Summary and Analysis
Part 4 (Chapters XV-XX)
Whereas White Fang has never been liked by the other dogs, now that he has been made leader of Mit-sah's team, the other dogs develop an intense hatred for him, a hatred based on the fact that White Fang is the lead dog, in charge of discipline among the other dogs, and also because he is given an extra ration of meat by Mit-sah. White Fang takes great pride in his leadership, yet at the same time, he dislikes the other dogs' always "yapping" at his heels, knowing that if he ever slows down, they will be upon him in a minute. The pride of leadership, though, is modified by the fact that White Fang is once again keenly isolated from the rest of the pack. Thus, he has to learn to stay at a distance, to stay in open spaces where he can outrun the other dogs, if necessary, and avoid fights and places where he can be trapped. As a result, White Fang becomes more and more adept at protecting himself.
The following summer, Gray Beaver takes White Fang to Fort Yukon, and it is there that White Fang sees his first white man. Rumors of "great gold fields" have brought large numbers of white men to the Yukon, and, consequently, Gray Beaver has come to the fort with great bundles of furs, mittens, and moccasins to sell. He expects to make a large profit on his goods, but never in his wildest imagination does he expect to make over a thousand percent profit — which he does.
White Fang notices a great deal of difference between the white men-gods and the Indian men-gods. The white men-gods are, seemingly, all powerful, so much so that Gray Beaver is, in comparison with them, like a child-god. But if the white gods are more powerful, their dogs are obviously weaker. Consequently, while Gray Beaver is selling his goods, White Fang entertains himself by fighting the dogs that have come North with the white men. According to London, "White Fang did not love his kind . . . and the killing of the white men's dogs was a diversion." Fresh from the soft Southland, these dogs are easy prey for a dog of White Fang's experience. Early in Part Four, then, London once again points out that White Fang could have developed differently — had Gray Beaver given him any measure of love and devotion, as Weedon Scott will indeed give White Fang later in the novel. But, in the absence of this kindly treatment, White Fang is "molded until he became what he was, morose and lonely, unloving, and ferocious, the enemy of all his kind."
London lets us know that the few white men who lived permanently in Fort Yukon were known as "Sour-doughs" because of their using sour dough starter to make their own bread, and they look down on the newcomers who bring baking powder with them. These older men who look down on the new men are also obviously delighted with the way that White Fang dominates the dogs of the new arrivals.
One of these men is nicknamed "Beauty" Smith — actually he is "preeminently ugly" and, in fact, he is, in London's words, a "monstrosity." In addition, his outer nature is symbolic of his inner nature, probably because he is "the weakest of the weak-kneed and snivelling cowards." Unfortunately, however, as soon as Beauty Smith develops a liking for White Fang, particularly because of the dog's ability to fight in a savage manner, he is determined to purchase him. At this same time, White Fang develops an instinctive hatred for Beauty Smith.
Beauty Smith offers to buy the dog, but because Gray Beaver has made such a huge profit from his sales, he refuses — at first — to sell White Fang. "But Beauty Smith knew the ways of Indians," says London, and so Smith often takes bottles of whiskey to Gray Beaver's camp. Here, London is using a basic cliché about the Indians' drinking proclivities, a cliché which has, unfortunately, become commonplace today. At any rate, Gray Beaver soon becomes addicted to alcohol, and he squanders his entire profits upon whiskey. Now Beauty Smith is able to buy White Fang in exchange for whiskey.
The first time that White Fang is taken to Beauty Smith's house, he chews through the leather thong around his neck and returns to Gray Beaver. He escapes again, and again he resists being taken back to Smith's house, but he is beaten so brutally that he can hardly walk. Finally, after White Fang escapes a third time, Beauty Smith retrieves him and beats him so severely that an ordinary dog from the Southland would have died from such brutality. Then White Fang is securely chained, and soon afterward Gray Beaver departs from Fort Yukon, leaving White Fang as the sole property of Beauty Smith.
In these and in the following scenes, London is giving us a picture of the ultimate depravity of human nature, and of the indignities that White Fang must endure in order that London can picture the contrast later with the gentle and humane treatment which White Fang will receive from Weedon Scott.
The lowest ebb of White Fang's fortunes are now presented. He is the property of a vicious and cruel master who uses him only for savage and vicious purposes. The reader should be reminded that Beauty Smith bought White Fang because White Fang was a beast which could fulfill Smith's hatred toward his fellow human beings. Thus, he uses the dog cruelly, and he makes much money betting on White Fang to win fights against other dogs; yet whereas earlier White Fang had hated only members of his own kind, now White Fang is imbued with a hatred toward everything that leaves him. Eventually, he develops such a reputation as a fighter that on one occasion a fight promoter even throws a lynx into a cage with him. At another time, two dogs are thrown into the ring at the same time, and White Fang, while victorious, is almost killed in the contest.
After some time, when there are no other people willing to pit a dog against White Fang, there appears a "Faro-dealer," a man named Tim Keenan, who arrives with the first bulldog ever to enter the territory of the North.
In White Fang's encounter between Cherokee, the bulldog, they, at first, do not even want to fight. Neither dog has ever seen anything like the other. Finally, however, Tim Keenan is able to coax the bulldog into stalking White Fang. The contest, then, is between the quickness of White Fang, as opposed to the steadfast determination and mechanical jaws of the bulldog, and White Fang becomes confused because he leaps forward and bites the bulldog, and yet the bulldog seems not to be distracted from his constant and deliberate stalking of White Fang. In spite of White Fang's constant and clever maneuvers, he is unable to reach the tough, loose-skinned, well protected throat of the bulldog, who continues to pursue White Fang. During one attack, White Fang, for the first time in his life, loses his footing, and the bulldog is able to grab the lower part of White Fang's throat. Once the bulldog's jaws have closed upon White Fang's throat, nothing can seemingly loosen the bulldog's vice-like grip. There seems to be no escaping the grip. White Fang, to all appearances, is at the point of death. Beauty Smith, in an attempt to provoke White Fang's wrath, begins to laugh derisively at White Fang, and, once more, White Fang makes a great effort to free himself from the bulldog, but the vice-like jaws of Cherokee are locked too tightly.
At this point, the crowd suddenly gives way to two men who appear on the scene. Because betting on arranged dog fights is illegal, the crowd assumes immediately that these two men are associated, somehow, with the civil authorities. Only Beauty Smith attempts to stop the men from ending the dog fight, but he is quickly knocked away, yet these two men are still unable to separate the two dogs, and one of the men, Weedon Scott, calls for his friend, Matt, to place a gun between the bulldog's teeth and pry the dog's jaws open. Then, once they have extracted White Fang's mangled neck from Cherokee's jaws, it is discovered that White Fang is, indeed, nearly dead, yet he is still breathing. Weedon Scott then instructs Tim Keenan to take his bulldog away, and he gives Beauty Smith one hundred and fifty dollars for White Fang. When Beauty Smith tries to protest, Weedon Scott reminds Beauty Smith that he could have him arrested if he makes any trouble.
With the appearance of Weedon Scott, we have a total contrast with Beauty Smith. White Fang, however, has almost been driven mad by Beauty Smith's wickedness and maltreatment. Thus, at the beginning of White Fang's relationship with Weedon Scott, White Fang can feel nothing but hatred and contempt for all living human beings. It will take a great deal of patience on the part of Weedon Scott to transform White Fang from a wild savage dog into a civilized dog. This, of course, will be the concern of the rest of the novel.
When Weedon Scott and his friend, Matt, return to their cabin with White Fang, they are, at first, unsuccessful in calming the dog, and White Fang has to be chained. For two weeks, the men examine the dog and discuss his merit. They notice certain signs that indicate that he seems to have been, at one time, a dog trained for the harness, and they both realize that he is a dog of great intelligence. It is decided, finally, that they will take a chance and unchain White Fang and see what happens. When Matt throws White Fang a piece of meat, another dog, Major, jumps at it, and White Fang immediately kills Major. Incensed, Matt attempts to kick White Fang, but instead, Matt is bitten in the leg by White Fang. Weedon Scott is ready to kill White Fang, but Matt convinces him that it was Matt's own fault that the dog bit him. When Weedon Scott approaches White Fang in an attempt to pet him, White Fang instinctively recoils and bites Scott in the hand. At this point, Matt comes out with a rifle, planning to shoot the dog. Seeing the gun, White Fang immediately hides behind the house, an act which convinces Scott and Matt of White Fang's supreme intelligence and civilized ways. Thus, they decide not to kill White Fang because "he's got intelligence, and we've got to give that intelligence a chance." Yet whereas Gray Beaver was not actually cruel to White Fang, Weedon Scott and Matt are the first compassionate people whom White Fang has ever encountered; thus, since Weedon Scott is determined to tame White Fang, he proceeds to do so by bringing White Fang chunks of meat and offering them to the dog. At first, though, White Fang does not sufficiently trust Scott enough to come and take the meat from his hand. But after some time, and also some patience on Scott's part, White Fang gradually learns to take meat from Scott's hand. Later on, when Weedon Scott attempts to pat White Fang on the head and shoulders, it is "distasteful to [White Fang's] instinct," and yet he finally allows the man to do so, even though he growls while he is being petted.
"It was the beginning," says London, of a new life for White Fang, and it was the "ending of the old life and the reign of hate." Whereas White Fang had shown allegiance and loyalty to Gray Beaver, White Fang now feels growing within him a liking for Scott, and soon an affection for him, and finally a deep love for the man. As the days pass, White Fang's affection for Weedon Scott grows, and London tells us that "it was necessary that he [White Fang] should have some god. The lordship of man was a need of his nature." Ultimately, then, White Fang comes to tolerate even Matt, who is given the task of feeding him. But all of White Fang's loyalty and love is reserved for Weedon Scott alone. For example, when Matt tries to harness White Fang, he is unable to do so, yet White Fang allows Weedon Scott to place him in the harness, and White Fang becomes the leader of a dog team which both respects and admires him.
It is a custom of White Fang's to wait up for Scott to return to the cabin every night, and once, when Scott has to go away on a long journey, White Fang refuses to eat or even move from the cabin. He finally is on the point of dying when Weedon Scott returns, but within two and a half days, White Fang regains his strength and health. One night, not long afterward, Weedon Scott and Matt hear White Fang attack something outside, and upon investigating, they discover that White Fang has pinned down a man. It is Beauty Smith who has come back with a club and a chain, hoping to be able to steal White Fang.
In Part Four, then, London shows the wild, fierce, savage, and ferocious wolf being transformed by the healing power of love, represented by Weedon Scott. London seems to imply that any animal's psychology can be soothed if the animal is treated properly. The closing scene of this section, with the reappearance of the savage and cruel Beauty Smith, seems to imply that savage treatment evokes savagery and hatred, whereas love and compassionate treatment evoke loyalty and devotion.