Study Guide

White Fang Courage

By Jack London

Courage

The surprise and hurt of it brought a yelp out of White Fang; but the next moment, in a rush of anger, he was upon Lip-lip and snapping viciously. (9.32)

Is this really bravery? Or just anger clouding White Fang to the harsh reality that he's about to get his little butt kicked?

But the effect upon White Fang was not to cow him. Though he suffered most of the damage and was always defeated, his spirit remained unsubdued. (10.8)

The book connects courage to the spirit in White Fang. He gets beaten and hurt but always bounces back like a gray, furry jack-in-the-box, ever ready for more. London really seems to admire that in his hero, and uses it to make White Fang really earn our sympathies.

At first, he had known surprise. Then came a momentary fear, when he yelped several times to the impact of the hand. But this was quickly followed by anger. His free nature asserted itself, and he showed his teeth and snarled fearlessly in the face of the wrathful god. (10.19)

Is White Fang really being brave here, or is he just too ignorant about Grey Beaver's "god man" status to know better? More importantly, does life in the wild make him brave, and if so, does he lose that bravery now that he's busy getting domesticated?

Fresh upon his months of mastery over his own team-mates, it was beyond his self-control to stand idly by while another devoured the meat that belonged to him. He struck, after his custom, without warning. (14.6)

We get us some courage here, and in some part, it's tied into survival. Meat = his, and he has to fight if he wants to keep it. On the other hand, there's a specific rule involved here. He earned the meat. He really, really earned it. Therefore, he's allowed to be brave as long as it's used in a righteous cause. Sounds kind of civilized to Shmoop.

So run away he did, violating his own nature and pride with every leap he made, and leaping all day long. (15.3)

Here's a question: is White Fang demonstrating courage by running away? Or is he simply following the path he thinks is easiest?

Scott sprang toward him, drawing his fist back to strike. Beauty Smith cowered down in anticipation of the blow. (18.68)

London doesn't mince words here. (Well, he almost never does, but even so.) The good guy is brave and the bad guy's a coward. That makes courage a pretty clear symbol of who we should be rooting for and why.

Possibly Beauty Smith, arch-fiend and tormentor, was capable of breaking White Fang's spirit, but as yet there were no signs of his succeeding." (17.8)

This is a subtler kind of courage here, as opposed to the kind where you rip out somebody's throat and dance around in his blood. It's the courage to resist, to fight back by now giving in, rather than just attacking. Again, London seems to be giving White Fang a very human trait—that of a prisoner resisting whoever threw him in jail.

The patting movement slowly and carefully changed to a rubbing of the ears about their bases, and the physical pleasure even increased a little. Yet he continued to fear, and he stood on guard, expectant of unguessed evil, alternately suffering and enjoying as one feeling or the other came uppermost and swayed him. (20.12)

Courage can come from love—or at least from pleasant scratches, which give White Fang the ability to tame his fear. Amazing what a friendly little pat will do.

Weedon Scott had set himself the task of redeeming White Fang -- or rather, of redeeming mankind from the wrong it had done White Fang. It was a matter of principle and conscience. He felt that the ill done White Fang was a debt incurred by man and that it must be paid. (20.26)

Scott is showing some serious bravery. White Fang already opened up his hand, and you don't go around rehabilitating a five-foot wolf without considering the possibility of a grisly demise. Again, London stresses higher principles at stake—it's an honor thing—and ties bravery in to the noblest and best that we can be.

Because of this new feeling within him, he ofttimes elected discomfort and pain for the sake of his god. (20.29)

You don't get braver than that—suffering for someone else's sake. Wild animals don't usually do that, or at least, not without getting something in the bargain (protection from the pack, a free piece of gristle, a comfy spot in the cave, what have you). White Fang is being completely selfless here, and London is using courage to show us that.

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