White Fang By Jack London Summary and Analysis Part 3 (Chapters IX-XIV)

Summary

Whereas Part Two focused on an animal surviving in the wilderness by primitive instinct, Part Three will now reverse this theme and essentially shows the gray cub (White Fang) beginning to learn a more difficult lesson — that of surviving in a civilized society, where he will have to learn to live among men — and friendly dogs. (Whereas Call of the Wild showed us how Buck moved from a comfortable and easy life in civilization into an environment in which he had to learn how to survive in the primitive world, this will be a reversal of that idea.)

White Fang's life in the Indian camp becomes daily more intolerable — principally because of the constant persecution of Lip-lip, who somehow manages to turn all the other dogs against White Fang. For example, whenever White Fang ventures away from Kiche, he is savagely attacked by Lip-lip. Consequently, he never has a chance to allow the genial, playful, "puppy-ish" side of his nature to find expression. He has to be constantly alert to the dangers represented by Lip-lip. But even though Lip-lip is a larger dog, White Fang can run more swiftly, and one time he engages Lip-lip in a chase, and as they dart in and out of the camp, White Fang deceptively leads Lip-lip past Kiche, who, although she is tied up, is able to grab Lip-lip and repeatedly rip and slash him with her fangs. Then, taking advantage of Lip-lip's weakened condition, White Fang sinks his teeth into Lip-lip's hind leg, and he would have destroyed Lip-lip had not the Indians driven him away.

One day, Gray Beaver decides that Kiche will probably not try to escape, and so he releases her. White Fang is delighted with his mother's new freedom, and time and again, he tries to lead her away from the Indian camp. He runs out toward the wilderness, and she follows, but eventually she always returns to the Indian camp. Thus, we see that "the call of the wild" is not as strong in White Fang as is the call of his mother, for he always follows her back. Apparently, Kiche has found an element of contentment in the protection of the man-animals and does not wish to leave them.

It is at this point that White Fang is confronted with his most difficult lesson. Gray Beaver owes a debt to another Indian — Three Eagles — and in order to settle the debt, Gray Beaver gives Kiche to him. When Three Eagles leaves in his canoe, along with Kiche, White Fang tries to follow, swimming after the canoe, in spite of the fact that Gray Beaver sternly commands him to return to camp. It is unpardonable not to obey the commands of the man-gods, and White Fang learns this lesson when Gray Beaver gets into his canoe and pursues White Fang downriver, picking him up, and giving him one fierce blow after another — until White Fang lies almost unconscious, limp in the bottom of the canoe. Then Gray Beaver kicks White Fang out of his way. In retaliation, White Fang bites Gray Beaver, and White Fang learns a lesson that he never forgets. As a result of his biting Gray Beaver, White Fang receives a very severe beating from Gray Beaver and never again, regardless of the circumstances, does he bite "the god who was lord and master over him."

Lip-lip, seeing White Fang in such a weakened condition, takes advantage of this opportunity to attack him, and White Fang, of course, is too weak to defend himself and would have been destroyed by Lip-lip if Gray Beaver had not been there to defend White Fang. Thus, White Fang learns another lesson — that is, his lord and master is also his protector.

Now that White Fang is totally alone — without his mother's protection — Lip-lip uses this opportunity to encourage the other dogs to become constant and fierce enemies of White Fang. As a result, White Fang becomes a total outcast. From this constant persecution of the entire pack, White Fang learns two important things: (1) how to defend himself against a mass attack by other dogs; and (2) how to inflict the greatest amount of damage upon another dog in the shortest length of time. In London's emphasis upon White Fang's being the total outcast, he is preparing us for White Fang's later, alienation from all living beings, particularly in his later relationship with Beauty Smith, so that White Fang's final transformation into a civilized animal under the care of Weedon Scott will be as dramatic as possible.

At present, throughout this part of the novel, the emphasis will continue to be on White Fang as a single entity, pitted against a hostile universe, comprised of both man and animal.

It is surprising that White Fang never runs away from the Indian camp, even though he is not accepted in the camp, and even though he is in constant fights against overwhelming odds. He hangs tenaciously onto his position in the camp and to Gray Beaver, although Gray Beaver will never be the "perfect master" that Weedon Scott will prove to be. By defending himself, White Fang becomes, in London's words, "hated by man and dog." White Fang steals food wherever and whenever possible; he slyly attacks other dogs when they are off guard, and, ultimately, he becomes the terror of the camp, as well as the scapegoat of the camp. He is blamed for all of the camp's hardships — particularly by the women.

Being part wild, White Fang is always able to outrun the other dogs, and, therefore, he is able to escape any injury that might be inflicted by the other dogs. According to London, White Fang is "hated by his kind and by mankind . . . his development was rapid and one-sided." Throughout his growth, though, he proves that he can learn to obey the strong and oppress the weak. Consequently, he obeys Gray Beaver, whom he sees as a god, and he attacks anything that is weaker or smaller than he is.

One fall, sometime after Kiche's leaving, the Indians break camp in order to go on a hunting expedition, but White Fang deliberately decides to stay behind. So, as Gray Beaver and his family are leaving, White Fang hides in a dense thicket and refuses to answer the call of his master's voice. Each time he hears Gray Beaver's voice calling him, he trembles with fear, but he refuses to answer. After the Indians have left, White Fang relishes in his new-found freedom, and he romps and plays in the forest. By nightfall, however, he becomes aware of a loneliness and of a "lurking of danger unseen and unguessed." Furthermore, he is cold and hungry, and it is then that he realizes that there is no one to feed him, and that there is no place to steal food from, nor even a comfortable place to sleep. Suddenly, his hunger, his loneliness, and his fear make him realize his mistake. A panic seizes him, and he immediately begins to search for Gray Beaver's camp. He runs downstream in the direction which the Indians took, and he would never have found Gray Beaver had it not been for the fact that Gray Beaver and his family were camping separately from the other Indians, intent on tracking down a moose. Night has already fallen when White Fang discovers Gray Beaver's camp, and he crawls timidly on his belly into the camp, fully expecting to be beaten by Gray Breaver. White Fang trembles, waiting for his beating, and he is surprised when Gray Beaver brings some fresh meat to him from the moose which Gray Beaver has just killed. With this act, White Fang fully acknowledges that Gray Beaver is his master — "the god to whom he had given himself, and upon whom he was now dependent."

In December, Gray Beaver plans a trip up the Mackenzie River, and in order to carry all of his possessions, he gives to his son, Mit-sah, a small sled and tells him to have all of the puppies pull it. Because White Fang has seen other dogs pulling sleds, he does not resent being harnessed to the sled. The seven puppies for Mit-sah's sled are arranged in a fan-shaped team because they are too inexperienced to run in regular dogsled fashion, which is, of course, in single file. Interestingly, in Mit-sah's training the puppies, there is another advantage to this fan formation: the varying lengths of the ropes prevent the other dogs from attacking the dog immediately ahead of him. Yet Mit-sah, who has often observed Lip-lip's persecution of White Fang, decides to get revenge by placing Lip-lip at the front-at the apex of the fan-shaped team. Not only that, but Mit-sah gives Lip-lip extra meat rations so as to make the other dogs resentful of Lip-lip, and so that the other dogs, out of their extreme jealousy of Lip-lip, will attempt to attack him from the rear; therefore, they will pull the sled faster. Ultimately, though, all of the dogs turn against Lip-lip, mainly because of his mean temperament, and soon White Fang becomes the lead dog, and because of this, he becomes a tyrant over the other dogs.

Even though White Fang has an allegiance to Gray Beaver, and even though he acknowledges Gray Beaver's superiority, there is no love or affection between man and beast. However, at a village at Great Slave Lake, White Fang is foraging for food when he finds a young boy chopping some frozen moose meat. When White Fang begins to eat one of the frozen chips which has flown off the chopping block, the boy pursues White Fang, and he corners him and is about to kill him. Now White Fang must decide: he must either attack the "man-god," which is forbidden, or be killed himself. White Fang's "sense of justice" forces him to bite the boy in order to preserve his own (White Fang's) life. When the boy's family demands vengeance, Gray Beaver, supported by Mit-sah and Kloo-kooch, defends White Fang. It is at this time that White Fang learns that "justice and injustice" vary according to the man-gods.

That same day, White Fang learns more about the man-gods' laws of justice. When Mit-sah is gathering firewood out in the forest near Great Slave Lake, an injured boy and some of his friends descend on Mit-sah and beat him severely. For a while, White Fang does nothing — until he realizes that Mit-sah is being "unjustly" attacked. At that moment, White Fang leaps among the attackers and scatters them, thus saving Mit-sah from any further beating. For this action, for White Fang's having rescued his son, Gray Beaver awards White Fang with an extra ration of fresh meat. From these experiences, White Fang learns about the laws of property and when to defend Gray Beaver's property against other "man-gods." White Fang now realizes that he has made a covenant with Gray Beaver. In exchange for his own liberty, White Fang receives fire, food, companionship, protection, and in return, he gives his complete allegiance to Gray Beaver.

The following April, White Fang develops more fully in stature and growth. He is now one year old, and he is large enough to hold his own against any other dog. For example, a test of White Fang's growing maturity occurs when an old dog, Baseek, tries to usurp some of White Fang's food. Yet, while White Fang is growing stronger, Baseek is growing weaker, and neither can be sure what the other might do if they were to square off against each other. Note here that if Baseek had held his ground, White Fang would have retreated, but when White Fang sees the old dog about to devour meat which White Fang wants, he reacts savagely, and he drives the old dog away. This gives White Fang "a faith in himself and a greater pride."

That summer, White Fang has another unique experience. While investigating a new tepee, he suddenly comes upon Kiche, his mother, whom he has not seen in some time. In London's words, "He remembered her vaguely, but he remembered her." Kiche, however, as is the custom with wolf-mothers, is concerned now only with her new litter of cubs, and she viciously drives White Fang away. White Fang is confused, but his instincts tell him that he can never attack a female of his kind.

Here, London interrupts the story of White Fang for a moment to make an authorial comment about the nature of White Fang's development. London always believed that environment affects an animal (be it man, or dog, or wolf), and in this case, London points out that environment has molded White Fang into more of a dog than a wolf. Had White Fang not come into contact with man, White Fang would have developed along the lines of his heredity — that is, he would have matured into a true wolf. London individualizes White Fang by assigning him uniquely human qualities. For example, he says of White Fang: "He could not stand being laughed at." This quality is emphasized strongly, and it will become a key to the animosity which will exist between him and Beauty Smith.

When White Fang is three years old, there occurs another great famine. This particular famine, however, is so intense that "only the strong survived." Gray Beaver and his family, in desperation, have to resort to eating the "soft-tanned leather of their moccasins and mittens." As for the dogs, they begin to eat one another, and, finally, even the man-gods eat the worthless and weaker dogs. At this time, White Fang realizes that he can no longer rely on the man-gods for food and protection; therefore, he quietly steals away into the forest and resorts to hunting, which is his nature, his instinct. Alone, he is able to track down a young wolf and devour it. He also encounters again his mother, Kiche, who has had another litter of pups, of which there is only one left, and, as before, White Fang leaves Kiche and her pup alone and does not disturb them. His hunger is so great, though, that he raids one of Gray Beaver's traps, eating the rabbit which he finds there, even though he knows that Gray Beaver himself is starving. In contrast, White Fang has been lucky in his search for food, and thus he is in splendid condition (" . . . he was even gorged from his latest kill") when he suddenly comes face-to-face with Lip-lip, his most hated enemy. There is no real contest, however. White Fang attacks Lip-lip and quickly drives his teeth into Lip-lip's scrawny throat. Then sometime later, he hears the sights and sounds of the Indian camp, and he realizes that the famine is over, for he smells food and hears pleasant noises. As a result, he returns to Gray Beaver's tepee to await Gray Beaver's return.

Essentially, then, Part Three deals with White Fang's relationship with man, particularly with White Fang's looking on man as some sort of god. White Fang feels subservient to this creature of greater intelligence, and he is willing to voluntarily return to this superior intelligence of his own volition after the famine is over. London seems to imply here, however, as he will in Part Five of the novel, that, however wild an animal might be, under proper training and proper care, he can be trained to obey man's orders.

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