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The Instinct to Survive and Other Themes in White Fang

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The novel has many different locations in which it is set in. Most of White Fang takes place in the Yukon Territory which is a section of Canada. The territory is very icy and cold. The area is full of beautiful mountains and lakes. It is also filled with people looking for gold. It also takes places in an Indian camp which is a point where the stream and the Mackenzie River meet. The Indian camp is located in the Yukon Territory and White Fang lives there while he is in the custody of Grey Beaver. White Fang is later taken to Dawson by his abusive owner, Beauty Smith. The last part of the book takes place in Sierra Vista, California which is where Weedon Scott’s home is located. Sierra Vista is very loud and crowded. White Fang feels intimidated at first by the immense buildings and bright lights, but he soon gets used to it. The book is set during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.

The main character of the book is White Fang. White Fang’s mother, Kiche, is half wolf, half dog. His father, One Eye, is full wolf. White Fang is a dynamic character, meaning that he changes and grows throughout the novel. White Fang’s behavior changes drastically in each environment in which he lives in. His environment molds him. Some make him ferocious, and some tame him. One way to describe White Fang is intelligent. White Fang shows intelligence when he lives with the Indians. His level of knowledge allows him to learn that he must obey the “gods” in order to not be beaten up. White Fang had always lived his life as a wild wolf, so being able to figure this out on his own shows how intelligent he is. Moreover, White Fang also shows intelligence when he must learn which animals he is allowed to mess with in Weedon Scott’s home in California. Judge Scott, Weedon Scott’s father, is skeptical that White Fang will be able to learn to leave the chickens alone and he even makes a bet with his son. Their bet is that White Fang will be locked in the chicken coop, and for every chicken that White Fang kills, Weedon will have to pay his father a gold coin. For every ten minutes that he does not kill a chicken, Judge Scott will have to say “White Fang, you are smarter that I thought.” White Fang ignores all of the chickens proving that he is intelligent enough to realize what he is and is not allowed to do. White Fang uses his intelligence to create a law for himself that says that “ between him and all domestic animals there must be no hostilities. But the other animals- the squirrels, and quail, and cottontails- were features of the Wild who had never yielded allegiance to man. They were the lawful prey of any dog. It was only the tame that the gods protected, and between the tame deadly strife was not permitted” (London 316; ch. 23). White Fang can also be described as ferocious yet civilized. One example of this is that White Fang is known as being one of the most savage dogs in the North when he is under the mastery of Beauty Smith. In contrast, even though it takes time to adjust, White Fang learns to be a family dog under Weedon Scott’s mastery. To summarize, White Fang can be described by his ferociousness, and civilized and intelligent acts.

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The main conflict in the book is an external conflict concerning White Fang. The conflict is wolf vs. man. The conflict is that White Fang must learn to suppress his natural instincts in order to live according to man’s ways. White Fang is a wild wolf at heart, he has all of the natural instincts of the wild. When he goes to live with different “gods” he must live by their rules meaning that he must suppress his natural instincts. During his early life, White Fang lives as a wild wolf with his mother, Kiche. They then live with an Indian village where Grey Beaver is their master. During the time in which White Fang is under Grey Braver’s mastery, he must obey him. Humans demand obedience and respect from dogs so White Fang must yield to anything Grey Beaver says. Obeying a “god” however, requires doing whatever the human wants and therefore White Fang must suppress his natural instincts. One example of this is that White Fang snarls when he is petted by humans. His natural instinct would be to not allow anyone to touch him because it is a threat to his survival but White Fang must allow his master to touch him. During his stay in the Indian Camp, White Fang develops many urges and he must fight all of them. He remembers the time in which he did not have a master and remembers how he could roam free and misses that. White Fang then lives with an abusive owner, Beauty Smith. He is treated as an exhibit and like a fighting pawn in a game of bets. In this environment, White Fang must fight not for food but for human viewing pleasure which goes against his instincts of hunting for food. White Fang then goes to live with a loving owner, Weedon Scott. White Fang has never experienced or seen love so he is surprised by certain love demonstrative actions like hugging. When Weedon Scott hugs his mother, White Fang interprets that as a hostile act and he almost attacks her. Also, White Fang does not understand human laws of hunting. One example of this is when he kills fifty chickens and shows them to Weedon Scott as if he has done an amazing thing. Weedon Scott is not happy about this because White Fang killed domesticated animals. In the wild, any animal is up for grabs, or in other words, any animal can be killed for food at any moment. The conflict is resolved when White Fang starts loving Weedon Scott and starts deeply respecting mankind. He is willing to change his ways for mankind and he starts expressing loyalty and faithfulness towards Scott. Scott shows White Fang the order and respect of civilization which allows White Fang to live at peace with both his wolf and dog parts. Throughout the novel there is a constant struggle between White Fang’s natural instincts and man’s laws, but in the end White Fang learns to easily suppress his instincts in order to follow his love-master’s orders.

The most important theme of the book is that only the fittest survive. One example of how the theme of survival of the fittest is portrayed in the book is that only White Fang survives the famine with his family. He is the strongest cub so he is able to survive it, but his siblings are not so lucky. Another example is that White Fang is able to adapt to every environment that he is put through. He learns the laws of each place and uses his strength and courage to protect himself from any danger in each environment. When White Fang lives with the Indians and he is persecuted by Lip– Lip and the other puppies, he learns that he must become the strongest, the smartest, and fastest out of all the puppies in the village in order to survive. A final example of how survival of the fittest is the main message of this book is when the narrator explains the main rule of life in the wild. The main rule is, “ The aim of life was meat… The law was: Eat or be eaten” (London 111; ch. 8). This quote means that all animals in the wild must fight to stay alive and only the strongest will survive. White Fang is the embodiment of the concept of only the fittest survive because he goes through many different challenges yet he able to survive due to his ability to quickly adapt. These challenges include fighting other dogs, obeying new masters, and becoming lovable and tamable. Throughout the novel, London wants the readers to take away the concept that being strong takes you far in the wild.

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