Audio Reviews". Library Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- Crane, Virginia (March 1997). Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Supplement. Salem Press. ISBN 978-0-89356-916-7.
- Carson, Gerald (February 1971). "T.R. And The "Nature Fakers"". American Heritage. 22 (2). ISSN 0002-8738. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- Roy Tennant and Clarice Stasz. "Revolution and Other Essays: The Other Animals". london.sonoma.edu. The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved August 27, 2011.