Roderick Hart's Reviews > White Fang

White Fang by Jack London
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Jul 29, 2012

really liked it

White Fang, part dog, part wolf, is the main character of the book, most of which explains his life from his point of view but by way of a narrator. On one level, it could be read as an adventure story, but instances of cruelty are so frequent that this is plainly a major subject for the author. When White Fang, still with his mother, ends up with Grey Beaver he is subjected to violence on many occasions. When this comes from Grey Beaver himself it is intended as discipline. On occasion Grey Beaver protects him from attack by others, but never shows him affection. London gives the impression that this is a cultural thing. Dogs fulfil certain functions for the Indians- pulling sleds, for example - in return for which they are fed. That’s it.

White Fang has problems with the Indians’ other dogs since one of them, Lip-lip, takes against him from the start and attacks him at every opportunity. Since the others follow Lip-lip’s lead, White Fang has to tread very carefully. More importantly, perhaps, he learns to fight. This is not play-fighting but a matter of life and death, so he soon learns to dispense with the formalities (growling, hair standing on end etc) and goes straight for the jugular. This is not the best way for a puppy to grow up, but his fighting skills stand him in good stead.

Unfortunately, they are noticed by one Beauty Smith, a nasty piece of works who buys him from Grey Beaver to use as a fighting dog. He is finally rescued from Beauty Smith by Weedon Scott, a gold prospector. Over a period of time, Weedon gets round White Fang to the point where they not only trust each other but like each other. Given White Fang’s past life, there are reverses along the way and it does not happen quickly. But it happens.

The book has many strengths. London’s description of the adversities of outdoor life in the frozen wastes of Canada are excellent and his grasp of detail good. But his boldest effort is taking us into the mind of White Fang as he develops. This is obviously a dangerous area since it would be very easy to attribute human thoughts and feelings to an animal which the animal could never entertain. (And it is doubly dangerous now, given the amount of research into the behaviour of wolves which has taken place since the book was written.) But London is clearly aware of this danger and goes to great lengths to avoid it.

Apart from a few references to Grey Beaver’s squaw, there are no women characters in this book, but since women characters are not London’s strong point this is probably an advantage. And some might feel that the book ends in an unexpectedly warm glow, with White Fang at home with the Scott family in California. The only reply to this is that such an outcome, though unlikely, is not impossible, and it is probably necessary to show that kindness is the way to go with animals and reaps its own reward. And by extension, this nostrum might even be extended to people.
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