Student Question

How would you describe Jack London's writing style in White Fang?

Quick answer:

London's writing style is unapologetically Naturalistic, focusing on the dogs' instinctual reaction to the world around them rather than any sort of moral judgement or conception of morality. London's description of Jack himself is an example: Poor boy! In his dreams he saw God's country and heard the angels sing. He was a poet, a singer of songs, a maker of melodies. In his own way he lived his dream out--to the end. And then it seemed to me that my heart would break for him.(London, White Fang) In London's view, Jack has not been corrupted by civilization; rather, he has been destroyed by it.

Expert Answers

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White Fang is Jack London's 1906 counterpart to The Call of the Wild, dealing with many of the same themes while the story runs in the opposite direction. While Call was about a domesticated dog slowly becoming wild, White Fang is about a wild dog slowly becoming domesticated.

Like most of London's books, White Fang is written in a Naturalist style, focusing on the realistic aspects of nature and animal life without humanizing the animals or allowing them extraordinary intellect. While London was criticised for being a "nature faker," most notably by President Theodore Roosevelt, he was adamant that his writing fell into the Naturalist style:

The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the "humanizing" of animals, of which it seemed to me several "animal writers" had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: "He did not think these things; he merely did them," etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning.
(London, "The Other Animals," london.sonoma.edu)

Indeed, in the book itself, the dogs do not speak or engage in human activity, and human activity itself is bewildering to the dogs, who understand only the simple lessons learned by their experiences. London's stated goal was to show animals in their natural state, as creatures of instinct:

So White Fang knew nothing of the heaven a man's hand might contain for him. Besides, he did not like the hands of the man animals. He was suspicious of them. It was true that they sometimes gave meat, but more often they gave hurt.
(London, White Fang, Google Books)

White Fang's understanding of the world around him is based entirely on instinct and base learning; he understands violence, but not kindness, because he has no ability to think beyond his personal experience. In this manner, London develops the dogs as animals first and foremost, showing their tendencies to be neither good nor evil, without the innate sense of moralism or conscience that humans possess.

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