White Fang

White Fang Summary and Analysis of Part 3

Part Three Summary:

As with Parts I and II, Part III breaks with previous sections and introduces completely new elements into the novel, showing how the gray cub learns to live in civilization. On his way to the stream for a drink the cub encounters man for the first time and is surprised by his own passive response. More surprising was his mother's reaction when these man-animals called her by name, Kiche, and she cowered to them. Given a new name, White Fang, he is introduced to life in the Indian village, a life that White Fang would soon find unbearable.

From the very beginning White Fang knew the power these man-animals had, realizing, "the superiority of these man-animals increased with every moment." The young wolf was quick to notice that they did not bite nor claw, but rather they enforced their strength with the power of "dead things." He learned to stay away from clubs and stones, was impressed with the design of tepees, and watched the way they moved about the Indian village as if they were gods. He saw them as creatures of "mastery, making obey that which moved" and most importantly, they were fire-makers!

During this first day in camp, as White Fang strayed away from his mother who is tied up, he had the opportunity to meet a part-grown puppy, Lip-Lip. This somewhat larger and older dog, already something of a bully, immediately attacked White Fang and a fight ensued. Lip-Lip had lived his life in camp and, having fought many puppy fights, was easily the victor. This encounter would not be lost on White Frang.

Although White Fang slowly began to give his "body and soul" over to the man-animals, he could not immediately let go of his wild heritage and his memories of the wild. Some days he would creep to the edge of the forest and listen to something calling him. Perhaps this restlessness was brought on by the constant torment White Fang received from Lip-Lip. Whenever he ventured away from his mother, the bully was there to attack and force a fight. This brings about a change in the young puppy - he is forced to abandoned much of his "childhood," he becomes a solitary figure in camp. He begins to develop his intellect, his cunning and his skills. One day, while being chased, White Fang deliberately leads Lip-Lip past Kiche, who is able to deal a great deal of revenge for her son.

Gray Beaver, master of both mother dog and son dog, decides one day the Kiche no longer is a threat to run away and unties her. White Fang leads his mother to the edge of the woods next to the camp and urges her to run to freedom in the quiet woods where something is calling him. Kiche refuses to go and White Fang makes a decision - the call of his mother is stronger than his call of the wild. However, a short time later Gray Beaver gives Kicke to Three Eagles to settle a debt. As Three Eagles puts Kiche in a canoe to go down river, White Fang jumps in the water and begins to swim after them as Gray Beaver repeatedly calls to him. The man-animal gods are use to being obeyed and the savage beating that White Fang received from Gray Beaver drove this new lesson home. The level of White Fang's bondage became clearer every day.

Now that Kiche is no longer able to protect White Fang, Lip-Lip sees the opportunity to increase his persecution. With the other camp dogs on his side, Lip-Lip makes life for White Fang living hell. But White Fang is brighter than most other dogs and quickly learns two important lessons: "how to take care of himself in a mass-fight against him; and how, on a single dog, to inflict the greatest amount of damage in the briefest space of time." As White Fang becomes more savage, he becomes more and more alienated from his own kind as well as man. He learned another lesson, to obey the strong and to oppress the weak. He continued to learn the lesson of the survival of the fittest.

In the fall, as the Indians were moving their camp, White Fang had an opportunity to escape to the wild. He deliberately determined to stay behind and hid in the nearby woods as Gray Beaver called his name. As night approached, cold, hunger, and loneliness had begun to sink in. "His bondage had softened him. Irresponsibility had weakened him. He had forgotten how to shift for himself." The night images and sounds convinced him of his mistake and he decided to return to his master the next morning. After following the river, White Fang finds Gray Beaver and his family. As he approaches he knows that a beating would be coming but is surprised when Gray Beaver gives him moose meat instead. He lays down at his master's feat and realizes that "of his own choice, he came in to sit by man's fire and to be ruled by him."

The next few months are full of lessons learned by White Fang, lessons that will serve him the rest of his life. He first learns how to be a sled dog as Gray Beaver plans a trip up the Mackenzie River. It is Mit-sah, Gray Beaver's son, who is in charge of the sled and makes Lip-Lip the lead dog. Although appearing to be an honor, the lead dog had all honor taken away from him as the other dogs followed him, never able to see his face or his sharp teeth. At nights Mit-sah would feed Gray Beaver more than the other dogs and Lip-Lip now found himself hated and persecuted by the pack. White Fang learned to work hard and learned the futility of opposing the will of the gods. He also learned to oppress the weak and obey the strong. He had learned much earlier from Gray Beaver that the unpardonable crime was to bite one of the gods, but now he learned that some laws were subject to change. In a village at the Great Slave Lake, White Fang goes foraging for food and comes upon a young boy chopping moose meat. As White Fang eats a few chips of the frozen meat the boy becomes enraged and attacks the dog with a club. White Fang must now decide between a beating and defending himself. Before the boy realizes what has happened, he is attacked by the dog and White Fang now expects nothing but the most terrible punishment. Imagine his surprise when Gray Beaver defends his actions.

Before the day is out Mit-sah is attacked by a group of young Indians. At first White Fang just looks on - this was an affair of the gods, and no concern of his. When he realizes the fight is going badly for Mit-sah, a mad rush of anger sends him leaping into combat, saving Gray Beaver's son. White Fang came to understand that the law of property and and the duty of defending the property gave him rights otherwise prohibited, namely the biting of thieving gods. A covenant was worked out by White Fang and the terms were simple. "For the possession of a flesh-and-blood god, he exchanged his own liberty. Food and fire, protection and companionship, were some of the things he received from the god. In return, he guarded the god's property, defned his body, worked for him and obeyed him." It was a service of duty and awe, but not of love.

By the next spring White Fang had grown in size and at one year of age is able to compete with any other dog in the camp. He is now able to command the respect of even the older and stronger dogs in camp. He also comes upon Kiche and her new cub and as he greets her and runs to her, is surprised by the snarling reaction and lack of recognition. Although confused, his instincts let him know this is a female of his kind and it was a law of his kind that the males must not fight the females.

In the third year of his life another terrible famine comes to the valley. The gods were so hungry that they ate the leather of their moccasins and the dogs ate the harnesses off their backs. In this time of misery, White Fang retreated to the woods and takes care of himself by hunting small game and preying on young wolf, gaunt and scrawny with hunger. Despite the famine, White Fang remains in good condition and, consequently, when he comes across a hungry and tired Lip-Lip, the battle to the end is swift and merciless.

Part Three Analysis:

The essence of parts III and IV is the portrayal of the deepening estrangement from all living things; and like so much of the writing that emerges from the corners of London's mind, these chapters evoke a world bereft of redeeming value - a nihilistic world of violence and hate. When Gray Beaver trades the mother away, the young dog's "grief for her loss" combines with a "hungry yearning" for the life of his puppyhood. Now his "Ishmaelite life" begins in earnest. No longer protected form the cruelty of the other dogs, he is driven into a savage independence. White Fang becomes the personification of the masculine principle of the demonic wild: "The outcast" and "The Enemy of His Kind," who is "hated by man and dog" and in turn hates them. Even his name suggests both the demonic white wilderness and the savage Darwinian world governed by the Law of the Meat, the Law of the Fang.

From his first master, the Indian Gray Beaver, White Fang receives his name. Moreover, he learns obedience, loyalty, and the discipline of his work. A radical change takes place when the protagonist shifts his allegiance from the blind, reasonless Wild to a new deity:

"This was the ancient covenant that the first wolf that came in from the Wild Entered into with man. And, like all succeeding wolves and wild dogs that had Done likewise, White Fang worked the covenant out for himself. The terms were Simple. For the possession of a flesh-and-blood god, he exchanged his own Liberty. Food and fire, protection and companionship, were some of the things he received from the god. In return, he guarded the god's property, defended his body, worked for him, and obeyed him.

Time and again, lest his reader forget, London reiterates his underlying theme of survival of the fittest, his theme of naturalism, and his theme of environment.

"The months went by. White Fang grew stronger, heavier, and more compact, while his character was developing along the lines laid down by his heredity and environment. His heredity was a life-stuff that may be likened to clay. It possessed many possibilities, was capable of being moulded into many forms. Environment served to model the clay, to give it a particular form. Thus, had White Fang never come into the fires of man, the wild would have moulded him into a true wolf. But the gods had given him a different environment, and he was moulded into a dog that was rather wolfish, but that was a dog and not a wolf

White Fang learns in this section that man, who lights the fire and carries the clubs, stands highest in nature's chain. He is god, the lawgiver in the Nietzschean salve-master system, someone dictating the destiny of nature's creatures who live by instinct, rather than superior intelligence. White Fang learns to exist in this primitive place of ice and snow on the edge of civilization through submission to their master's will, but craftily erode order among the other dogs through "tough" tactics, then shift the blame on them. White Fang has become a fearful killer despised by men and beasts.

When White Fang opts not to return to the wild, but rather go back to his master, he decides forever between the "call of the wild" and the companionship of man, and "it did not take him long to make up his mind." He surrendered himself voluntarily to Gray Beaver. There is irony in this as London acknowledges that for the "possession of flesh-and-blood good," White Fang "exchanged his own liberty." Yet he makes the exchange knowingly and later he voluntarily returns again after a later famine, when he "came boldly from the forest and trotted into camp straight to Gray Beaver's teepee."

In a well-used metaphor throughout the novel, London likens White Fang's heredity to "clay," which "possessed many possibilities, and was capable of being moulded into many different forms. The force that serves to "model the clay, to give it particular form" is environment and this favorite tool of naturalistic literature receives continual emphasis. In this chapter the clay is molded by White Fang's life in the Indian village. The world of the Indians "is no soil for kindliness and affection to blossom in."