White Fang (1906) is a short novel by American author Jack London. The novel explores themes of survival, nature versus nurture, and improving oneself through discipline and adaptability. White Fang’s protagonist is a wild-born wolfdog named White Fang whose struggle for survival and eventual domestication comprise the novel’s narrative arc. London’s novel challenges humanity’s claim to superiority over nature and celebrates animals’ resilience, simple logic, and instinct. White Fang has been adapted into over a dozen films and series to date, beginning with a film in 1925. The most recent adaptation is a 2018 animated feature film produced by Netflix. This guide uses the digitized 1911 Macmillan and Company reprint edition of the novel, which is freely available on Google Books.
Content warning: The guide contains references to dog fighting, animal cruelty, and anti-Indigenous racism.
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The story takes place in the Yukon Territory during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. It is written in the omniscient third-person past tense and focuses on different protagonists as the story progresses. Part 1 follows Henry, a man journeying through the Yukon with a team of sled dogs. Part 2, Chapters 1-2, follow a she-wolf who leads a wolf pack. Part 2, Chapter 3, and Parts 3-5 follow White Fang, the wolfdog cub born to the she-wolf and the novel’s main protagonist.
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Part 1 begins with two men, Henry and Bill, traveling with a team of sled dogs through the brutal Yukon territory; they are taking a coffin bearing a third man to a remote town for his funeral. The men’s resources quickly dwindle as they battle the elements, hunger, and wolves during their journey. The wolves steadily devour the sled team, until only Henry and one dog remain. As wolves encircle them, Henry creates a protective ring of fire between himself and the pack, and the pack retreats. Henry is rescued and makes it to town to deliver Lord Alfred’s body, but he hears the hungry pack howling in the distance.
The first two chapters of Part 2 follow the she-wolf, who is the pack’s leader. Having failed in their latest hunt, the pack is starving. The she-wolf travels with her pack until it disbands, due to wolves dying or leaving to hunt for themselves. One Eye, an older male wolf from her pack, impregnates the she-wolf, and she finds a cave where she can safely give birth. One Eye and most of her cubs die; only she and a gray cub survive. When the gray cub—who will be named White Fang—is born, the narrative switches to his point of view.
The gray cub stays safely in the cave while the she-wolf hunts. Eventually, the gray cub’s instincts tell him to go forth in the world. He learns to hunt, and he and his mother become a team. Their independence is destroyed when they encounter a group of Indigenous people who capture them and take them back to their camp. The men recognize the she-wolf, whom they refer to as Kiche; Kiche was once domesticated by this group. The she-wolf and White Fang are wolfdogs, meaning they are hybrids of wolves and domestic dogs, and are thus capable of domestication. Living with the Indigenous community, White Fang, learns how to compete with other dogs for the humans’ attentions. The dogs do not accept White Fang because he is a wolf. He is lonely in his new pack but becomes close with his human companions.
One day, Kiche is taken away on a journey with one of the men and never returns. A famine descends on the camp, and the wolves and dogs are either eaten or left on their own. White Fang tries to return to the wild that continuously calls for him but finds himself missing his human companions. He tracks down his primary human caretaker, Grey Beaver, and returns to human society. Grey Beaver trains White Fang to lead a sled team, and they travel together throughout the region. At a camp of white gold miners, Grey Beaver reluctantly sells White Fang to a man named Beauty Smith in exchange for alcohol.
Beauty is an abusive human who uses White Fang for dog fights. He wins money from White Fang’s violence and gives White Fang nothing in return. Beauty’s callousness and the brutality of dog fighting teach White Fang to be vicious. White Fang is saved by a Californian named Weedon Scott, who rescues and rehabilitates him. Scott brings White Fang to California, where White Fang lives on a country estate. Here, White Fang relearns how to receive and give love. He also learns how to get along with other domesticated animals. White Fang defends Scott’s family against an intruder, killing the man but weakening himself in the process. White Fang becomes well known for his loyalty, and he develops a newfound sense of peace.
By Jack London