Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Fang

White Fang is part dog, part wolf - but predominantly wolf. He is born in the wilds of the Yukon and soon comes face to face with the harsh realities of life in this unforgiving environment. He is the only pup from the litter to survive, his father is killed and food is scarce. He finds himself irresistibly drawn to a human campsite and, lured by a more reliable source of food, surrenders his independence to Grey Beard who is a tough but fair master. Under the influence of alcohol Grey  Beard sells White Fang into a life of dog fighting with Beauty Smith. White Fang excels in what is literally a dog eat dog environment. Eventually however he meets his match and seems to face a certain death until he is rescued by Weedon Scott, who through kindness, firmness and unrelenting patience manages to rehabilitate White Fang. The pair move to Scott's family farm where. after a variety of mishaps, White Fang kills an escaped convict who has broken into the house intending to kill Scott's father.

The plot was relatively simple and the writing style plain and uncomplicated. Yet this was one of the  most difficult classics I've read. The reason is the sheer unrelenting brutality, savagery and barbarism. These episodes are not glorified; if anything the matter-of-fact way in which they are relayed highlights how unremarkable they are, which in turn reinforces the brutality. With the exception of some maternal care there is no love or kindness until the appearance of Weedon Scott. The hostile environment seems to leave no room for such "luxuries". It is telling that it is Scott, who does not permanently reside in the Yukon, who is willing and to stand up against the brutality of dog fighting and has the patience and kindness needed to curb White Fang's savage survival instincts.

White Fang explores themes such as freedom vs confinement, redemption, and the struggle for survival. It is an interesting counterpoint to London's The Call of the White but isn't recommended for readers of a tender disposition.

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