Literature Study GuidesWhite FangPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

White Fang | Study Guide

Jack London

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White Fang | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Wild (The Hunger Cry) | Summary

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Summary

The men wake in the morning happy to see they lost no more dogs in the night. While harnessing their remaining three dogs to the sled, however, One Ear runs away. Henry realizes too late that the dog is running toward the she-wolf, who waits in the snow. One Ear and the she-wolf greet each other tentatively, with One Ear appearing nervous and jumpy. The she-wolf retreats "playfully and coyly," luring One Ear farther and farther away from the safety of camp. Bill grabs his rifle and rushes toward the dogs, but they scamper farther away. At that distance, however, One Ear seems to realize his mistake and attempts to run back to camp but is swiftly surrounded by a dozen hungry wolves. Bill raises his rifle and rushes toward the pack. Henry listens with dread as three shots ring through the air, and he realizes Bill's ammunition is gone. When Bill doesn't return to camp, Henry knows the wolves have eaten him, too. Henry sits quietly in the camp until nightfall.

The two remaining dogs press against Henry for protection as the wolves once again surround the camp. Whenever one lunges toward him, Henry rushes toward it with burning fronds from the fire. The next morning, Henry hoists the coffin into a tree to lighten the dogs' load and harnesses the sled. The wolves openly stalk and chase the sled as it speeds away. Before the sun sets, Henry quickly makes a new camp and builds a huge fire. In the firelight, Henry, who knows death is around the corner, takes time to appreciate the skill and beauty of his body. All the while, the pack of hungry wolves surrounding him grows. His eyelids droop, and he begins to doze, having not slept at all the night before. When he wakes, the she-wolf is only a few feet away, salivating as she stares at him. He reaches for a fiery brand, but she leaps away from him. All night, Henry fights the wolves with fire. This goes on all the next day and through the next night. The following morning, Henry can barely sit up. He continually holds a burning stick so that when the flame reaches his skin, the burning will shock him awake. He cannot carry on this way forever, and he eventually gives in to sleep. When he wakes, the wolves are on top of him, yet he manages to scoop live coals from the fire and hurl them at the wolves. He fights valiantly, but the wolves won't let him go. Just as Henry gives up the fight and surrenders to the hungry pack, the wolves scurry away. Henry hears the "cries of men, the churn of sleds, the creaking of harnesses, and the eager whimper of straining dogs." He knows he has been saved.

Analysis

The men see firsthand how the she-wolf lures away her victims. Gender becomes tantamount to her success as dogs have an innate impulse not to attack females. The dogs never would have followed a male wolf; they would have attacked. Therefore, it is unlikely the wolf pack would have survived without a cunning female like the she-wolf. The luring tactic also demonstrates the she-wolf's domesticity. She appears curious, almost friendly, toward the men in the previous chapter; she is playful with the dogs, coyly "luring [the dog] away from the security of his human companionship." However, the moment One Ear is far enough away from camp, her mask of domesticity disappears, and she snarls and attacks like a savage beast. In the theme of survival of the fittest, the wolves demonstrate their mastery by killing Bill despite him being armed with a gun. Typically, man inhabits the top of the food chain, particularly when armed with weapons, like guns, that could kill an animal, no matter how wild. However, in the Northland, men like Henry and Bill are vulnerable to death as the symbolic coffin continually reminds them. In isolation, the men are easy for a wolf pack to kill, but when reinforcements arrive, the wolves know to scatter if they want to survive.

After Bill's death, Henry becomes more focused on his survival. Knowing death hovers just around the corner, Henry becomes acutely aware of his body, appreciating it for the first time, admiring his delicate, clever fingers by the fire: "Never had he been so fond of this body of his as now when his tenure of it was so precarious." London carefully describes Henry's skillful fingers, and, by doing so, London celebrates the beauty of life amidst desperation, an idea he returns to throughout the novel.

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