Study Guide

White Fang Suffering

By Jack London


This time, before he dozed again, he tied a burning pine-knot to his right hand. His eyes were closed but few minutes when the burn of the flame on his flesh awakened him. (3.33)

Henry is fighting off the wolves here, and he's deliberately suffering to help himself. Pain keeps him awake even when he's exhausted. In the very first chapter, London's telling us that suffering isn't always pointless… and that we sometimes suffer by choice. Even the non-masochists among us.

It was a torment, this hand that touched him and violated his instinct. He could not forget in a day all the evil that had been wrought him at the hands of men. (20.10)

London connects human hands to suffering here. We're such jerks to White Fang, and all of our suffering comes from the tools we hold in our hands. Therefore, it's important that Scott undo all of that by using his hands in a non-torturous way. Good for you Weedon.

The beating that had gone before was as nothing compared with the beating he now received. Grey Beaver's wrath was terrible; likewise was White Fang's fright. (10.22)

All of the pain and torment out in the wilderness are nothing compared to the suffering that man inflicts on White Fang. London goes back to that well a lot. We do things far worse to White Fang than anything in the wild would. We're kind of jerks that way.

Tied securely, White Fang could only rage futilely and endure the punishment. Club and whip were both used upon him, and he experienced the worst beating he had ever received in his life. Even the big beating given him in his puppyhood by Grey Beaver was mild compared with this. (16.23)

Grey Beaver gives way to Beauty Smith and the marathon of agonizing torment is on. Everything about Beauty causes pain to White Fang, putting this section clear in the "suffering is bad" column.

Under the tutelage of the mad god, White Fang became a fiend. (17.1)

London here seems to be saying that suffering doesn't just hurt the person who suffers. It makes that person a monster who will go on hurting others. And just to prove our point, scroll on down to the next quote to see what we have to say.

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

So Beauty suffers just like White Fang did, and in turn makes White Fang suffer, who makes the dogs he fights suffer and so on. It's the great circle of life, only really, really evil.

In this manner it came about that he fought all sizes and breeds of dogs. It was a savage land, the men were savage, and the fights were usually to the death. (17.11)

Not so civilized now, are we?

White Fang had ceased eating, lost heart, and allowed every dog of the team to thrash him. (20.41)

Here's an interesting sign of White Fang's domestication. Like Henry with the burning coals, White Fang is allowing himself to suffer. He chooses to stop eating and get beaten up by all the other dogs, because he loves Scott just that much. Could London be drawing a line between needless suffering and noble suffering here?

At the same moment Matt noticed two objects lying in the snow. He held the lamp close to them, indicating them with his toe for his employer's benefit—a steel dog-chain and a stout club. (20.65)

This is a great example of how London can say a lot without saying much at all. He just has to tell us what Beauty brings to kidnap White Fang to remind us of how much the wolf has suffered. Who knew a few little words could tell us so much?

A cuff from the master hurt him far more than any beating Grey Beaver or Beauty Smith had ever given him. They had hurt only the flesh of him; beneath the flesh the spirit had still raged, splendid and invincible. But with the master the cuff was always too light to hurt the flesh. Yet it went deeper. It was an expression of the master's disapproval, and White Fang's spirit wilted under it. (23.13)

What a very human notion: a suffering of the spirit. London may be using it to show us how much White Fang has changed, and how much Scott's love and kindness as ennobled him. He suffers because he's let down his master, and he hates that. We're a long way form Beauty Smith at this point, that's for sure.

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