Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587
As you read White Fang, pay attention to the following:
- The main characters in the novel, both dogs and people, represent various facets of human existence. White Fang's main conflict is between the title character's two essences—his life as a wild wolf and his tamer dog nature. London uses this conflict in many ways, both to depict White Fang's struggles in the novel and also to comment upon human nature.
- The idea that unconditional love and affection can overcome heredity and upbringing is another aspect of humanity that London emphasizes through White Fang's actions. White Fang's harsh treatment gives free rein to the dog's ferocity, yet when he is petted, fed, and loved, his mild and loving behavior triumphs. London offers differing opinions as to whether creatures are “molded” from birth and can do little to change their situation. Beauty Smith “had not created himself,” so in some ways he is not to blame for his treatment of White Fang. White Fang is a cruel killer when he is kept and tormented, but the dog turns out to be kind and becomes a pet when the Judge is his master. Therefore, White Fang is not responsible for his actions; he is merely doing what his present circumstances dictate. White Fang offers two opposing viewpoints about this: Laws understood from birth demand obedience, but they can be altered. White Fang must be exactly what he is—a wolf that depends on killing to survive. He tests his boundaries at every opportunity, often running into obstacles—both literal and metaphorical—and he is constantly chafing at his hereditary constraints. London, however, does not offer an opinion that one method of living is superior to the other.The Wild is a metaphor for the unknown and uncontrollable, and London's characters fear it. Only those brought up in the Wild (such as One Eye and White Fang) are truly comfortable in it. Kiche, who entered the Wild only out of necessity, prefers civilization in the form of the camps, as evidenced by her refusal to leave once she had returned. White Fang, however, never completely forgets his Wild heritage, as is evidenced when he stalks a person just as he had stalked “infinitely timid” game in the woods.
- Nature offers no middle ground in White Fang; it is either brutally harsh or indifferent to both dog and human. People are portrayed in similar ways: Different characters possess deliberate cruelty and brutality, but others show complete, unconditional love. By doing this London makes the novel more realistic than if the dog were merely a flat character, incapable of change. The people in White Fang, however, are primarily static characters, either extremely cruel or kind and understanding.
- The anthropomorphism in White Fang, while making the story more entertaining and exciting, is frequently overused. Readers should note that modern scientific understanding and interpretation of animal instinct have shown that much of what London refers to as White Fang's “intelligence” or “knowledge” is incorrect. However, his depiction of the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest” is scientifically accurate. White Fang was the strongest pup in the litter and in the Indian camp; he defeats all his rivals, both human and canine; and he even survives being shot.
- While White Fang is a coming-of-age story, it is a non-traditional one because the hero is non-human. He, however, makes a life journey, overcoming many obstacles; he matures; and he comes to understand his world in “adult” terms as he finally makes his peace with it.
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