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White Fang | Plot Summary

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Summary

White Fang follows the extraordinary life of one wolf—White Fang—from his birth in the wild to his eventual domestication. The novel is divided into five parts, covering five stages of White Fang's life.

Part 1

Part 1 describes the wild into which White Fang is born. Two trekkers, Bill and Henry, have been hired to retrieve the body of a dead explorer who succumbed to the harsh conditions in the Northland. For days, they sled across a frozen landscape, trailed by a pack of hungry wolves. Every evening, the men make camp, nervously watching the wolves as they get bolder and bolder. Bill notices one exceptionally bold she-wolf that steals food and tries to pass herself off as one of the sled dogs during feeding time. He wonders why the sled dogs don't attack the intruder. That night, and each night thereafter, the wolf lures one of the sled dogs away and kills it for the pack. When the she-wolf, Kiche, lures away the fourth dog, leaving the men with only two, Bill chases after the wolf with his gun. Henry listens in horror as the wolf pack first kills the dog, then Bill, before turning back to stalk him. For the next few days, Henry does all he can to fight off the hungry wolf pack, but with only two dogs and no gun, his options are limited. The pack closes in and eventually attacks. Henry fights the wolves off with barbs of fire, but they are relentless. Just as they are about to kill him, a second sled of men arrives, saving him.

Part 2

In Part 2 the she-wolf runs away from Henry with her pack. All the male wolves follow her, but she only allows one, a grizzled old wolf named One Eye, to run beside her. To mate with the she-wolf, One Eye must fight off the other males, which he does easily, despite his age. He and the she-wolf mate, and shortly after, she gives birth to a litter of cubs. Unfortunately, the famine remains, so many of the cubs die shortly after birth. A small gray cub proves fiercer and stronger than his siblings and is the last to survive. As he learns about the world around him, his parents hunt daily to keep him alive. In time, the cub no longer sees his father, One Eye, but doesn't yet understand that he is dead, killed by a mother lynx also fighting ruthlessly to keep her offspring alive. Eventually, the cub matures enough to venture outside the cave, where he quickly learns the dangers of the wild. He also learns to hunt and eagerly contributes to his family's meals.

Part 3

Part 3 follows the cub and his mother as they stumble across an Indian tribe in the woods. The terrified cub has never seen man before and doesn't understand why his mother shows subservience to the men. The men are elated to find the she-wolf, who had once been a domesticated member of their pack until the famine struck. Now, they recapture her and take the cub as well. The cub struggles to adjust to life in the tribe, particularly because other dogs hound and bully him. One dog in particular, Lip-lip, torments the cub, making it impossible for him to become part of the pack. At the same time, the men beat the cub into submission, forcing him to learn his place.

When their Indian master, Gray Beaver, gives the she-wolf away as payment to a friend, the cub, now known as White Fang, must survive on his own. To survive, White Fang becomes conniving, sneaky, and vicious. He kills dogs when they try to fight him and steals food wherever he can find it. Despite living as an outcast, White Fang feels loyal to Gray Beaver and his family, even protecting Gray Beaver's son in a fight, which earns him great respect from the humans. When the famine arrives again, White Fang goes out into the wild to fend for himself. When he returns to the tribe, Gray Beaver and his family happily welcome him back.

Part 4

In Part 4 White Fang accompanies Gray Beaver to Fort Yukon, where Gray Beaver sells his wares to miners during the Gold Rush. Here, White Fang sees white men for the first time and lives in awe of them. He continues to fight other dogs for respect, often attacking and killing the dogs of new arrivals to the fort town. One resident, Beauty Smith, takes note of White Fang's fighting prowess and begs Gray Beaver to sell White Fang to him. When he refuses, Beauty Smith begins plying Gray Beaver with alcohol until Gray Beaver is so addicted he would sell anything for another bottle. In this way, Beauty Smith becomes White Fang's new owner.

Beauty Smith keeps White Fang locked in a windowless crate, only opening the grates to beat White Fang or toss in food. One day, Beauty Smith opens the grate and pushes in another dog. White Fang pounces on the dog and quickly kills it. From then on, White Fang becomes known as a fighting wolf, and men travel from all over to place bets on his fights. White Fang always emerges victorious, whether fighting dogs, wolves, lynxes, or other wild animals. The public thinks White Fang is unbeatable until an American arrives with a bulldog. The bulldog, much shorter than White Fang and with powerful jaws, manages to clamp onto White Fang's neck. White Fang nearly dies until two other Americans arrive and break up the fight. One of these men, Weedon Scott, forces Beauty Smith to sell him White Fang, who spends the next few days being nursed back to health. While White Fang had felt loyalty to masters in the past, nothing compares to his feelings for Scott, which are akin to love.

Part 5

In Part 5 White Fang travels back to California with Weedon Scott, although Scott is initially unhappy with the idea. He had tried to leave White Fang behind, knowing there was no place for a wolf in the city, but White Fang refused to be abandoned and forced his way onto the ferry. The city of San Francisco overwhelms White Fang, who has been tamed but remains wild at heart.

At Weedon's home, his family and the other animals are wary of the wolf, particularly after he attacks their sheepdog, Collie, and bites one of the grooms. Slowly, White Fang learns the ways of living with a family. He loves Scott and will do anything to protect him, even if it means fully suppressing his wild instincts. White Fang finally earns the family's respect when Scott falls off his horse and is terribly injured. White Fang rushes back to the family and alerts them to Scott's injuries. Their respect turns to love when White Fang is badly wounded after he attacks an intruder who comes to kill the family.

Scott and his family never give up on White Fang. They hire the best doctor, pay extraordinary prices for surgery, and carefully nurse him back to health. The novel closes with an image of White Fang relearning how to walk after his casts are removed. He lies in the sun, snuggled next to a litter of puppies he has sired, happy and at peace.

White Fang Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Starving wolves kill Henry and Bill's sled dog team.

Rising Action

2 Kiche struggles to keep her pups alive.

3 White Fang and Kiche rejoin Gray Beaver's tribe.

4 Under Lip-lip's torment, White Fang learns to fight.

5 Kiche is sent away; White Fang learns to be independent.

6 White Fang learns to pull a sled and travels to the Yukon.

7 Beauty Smith sways Gray Beaver into selling him White Fang.

8 White Fang is forced to fight other animals to the death.

Climax

9 Weedon bursts into the dogfight and saves White Fang.

Falling Action

10 Weedon domesticates White Fang and takes him to California.

11 White Fang attacks Jim Hall in the hallway.

Resolution

12 White Fang embraces love from humans and animals.

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