Study Guide

White Fang Man and the Natural World

By Jack London

Man and the Natural World

But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space. (1.4)

Like we said, London doesn't beat around the bush. The two sledders are tiny things in the eyes of Nature. Sure, they're defiant and bold, but they're also easily transformed into Purina Wolf Chow if they aren't careful. Early on, we humans are put in our place and reminded that the world is big and scary—even for a big scary wolf like White Fang.

It still regarded them with the merciless wistfulness of hunger. They were meat, and it was hungry. (2.105)

Yeah, Kiche really isn't a tame dog. She's a creature of nature, and her urges are those of the natural world. Of course we'll find out later that she's lived among humans for a while. But hey, maybe that was just her survival instinct at work?

They were running over the surface of a world frozen and dead. No life stirred. They alone moved through the vast inertness. (4.8)

We shift to the wolves, but London says the same thing about them as he did about them men: they're tiny little bugs scuttling across a world that could crush them flat. In that sense, they're equals with man. They may even be a little above men, since they're better equipped to survive on their own, without chamber pots and electricity.

The aim of life was meat. Life itself was meat. Life lived on life. There were the eaters and the eaten. The law was: EAT OR BE EATEN. (8.15)

The all-caps strike. London conveys one of the natural world's harshest lessons in trollerific terms, spelling out both the stakes of life and the things White Fang believes he has to do in order to, you know, not die.

In short, Beauty Smith was a monstrosity, and the blame of it lay elsewhere. He was not responsible. The clay of him had been moulded in the making. (16.7)

Here's where things get interesting. Beauty comes from civilization, and yet he's not civilized. Furthermore, he's been shaped by forces bigger than him. Natural forces, maybe? That "kill or be killed" thing that London was so big on earlier in the story, perhaps? It certainly seems that way.

And so, fresh from the soft southern world, these dogs, trotting down the gang-plank and out upon the Yukon shore, had but to see White Fang to experience the irresistible impulse to rush upon him and destroy him. They might be town-reared dogs, but the instinctive fear of the Wild was theirs just the same. (15.28)

At this point, White Fang is definitely of the natural world, gobbling up those poor little lap dogs almost before they can mark their territory. And Yet White Fang is ultimately seduced by the same civilization that produced these dogs. Which side is stronger? That's a good question.

They were his environment, these men, and they were moulding the clay of him into a more ferocious thing than had been intended by Nature. Nevertheless, Nature had given him plasticity. Where many another animal would have died or had its spirit broken, he adjusted himself and lived, and at no expense of the spirit. (17.8)

Man and Nature meet here in the form of White Fang. The poor little puppy's just getting it on all sides. Yet he's also pulling strength from nature that's allowing him to survive man's cruelty: perhaps a sign that nature is stronger than man, even when man is crueler.

Of his own choice, he came in to sit by man's fire and to be ruled by him. (12.17)

This is the moment when White Fang stops being a creature of nature and starts being a creature of man. It's a bumpy road, but he makes the choice by himself. He has a will of his own, just like we do.

"He's in with all the big bugs. If you want to keep out of trouble, you'll steer clear of him, that's my talk. He's all hunky with the officials. The Gold Commissioner's a special pal of his." (18.86)

Men have their power and their pecking orders too. The way they describe Weedon Scott here, he could probably be called Alpha dog… just like a wolf would in the Wild.

Woven into her being was the memory of countless crimes he and his had perpetrated against her ancestry. Not in a day nor a generation were the ravaged sheepfolds to be forgotten. (23.3)

Even in Scott's ancestral family estate, with the sunlight and the puppies and the non-killing of chickens, nature creeps in. Collie is willing to defend what she has against the intruding White Fang, just like she would in nature. We can't deny it, we can only try to accept it, and maybe control it.

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