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White Fang | Themes

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Survival of the Fittest

In the harsh wild described in the novel's opening pages, death seems inevitable. The landscape is "black and ominous," and a coffin, a symbol of death, is being pulled through the "savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild." For any living thing to survive, it must be extremely strong, cunning, and adaptable. It must be the "fittest" of its species and pass its stronger genes to the next generation. Both Kiche and White Fang exhibit characteristics of being the fittest, most notably in their ability to adapt.

Kiche, half dog and half wolf, lives alongside an Indian tribe during times of bounty but relies on her primal instincts to survive in the wild in times of famine. She is more cunning than the rest of the pack, luring sled dogs away from their masters. Kiche, along with her mate, One Eye, passes cleverness on to White Fang, who stands out as the strongest in the litter. White Fang relies not only on his strength—he is able to survive three bullet wounds in his side—but his cunning. He steals when food is scarce, becomes an unpredictable fighter when outsized by Lip-lip and his gang, and is able to adapt his behavior based on the desires of his various masters.

Isolation

Although wolves are pack animals, White Fang spends much of his life in isolation. He has a good relationship with his mother when living in the wild, but that changes once man becomes involved. At the Indian camp, Gray Beaver separates White Fang from his mother, and none of the other dogs, led by Lip-lip, welcome White Fang into the pack. Completely ostracized, White Fang lashes out, attacking dogs and humans alike: "White Fang became hated by man and dog."

When living with Beauty Smith, White Fang's isolation becomes more literal as Beauty Smith keeps him locked in a tiny cage, poking and teasing him constantly until "he was kept in a rage most of the time." As a result of the abuse and isolation, White Fang becomes a vicious killing machine. All this changes when Weedon Scott saves White Fang and teaches him to love. Although still a "lone wolf," White Fang begins to appreciate pack life by living with the Scott family and their animals. Through the depiction of White Fang's isolation and redemption, London sends a clear message that love and belonging can save even the wildest of souls.

Nature versus Nurture

When the reader first meets White Fang, he is adventurous, curious, brave, and happy. Despite living in hardship during the famine, he feels content in his life and fulfilled by his role in the wild. His personality might have stayed much the same had his life continued in that direction, but his demeanor changes drastically once man changes his environment. With Gray Beaver, White Fang is separated from his mother and beaten into submission. Although he gains the benefit of regular food and shelter, White Fang lives in isolation, tormented by the other dogs. Things go from bad to worse with Beauty Smith, who terrorizes and abuses him to prepare him for dogfights. White Fang lives in "primordial savagery," turned practically evil by the abuse.

In this environment, White Fang is frequently compared with other "evil" characters in the novel. Beauty Smith, for example, has been turned into a "monstrosity" because "nature had been niggardly with him." Similarly, Jim Hall was made evil by the beatings he received in prison: "The more fiercely he fought, the more harshly society handled him, and the only effect of harshness was to make him fiercer." Throughout the novel, White Fang is described as a lump of clay being molded by his surroundings. While his nature first created his personality, his environment—or the "nurture" he received—shaped the direction of his behavior. When his environment changes at the Weedon house, the once destructively evil wolf is remolded into one capable of companionship and love.

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