Study Guide

White Fang Coming of Age

By Jack London

Coming of Age

Live things were meat. They were good to eat. Also, live things when they were large enough, could give hurt. (7.27)

Okay, this sounds pretty brutal. But it also signals one of the first really important things White Fang learns, and one of his first real steps away from puppyhood. London draws pretty clear lines to the lessons White Fang learns, which is one of the many benefits of a direct style of writing. (Thanks, Jack!)

He began to get accurate measurement of his strength and his weakness, and to know when to be bold and when to be cautious. He found it expedient to be cautious all the time, except for the rare moments, when, assured of his own intrepidity, he abandoned himself to petty rages and lusts. (8.2)

Our little wolf is learning, though as with the first quote for this theme, the lessons are scary and kind of Darwinian.

This growl he could not suppress; nor did the man-animal resent it by giving him a blow on the head. And furthermore, such was the strangeness of it, White Fang experienced an unaccountable sensation of pleasure as the hand rubbed back and forth. (9.21)

White Fang learns to control his urges, or to give that control over to a man. There are benefits and drawbacks to both equations; part of White Fang's growing up is learning when it's good to put the man in charge, and when it stinks like week-old garbage.

He did not want to bite the hand, and he endured the peril of it until his instinct surged up in him, mastering him with its insatiable yearning for life. (19.47)

White Fang's instincts are in a cage match to the death with what he's learned. It's kind of like the grown-up wolf—with all the bitter experience—is struggling with the puppy—who has only instinct to go on—over how to handle the whole "hand of man" question.

The effect of all this was to rob White Fang of much of his puppyhood and to make him in his comportment older than his age. Denied the outlet, through play, of his energies, he recoiled upon himself and developed his mental processes. He became cunning. (10.9)

Wow, no childhood to be had here. Well, his dad was a deadbeat, so what did he expect? In all seriousness, though, London's talking about a coming-of-age that takes place way too soon, which probably messes up wolves just as much as it messes up people.

Out of this pack-persecution he learned two important things: 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. (11.3)

London ties the coming-of-age stuff with his other themes: completion and nature. White Fang comes of age because he has to. Anything else would mean being the main course for the other dogs. Ironically, by avoiding that, he makes other dogs suffer. Definitely kill-or-be-killed territory here.

It was in line with these experiences that White Fang came to learn the law of property and the duty of the defense of property. From the protection of his god's body to the protection of his god's possessions was a step, and this step he made. (13.23)

We might call these lessons a series of mini-coming-of-ages. Each one adds more responsibility to White Fang—either to his masters or to his own right to stay in the not-dead column. That could help explain why his coming-of-age seems scattered and protracted sometimes.

The old familiar feelings of that time came back upon him, surged up within him. He bounded towards her joyously, and she met him with shrewd fangs that laid his cheek open to the bone. He did not understand. He backed away, bewildered and puzzled. (14.10)

Hey, take it easy Mama. White Fang's reunion with Kiche is pretty shocking to him, and might mark the real end of his puppyhood, since mom is the closest thing to a home he ever had.

He had gone to the roots of White Fang's nature, and with kindness touched to life potencies that had languished and well-nigh perished. One such potency was LOVE. It took the place of LIKE, which latter had been the highest feeling that thrilled him in his intercourse with the gods. (20.23)

Finally, White Fang learns a happy lesson. And all it took was nearly getting killed by a bulldog after months of maltreatment by the ASPCA's Most Wanted.

And the chief thing demanded by these intricacies of civilisation was control, restraint. (23.33)

Coming of age doesn't stop for White Fang, since he constantly has to adjust to new worlds and new rules. Here were are, just two chapters from the end, and he's still learning what it means to be involved in the world.

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