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White Fang | Symbols

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The Coffin

In the harsh wild, death always lurks around the corner as only the fittest can survive the desolate landscape. The coffin being pulled through the "black and ominous" Northland symbolizes the lingering presence of death. The man in the coffin, Lord Alfred, hadn't taken the wild seriously and was "conquered and beaten down" by it. The image of the Northland landscape at the novel's opening is stark white, cut through by a single black line: two men, who are literally dragging death behind them. This contrast highlights the closeness of life and death in the wild, with Lord Alfred's coffin as a constant reminder that with one false move, the men could be next.

When the starving wolves arrive, the coffin further symbolizes man's ineptitude in the wild. Left on their own, men like Lord Alfred die, but the cunning wolves adapt and are able to survive.

Light

As a cub, White Fang feels drawn by the light at the mouth of his cave like a plant to the sun: "The life of his body ... yearned toward this light and urged his body toward it." The light symbolizes life, or the "yearning" to grow. Before mustering the courage to plunge toward the light, White Fang literally lives in darkness. Although his mother protects him, he cannot mature. He remains completely reliant on his parents for food, protection, and information (smells from the outside, new sensations, etc). Although his mother warns him that the wall of light is dangerous, the cub's instincts compel him forward: "The life that was so swiftly expanding within him urged him continually toward the wall of light." Once on the outside, White Fang's instincts blossom. He learns to hunt, respect the wild, and live like a true wolf.

Fire

Fire symbolizes man's control over nature. White Fang sees fire at the same time he sees man for the first time. Man's ability to control fire, creating something moving from inanimate objects, leads White Fang to revere men as gods. Men take everyday objects from the wild, such as sticks and leaves, and build them into something "living" that White Fang has already learned to respect.

Even as a cub, White Fang recognizes the power needed to transform something "dead" to "living." While humans may be physically weaker than most animals in the wild, they maintain superiority at the top of the food chain as a result of their ability to master their surroundings with "logic and physics," both absent from the animal kingdom. It is also through the mastery of fire that Henry is able to keep the starving wolves at bay in Part 1.

The Club

Much like fire, the club symbolizes man's control over the natural world. In the wild, animals fight "hand-to-hand" and the strongest (or most clever) survives. Men would never survive in hand-to-hand combat with a wild animal like a wolf, so they use other tools, like the club, to create false power.

Gray Beaver and, later, Beauty Smith use the club to overpower White Fang and beat him into submission. White Fang learns early that "behind any wish of [man's] was power to enforce that wish, power that hurt, power that expressed itself in clouts and clubs." Fear of beatings prevents White Fang from attacking men even though he could easily destroy them, as suggested by the weak, starving wolves that easily overpower Bill despite his gun in Chapter 3.

Howls

Although London does not overpersonify the animal characters in White Fang, he does give them emotional responses to their surroundings. White Fang's howl symbolizes his longing for love. He howls twice in the novel: after he is separated from his mother and again before Weedon Scott moves back to California: "White Fang was howling as dogs howl when their masters lie dead. He was voicing an utter woe, his cry bursting upward in great, heart-breaking rushes, dying down into quavering misery, and bursting upward again with rush upon rush of grief." White Fang has no pack or family to communicate with, so he communicates with the wild—which he has also lost—through his forlorn howl. It is significant, then, when White Fang barks like a dog at the end of the novel. The replacement of howling with barking symbolizes White Fang's transition to domesticity and his sense of belonging in the home.

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