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Analyzing Jack Londons White Fang English Literature Essay

Info: 1200 words (5 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 1970 in English Literature

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Jack London was an American author who wrote quite a few books. The main focus of this paper will be on White Fang, one of his more popular books. Jack London’s White Fang exhibits his naturalist way of thinking, when discussing how the environment and natural world around him is able to raise society and exhibit the deeper truths. Throughout the book there are many references to naturalism with the use of symbols and metaphors. He also uses survival of the fittest and romanticism as major themes.

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Jack London uses the theme of Naturalism all through the book of white fang. Naturalists were people who view life strictly from a scientific point of view. In turn this means that Jack London thought that man and other creatures were molded by their genetics and what they were around or where they lived. The environmental theme is indicated at the start of White Fang as London vibrantly describes the landscape, ironically combining a foreboding hostility with an ominous sorrow. Jack London wrote this book with biological as well as social determination. London insists that although Beauty Smith was “a monstrosity the blame of it lay elsewhere. He was not responsible (GradeSaver Editors)”. White Fang’s heredity is carefully defined as three fourths wolf and one fourth dog leading up to the fight within him between his sophisticated impulses and his untamed ones. London is also careful to stick to traditional facts of a White Fang’s life cycle in his early years.

The nature of life was another major theme in white fang and London seemed inattentive in it. Many 19th-century readers and thinkers had this theme on their minds. In 1859, Charles Darwin pressed on ideas that came to be known as “survival of the fittest”. About a half-century later, London published this novel, which may be read as a “taking to task” of such “social Darwinism.”(Novelguide editors) The change that takes place in White Fang at Weedon Scott’s start shows that love is the greatest power of all.

With Darwin’s ideas in mind, Jack London wrote many books, the one I’m referring to is white fang. Natural selection is embodied by white fang. From the opening he is the strongest, the only one to survive the famine. His strength and intelligence make him alpha dog in the Indian camp. While defending Judge Scott, White Fang takes three bullets but is able to survive(GradeSaver Editors). He learns how to scrap with the other dogs, he learns to befriend new masters, and, finally, he learns what love is and is tamed by Weedon Scott.

If White Fang explores the meaning of life, then it must also explore the meaning of civilization. It does so through the character of Beauty Smith. Beauty Smith stands as an quarrel against the distortions of Darwinism, the validation of the weak and powerless utilization at the hands of the strong and powerful; and an attempt to free individuals from the responsibility to exercise their own will by an appeal to a fixed destiny. Smith is the product of harsh experiences. Like White Fang, his clay has been roughly shaped. Even so, Smith has had and most probably still has choice about how to respond to his environment with a choice, for instance, whether or not to justify his existence by harming men and beasts less powerful than he. White Fang, in order to survive, does not. This marks the biggest contrast between the two characters. It also elevates the novels overarching likeness on the fight of life, however, for even as Smith is wrongly exercising his power, White Fang is rightly exercising his to continue to live: “He had too great vitality. His clutch on life was too strong” to continue to resist Smith (GradeSaver Editors). Ironically, he shows power through compliance. Thus, if Smith was a civilized man, he would know that he should treat White Fang better.

In part two he introduces The Law of Meat. “The aim of life was meat. Life itself was meat. Life lived on life. There were the eaters and the eaten. The law was: EAT OR BE EATEN. He did not formulate the law in clear, set terms and moralize about it. He did not even think the law; he merely lived the law without thinking about it at all (book rags 12).” By laying bare the often brutal dynamics of life in the Wild, London is holding a mirror up to us, giving us the opportunity to see those dynamics at work in us, for good or for ill. Do we recognize the law of meat-“EAT OR BE EATEN”-when we see it, and do we stick to it ourselves, or strive to hold fast to a higher law, a law that requires us to put off our instincts for a greater good?

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The Wild is a huge symbol for the dangerous nature of life. The Wild symbolizes life as a struggle: for example, the Wild is a place in which the sun makes a “futile effort” to appear (Novel guide editors). White Fang himself is a symbol of the Wild. The Wild is, for White Fang as a pup, the unknown and he, in turn, becomes the embodiment of the unknown for others. And yet the Wild is not a completely negative metaphor in this story, for the Wild gives White Fang much of his strength. For example, in the final chapter, as he is struggling for life, White Fang is able to survive when other animals may not have, for White Fang, we are reminded, “had come straight from the Wild, where the weak perish early and shelter is vouchsafed to none(Novel guide editors) . A establishment of hard work and the liveliness of the Wild were White Fang’s heritage. The Wild is a multi-valued metaphor in White Fang, but tending to express the power of life to survive and even flourish. Like the Wild, the life force cannot be completely controlled.

Light is a common symbol for life in the literature, because light is a physical need for life. Light’s symbolic purpose in White Fang demonstrates no exception. In II.3 “the life that was in them flickered and died down,” and that White Fang’s sister’s “flame flickered lower and lower and at last went out (novel guide Editors).” In that same chapter, however, the “wall of light”-the entrance to the wolves’ lair-is a symbol for living in the larger world (novel guide Editors). Life is as unstable as a flame, but it is also constant: “The light drew [the cubs] as if they were plants; the chemistry of the life that composed them demanded the light as a necessity of being (novel guide Editors).” Readers will note other examples of light serving a symbolic function, because light is associated with life, and the perseverance of a life is a dominant theme of the book.

Clay is a metaphor used many times in the book to show the raw material of a person or animal. It is the metaphor London chooses to use to address the everlasting dispute about the importance of nature and nurture in deciding identity. London gives three clear examples of characters whose clay has been roughly molded through bad experiences Beauty Smith, Jim Hall, and White Fang. Amusingly, Smith and Hall seem beyond redemption.


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