Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
The Call of the Wild (1903) was Jack London’s first critically acclaimed novel, riding the turn-of-the-century wave of American fascination with the Klondike, the Gold Rush, and the mysteries of the Arctic. Although intended as adult adventure with serious political and philosophical messages, the book has since become part of the canon of animal stories for young readers. White Fang was London’s effort to capitalize quickly on his initial success. Its story was intended to be the antithesis of the earlier novel, exploring not the removal of but the acquisition of the trappings of human civilization. In The Call of the Wild, the dog Buck is kidnapped from California and forced to adapt to the wilds of the north; in White Fang, the wolf-dog leaves the wild and slowly adapts to humans and even to domesticity. White Fang is generally regarded as artistically inferior to its companion piece, but it helped to establish London as a popular American literary figure.
The first three chapters of White Fang resemble London’s most frequently anthologized short story, “To Build a Fire.” Both dramatize a fundamental law of the Arctic winter: Traveling alone at fifty degrees below zero means destruction. The laws of nature are inexorable. The laws of humans, however, are equally punishing but far more confusing, as White Fang discovers. Repeatedly, he is brought to the edge of extinction, only to recover by...
(The entire section is 413 words.)