Study Guide

White Fang Innocence

By Jack London

Innocence

Too late One Ear learned his mistake. Before they saw the cause, the two men saw him turn and start to run back toward them. Then, approaching at right angles to the trail and cutting off his retreat they saw a dozen wolves, lean and grey, bounding across the snow. On the instant, the she-wolf's coyness and playfulness disappeared. (3.8)

Here's one of the nasty laws out in the wild: the minute you lose your innocence is usually the minute you get killed. London definitely loves rubbing our noses in the deadliness of nature, no more so than when an innocent soul gets eaten.

Now that the terrible unknown had let go of him, he forgot that the unknown had any terrors. (7.16)

London seems to be saying that innocence is resilient here, at least in White Fang and maybe in all animals. Once they lose their fear, they forget they had it in the first place; it leaves no scars and they can presumably go on with their lives as if nothing had changed. Which actually sounds kind of nice.

Then all fight fled out of him. His puppyhood and the instinct of submission took charge of him. (9.6)

See, innocence is a long-term thing with animals. One moment he's all ready to rumble. The next, he's a puppy again. It sucks to be him at that moment, but it also shows how easily his innocence can rebound.

White Fang, in the very nature of him, could never know anything about gods; at the best he could know only things that were beyond knowing - but the wonder and awe that he had of these man-animals in ways resembled what would be the wonder and awe of man at sight of some celestial creature, on a mountain top, hurling thunderbolts from either hand at an astonished world. (9.25)

Doesn't this feel like an expression of innocence? His wolf-y mind can never wrap its head around who and what we are. Instead of trying to figure it out, he just accepts it, the same way a child would when confronted with a complex topic (like God or nuclear war or why grown-ups still let bad things happen).

White Fang knew the law well: TO OPPRESS THE WEAK AND OBEY THE STRONG. (13.11)

Contrast this with earlier quotes for this theme, where White Fang's innocence seemed unstoppable. This is a pretty not-innocent thing to be thinking. And yet it's impressed so deeply into poor Fang's brain that London breaks out the all-caps to give it to us.

His outlook was bleak and materialistic. The world as he saw it was a fierce and brutal world, a world without warmth, a world in which caresses and affection and the bright sweetnesses of the spirit did not exist. (13.15)

Here comes the paradox. White Fang's outlook here feels pretty grim and not innocent. It's kill or be killed out there. And yet that attitude is very much in keeping with the natural world, which we might expect to be innocent—in a manner of speaking—since it's untainted by man. Which is it, Jack? Or are you asking the readers to make up their own mind, you sly devil?

A kind word, a caressing touch of the hand, on the part of Grey Beaver, might have sounded these deeps; but Grey Beaver did not caress, nor speak kind words. It was not his way. (13.16)

That's hard core, Grey Beaver. We don't know what Grey Beaver's been through, but we're pretty sure he doesn't have the tiniest shred of innocence left, and that's something he passes on to White Fang with the whole never-touch-the-dog thing.

It was the beginning of the end for White Fang—the ending of the old life and the reign of hate. (20.21)

London chooses his words pretty carefully here, as Scott finally shows White Fang what real devotion is. If his "old life" is ending, that suggests that a new one is about to begin. And if it's new, it must therefore be innocent, right? So again, we're back to the idea that innocence never goes away entirely.

In the end, the master laughed him out of his dignity. His jaws slightly parted, his lips lifted a little, and a quizzical expression that was more love than humour came into his eyes. He had learned to laugh. (24.8)

It sounds to us like you can find innocence again, even after it gets beaten down. White Fang does, at least, and I bet none of us were ever thrown in a cage or beaten up by a short-order cook. So we've all got a chance, huzzah.

He did not know that he was party to a police conspiracy, that the evidence was hatched and perjured, that Jim Hall was guiltless of the crime charged. (25.11)

We get a new sense of innocence here, with a hardened murderous escape convict… who didn't commit the crime he was found guilty of. Besides making Jim Hall a much more interesting character, it also pushes the notion, again, that innocence is more than just being young and foolish.

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