White Fang

White Fang Summary and Analysis of Part 2

Part Two Summary:

Part II begins as the wolves catch the sound of men's voices rescuing Henry. Here London makes a complete shift in the tone of the book as the narrative point of view is now that of the she-wolf. The wolves begin running over the "surface of a world frozen and dead," with a large gray wolf in the lead. The she-wolf stays with him and is joined by the one-eyed "guant old wolf, grizzled and marked with scars of many battles" and a young three-year-old wolf. All three male wolves many several advances on the she-wolf, all of which are rebuked with snarls or teeth. The wolf-pack travels for days before finding a big bull moose that provided a much needed meal. The pack now breaks in half and day by day, the group dwindles to only the three wolves and the she-wolf. Battles now begin for the female as she sits and watches quite contended. One-Eye emerges victorious and is met playfully the she-wolf. Now running side-by-side, they hunt, kill, and eat together. As they approach an Indian village the she-wolf becomes strangely stirred, almost wistful, but One-Eye is apprehensive, insisting they move on.

The two wolves now run the countryside together; however the she-wolf is emotionally restless, searching for something she doesn't quite understand. Her body is becoming slower and she lacks stamina. At last they find what she has been looking for, a cave near a small river where the two wolves settle down. One-Eye goes out to look for food and upon returning hears "faint, strange sounds from within." Having experienced this many times in his life, One-Eye knows that the she-wolf has given birth to cubs. Nature takes over at this point and the mother becomes protective of the little ones, growling, snarling, and snapping at One-Eye, who instinctively goes on a hunt for food for his new family. "The urge of his awakened instinct of fatherhood was stirring upon him. He must find meat." Sensing danger from a porcupine, he is contented to capture a ptarmigin bird. However, fate was with him and on his return to the cave, he is able to reap the spoils of an encounter between a lynx and the porcupine. The food provided by One-Eye eases the fear the she-wolf has towards the father.

The five wolf cubs begin to grow and develop but it is the gray cub who most closely resembles his father and their wolf heritage. He is also "the fiercest of the litter. The cubs major fascination is with the "wall of light," the way his father could disappear into the wall of light, and how his mother's slap with a paw kept him from it. This was also a time of famine and all the cubs died, with the exception of the gray cub stronger than the others, another example of London's recurring theme of survival of the fittest. His father no longer appears and disappears through the "wall of light." He had lost a fight with the lynx.

The she-wolf is now forced to hunt for food for herself and her only remaining cub. The little cub, who has grown stronger and more adventuresome, is no longer content to stay in the lair alone and one day embarks out on his own. Outside the cave, he learns one of nature's most important lessons - fear - and returns gratefully to his cave. Each day he ventures a little further until at last his courage takes him to the edge of a small hill where he rolls and falls down the hill, beginning a great adventure. He is startled by a squirrel, a woodpecker and a moose bird. "Born to be a hunter of meat,' he quite serendipitously happens upon a nest of ptarmigan chicks. His first taste of blood, bones and meat is quite satisfying and he heads off to the banks of a small stream. This water is new to the cub and he cautiously wades through it until a current picks him up and takes him downstream. The last lesson the cub learns this day is that he wanted and needed his mother. "So he started to look for a cave and his mother, feeling at the same time an overwhelming rush of loneliness and helplessness." In the next instance, the cub finds his life jeopardized when he tangled with a mother weasel. He would have lost his life had his mother not appeared and is filled with overwhelming joy.

Time passed and the cub grew in both stature and experience. But famine came again to the northland and both wolves became thin hunting for food. As a last resort, the mother wolf raids the lair of the lynx and feasts on the small lynx kittens. Not surprisingly, the mother lynx appears at the wolves' cave entrance. The she-wolf is no match for the lynx until the gray cub intervenes, grabbing the hind leg of the lynx between his teeth. Together, they subdue their adversary but the cost is high. The cub has a gash down to the bone on his shoulder and his mother is near death. For a week they are unable to leave their lair, but when they do the cub is now armed with knowledge of life. "Life itself is meat. Life lived on life. There were eaters and the eaten. The law was EAT OR BE EATEN."

Part Two Analysis:

Part II is noteworthy for the change in tone and narrative that occurs in this section. There are many tender and even light-hearted scenes, especially in the two fine chapters, "The Gray Cub" and "The Wall of the World." The cub's inability to distinguish the sold walls of the cave from it's penetrable entrance is brilliantly captured in the image of the "wall of light," toward which the cub strives and through which the omnipotent father can magically appear and disappear. In astringent prose, London sketches the time of famine, muting the too-easy pathos of the death of White Fang's siblings.

Especially moving is the account in the "Wall of the World," of White Fang's first adventure beyond the cave. Approaching the wall of light, the cub discovers that it is "unlike any other wall with which he had had experience." Indeed, it is the antithesis of the "wall of darkness" that pressed upon Bill and Henry in Part One, for "this wall seemed to recede from him as he approached." Whereas the first wall is death, the wall of light is the orifice of the womb, the pathway to life:

"It was bewildering. He was sprawling through solidity. And ever the light grew brighter. Fear urged him to go back, but growth drove him on. Suddenly he found himself at the mouth of the cave. The wall, inside which he had thought himself, as suddenly leaped back before him to an immeasurable distance. The light had become painfully bright. He was dazzled by it. Likewise he was made dizzy by this abrupt and tremendous extension of space. Automatically, his eyes were adjusting themselves to the brightness, focusing themselves to meet the increased distance of objects. A first the wall leaped beyond his vision. He now saw it again; but it had taken upon itself a remarkable remoteness. Also, its appearance had changed. It was now a variegated wall, composed of the trees that fringed the stream, the opposing mountain that towered above the tree, and the sky that out-towered the mountain."

London's image of this white wall of light symbolizes with great imagination the alluring but treacherous phenomena of the natural world.

There is tender comedy in this scene as the cub ventures tentatively forward, innocent of the real dangers yet terrified of the most harmless phenomena. Having "lived all his days on a level floor" and never having "experienced the hurt of a fall," he cannot negotiate the passage from the lip of the cave to the slope beyond. Hence he steps "boldly out upon the air" and falls head downward: "The earth struck him a harsh blow on the nose that made him yelp. Then he began rolling down the slope, over and over. He was in a panic of terror. He unknown had caught him at last. It had gripped savagely hold of him and was about to wreak upon him some terrific hurt. Growth was now routed by fear, and he ki-yi'd like any frightened puppy." Arriving at the bottom of the slope undamaged and consoling himself with "one last agonized yelp and then a long, whimpering wail," he picks himself up and looks about him "as might the first man of the earth who landed upon Mars." He has "broken through the wall of the world."

These early episodes offer a remarkably precise account of psychological and epistemological experience. Such terms may at first sound too pretentious for a novel often dismissed as a children's story, but the image of the "wall of the World" draws on complex symbolic tradition, possibly first introduced by Plato's allegory of the cave. This parable, as told by Socrates in the "Republic," illustrates the passage of the mind form a state of false knowledge, based on the deceptive appearance of the physical world, to a state of true enlightenment, in which the mind can penetrate the mask of nature and apprehend ideal "Forums."

In contrast, the last section of Part II changes in tone as White Fang goes out into the world. It is here that London hews a convulsive "dog eat dog" world of raw violence - literal and figurative - in which the strongest of the strong survive, leaving the weak, old and infirm to be eaten alive. A hawk digs its sharp talons into the soft flesh of a ptarmigan while the frenzied bird screams in agony; the weasel, a drinker of blood, sucks life from the throat of smaller creatures; the once powerful moose falls to the she-wolf.

White Fang's biological heritage discussed in this chapter is more than symbolic. The wolf in him quite literally gives him a gray coat like his father's, thus making him different from his siblings, "the fiercest of the litter," the only cub strong enough to survive the first famine. Heredity, another tool of naturalists, is also a collection of instincts and London uses these instincts quite effectively in this chapter. The she-wolf's instinctive fear of the father is "the experience of all the mothers of wolves" and old One Eye is obeying an "instinct that had come down to him from all the fathers of wolves" when he goes on the trail of meat. The cub's education is partly a process of discovering his instincts and heeding them. Most of them are instincts of avoidance: fear of the unknown, of death; the instinct of concealment.