Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

The most noteworthy fact about criticism of White Fang—and of London’s work in general—is the lack of it. In his day, London was considered a popular, not a literary, author. More recently, his novels have most often been classified as young-adult literature. As a result, literary publications and scholars have had little interest in London and his work. In addition, London’s works featuring animals as main characters have received even less attention than others. The Call of the Wild has garnered some interest for the sheer power of its hold on the reading public and because it is the premier novel of its kind. White Fang, as a later and lesser novel, has largely been ignored. Critic Maxwell Geismar does mention White Fang in his Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel, 1890–1915 but judges it inferior to The Call of the Wild because of what he views as a sentimental ending:

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It was only when White Fang was rescued from these extremes of cruelty and terror, to become “the blessed wolf” of a gracious California estate in the Southland, a perfect pet of an aristocratic gentry, that London succumbed to the sentiment which spoiled another beautiful little parable of the instinctual life.

Mary Allen, in her Animals in American Literature, seems to agree:

What the author intends as the virtue of adaptation comes across instead as the case of a character who sells out, at least so it seems to the American reader. The case for civilization is apparently viewed differently in Europe, however, where White Fang outsells The Call of the Wild.

A comment in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, published in multiple volumes during and shortly after London’s life, sums up the literary establishment’s view of London. In an entry on London’s contemporary Richard Harding Davis, the editors declare that Davis “had what Jack London lacked utterly, literary traditions, poise, a certain patrician touch, and an innate love of the romantic.” Clearly, the establishment was not ready to embrace London’s style, which Allen calls “a realism that revolutionized popular fiction in the 1900s.”

As if the disdain of literary critics were not enough, London even suffered a complaint from the White House. According to Allen, after reading White Fang, President Theodore Roosevelt, an outdoorsman and adventurer himself, claimed that an incident in which a lynx kills a wolf was a “gross falsifying of nature’s records.” London insisted on the authenticity of his account.

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