6. White Fang

by Jack London

After reading The Call of the Wild, White Fang was just begging for a turn. I'm definitely on a Jack London kick.

White Fang is about a wolf born in the wild, but through unusual circumstances ends up in captivity where he endures unimaginable cruelties for much of his life. This renders White Fang a relatively tamed (obeys his cruel master, but wishes for the chance to tear out his throat) but violent, ferocious outcast of a wolf. He becomes the formidable enemy of the "man-gods" and his own kind. It's the latter that makes this a heartbreaking story.

Once again London's thoughts on the ongoing symbiotic relationship between humans and dogs are conveyed in the epic journey of a single canine. First is London's fascination with how dogs lend themselves to human mastery. White Fang depicts the extremes of human cruelty and abuse, and later kindness and love, from the point of view of a wolf. One great thing about London's writing his how his wolves think like wolves. Dogs and wolves don't think like humans. Instinct drives them and the discipline of experience teaches them what to do and what not to do. They don't share the "wide vision" of humans. London believes that wild beasts get quite as much pleasure as pain out of the life that they are intended to live. It is under the brutality of humans that White Fang is nearly driven to madness. And yet it is the love of another human master that saves this wolf in the end. Hmm. Man and dog.

Although London presents the wild's feral nature as something separate from human nature, White Fang is torn between the impulse to fidelity to (and loyalty safety and security of) his "man-god," and the ever-beckoning call of the Wild. Both are in his nature but, like all creatures, White Fang's nature is like clay molded by his environment.

I'm no expert but I'll dare say that as a biographer of wild animals, London has no match. This story is incredibly satisfying.

I'm left with a question: does the wild call because it is the opposite of a civilization we blame for what ails us (so Romantic!), or is the call something that humans instinctively feel? I'm stuck on this one. But I do know that The Call of the Wild and White Fang have stirred some instincts in me that are not fit for New York City living!

1 comment:

beemused said...

I've always liked animal POV stories, though I've missed out on classics like Watership Down and the Jack London stuff. Your reviews have rekindled some interest in this genre.