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Free Study Guide for White Fang by Jack London - Free Book Notes

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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

London has neatly divided the book into five parts. Part I, consisting of three chapters, gives an introduction to the unexplored land of Northland Wild through the perspective of two human characters, Bill and Henry. It clearly sets the mood for the entire novel. It also introduces the pack of wolves who inhabit this area and whose story is later elaborated upon in Part II. The she-wolf, her mates, and their experiences form Part II. The cub, who later grows up to be White Fang, also makes an entrance here, commencing the rising action. His experiences in the wild and his physical and mental growth are recounted in detail. In Part III, the rising action continues as White Fang meets his man-masters, the makers of fire, with whom he has to spend a considerable amount of time. White Fang undergoes famines and journeys and other hardships which contribute to his personality.

In Part IV, the story takes a turn, with the historical setting of the gold rush. White Fang is introduced to the white gods, and he encounters Beauty Smith, under whom he is trained for dogfights. The first four chapters are devoted to these dog-fights and Smith’s brutal treatment of White Fang. Towards the end of IV, Weedon Scott enters and remains until the end of the book. In chapter six, the climax occurs, when White Fang finally overcomes his fear and distrust and allows Scott to pet him. In Part V, which is largely falling action, Scott takes White Fang along with him to his home in California, where the wolf-dog must learn a new set of laws. He learns quickly and also ingratiates himself to the family by saving the life of Judge Scott. The conclusion occurs at the end of the book when White Fang is nursed back to health after his fight with Jim Hall and becomes the father of Collie’s puppies, giving the novel a happy ending.

Because of the episodic nature of the novel, the geographical setting varies greatly. Part I and Part II are set in the Northland Wild, largely in the brutally cold and snowy winter. Part III shifts to the Indian camp and a time of more temperate weather. Part IV takes the reader to Fort Yukon, and Part V is basically in California.

In spite of these shifting settings, the constancy of theme and character and the intensely developed plot hold the novel together.



THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS


Survival of the Fittest

One of the dominant themes in the novel is the Darwinian theory of “the survival of the fittest.” White Fang and his mother (Kiche, the she-wolf) are both exposed to the cruel ways of nature. As a responsible and clever leader, Kiche guides her pack of wolves through the cold, brutal, dead environment of Northland Wild. The bitter temperature and lack of food make it difficult to exist, but Kiche is intelligent, strong, and determined. She survives by luring sled dogs away from their camp and devouring them. When necessary for survival, she will even attack a human.

White Fang is also exposed to the harshness of nature. At an early age, he learns hunger, as he fights to survive several famines. He also learns that he must learn to fight to survive, for the law of nature is to “eat or be eaten.” The fight with the lynx, the battles with Lip-lip, and the dogfights in the ring all teach him survival skills. He also learns that man is a powerful beast, and the beating from the hands of humans make White Fang even more determined to come out on top.

The urge to survive is seen throughout every chapter in White Fang, serving as a unifying theme to hold the exciting episodes of the book together.

Love Begets Love

Love begets love is another important theme of the novel. Throughout most of his early life, White Fang knows nothing but cruelty and violence. As a result, he develops hatred and aggression. His first master, Gray Beaver, beats White Fang into submission and obedience; in spite of the violence, the wolf-dog respects and obeys Gray Beaver, not out of love, but out of a fear of punishment. White Fang’s second master, Beauty Smith, inspires nothing but hatred, for he is a mean, violent, and cruel man. Weedon Smith, White Fang’s third master, is a total contrast to the first two, for he is a kind and gentle man who gives the wolf-dog affection and teaches him to love.

Scott rescues White Fang from certain death, for he is pinned by a bulldog, who is attacking his throat. Because he is a kind man, he nurses White Fang to health and gives him affection. At first White Fang is distrustful, because of his earlier experiences; but Scott has patience and continues to encourage the wolf-dog. He finally coaxes White Fang to him by using pieces of meet. Before long, White Fang allows Scott to pet him. Then when Scott tries to teach White Fang, he uses voice control rather than violence. White Fang is totally amazed and learns quickly from this new style of teaching. He also becomes totally devoted to Scott for his kindness and affection. In fact when Scott goes away, White Fang is so miserable that he cannot eat or drink. When Scott hears that White Fang is growing ill, he rushes home. There is obviously a deep, mutual love between this gentle master and fierce wolf-dog, proving that love does indeed beget love.


STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Describe the Northland Wild and Bill’s experiences there.
2. Describe the wolf-pack’s experiences in the Wild.
3. What kind of mother is Kiche?
4. How is the gray cub different from the others in the litter?
5. Is White Fang born aggressive, or is he made aggressive? Fully explain your answer.
6. What role does Lip-lip play in White Fang’s development?
7. Describe in detail White Fang’s experiences with Gray Beaver.
8. Describe his experience with Beauty Smith.
9. How does Scott succeed in “taming” White Fang?
10. Does White Fang belong in the city or in the Wild? Support your answer
11. Show how White Fang is different from the other “domesticated” dogs.
12. Which human qualities are attributed to White Fang? Do they benefit him or deter him? Explain you answer.

13. Jim Hall and White Fang share a similar background. Explain how.
14. What are the two major themes of the novel? How are they developed and how are they related?
15. The novel is filled with violence. How can it be classified as a comedy?

 

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