White Fang — Summary

White Fang is, in many ways, the coun­ter­part to Jack Lon­don’s ear­li­er nov­el, The Call of the Wild. Where­as in that nov­el, a domes­tic dog in the Alaskan wilder­ness becomes a fero­cious wolf, a half-wolf grad­u­al­ly devel­ops into a well-adjust­ed “best friend” of his mas­ter. Jack Lon­don was one of the first to describe in fic­tion the impor­tance of the envi­ron­ment in devel­op­ing a per­son­al­i­ty, even that of an ani­mal. Despite its psy­cho­log­i­cal sub­tleties, White Fang is pri­mar­i­ly a clas­sic adven­ture nov­el, not least because of the impres­sive descrip­tions of nature in the Cana­di­an wilder­ness around the Yukon. Here, the law of the jun­gle pre­vails, and Lon­don describes the bru­tal cycle of eat­ing and being eat­en, often with­out comment.

White Fang - Summary
White Fang by Jack Lon­don at QuiddityHub.com


  • Along with The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf, White Fang is one of the most suc­cess­ful nov­els by Amer­i­can adven­ture writer Jack London.
  • Jack Lon­don nar­rates the sto­ry from Wee­don’s per­spec­tive, offer­ing the read­er a glimpse into his thoughts.
  • The nov­el draws upon Lon­don’s expe­ri­ences as a prospec­tor in the Klondike.
  • Like many of Lon­don’s works, White Fang is notable for its detailed descrip­tions of nature.
  • Charles Dar­win’s the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion and its prin­ci­ple of the sur­vival of the fittest sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced the nov­el­’s structure.
  • White Fang’s trans­for­ma­tion into a domes­ti­cat­ed ani­mal is made pos­si­ble through the affec­tion and love of his master.
  • White Fang achieved sig­nif­i­cant com­mer­cial suc­cess and has been adapt­ed into sev­er­al films.

White Fang Book Summary

Hunted by Wolves

North­west Canada’s Yukon Ter­ri­to­ry at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry: two adven­tur­ers cross the lone­ly and frosty snowy desert by dog sled. Bill and Hen­ry use their six dogs to trans­port equip­ment, food and a cof­fin. It con­tains the body of an Eng­lish lord who died dur­ing a trip to Cana­da and must now be brought home. To do so, the cof­fin must first be trans­port­ed to the vil­lage of McGur­ry, which is sev­er­al days’ sleigh ride away. A pack of hun­gry wolves fol­lows the men, approach­ing the camp­fire each night. As Hen­ry feeds the dogs, a sev­enth mouth sud­den­ly snaps shut and dis­ap­pears into the dark­ness. Only five dogs are left at the camp­site the fol­low­ing day — and the loss con­tin­ues. One by one, a female wolf lures the males into the trap of the pack lurk­ing in the dis­tance. She shows no shy­ness toward the men. She is used to being around peo­ple. A few days lat­er, Bill rush­es to the aid of his favorite dog and runs to his doom. Only Hen­ry sur­vives the per­ilous trans­port. He is res­cued just in time, as oth­er men have gone in search of the deceased mas­ter and hap­pen to be nearby.

The Rules of the Wild

The she-wolf wants to mate and pits the three males she finds most inter­est­ing against each oth­er. The win­ner, a one-eyed and expe­ri­enced wolf, becomes her mate after the pack is dis­persed. The female wolf retreats to a cave to give birth to her pups. Although the male wolf pro­vides the best pos­si­ble care for his fam­i­ly, only the strongest of the five pups sur­vive. When the father dies in a fight with a lynx and the moth­er must go in search of food, the curi­ous young wolf sets out to dis­cov­er the world out­side the cave. Ani­mals, trees and grass, rocks and rivers: Every­thing awaits explo­ration. By chance, the young wolf dis­cov­ers a ptarmi­gan’s nest and finds his first prey as chicks. But he also encoun­ters the angry moth­er. A hawk snatch­es the prey from him before he can eat it.

As the gray cub con­tin­ues its for­ay through the wilder­ness, it tum­bles down a slope and falls into a riv­er. Rapids catch the lit­tle one, who, after some ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ty, instinc­tive­ly begins to swim. Far from his cave, he is washed ashore. There, he meets a weasel, small­er than the wolf but expe­ri­enced and aggres­sive. It bites the wolf’s neck. At the last moment, the wolf appears. She kills the weasel and eats it with her son before they both return to the shel­ter. In a very short time, the young wolf has learned the rules of the wilder­ness. What was once a game is now dead­ly seri­ous: eat or be eaten.

With the Indians

One day, the wolf and her cub meet a group of Indi­ans. The peo­ple rec­og­nize the moth­er ani­mal that once belonged to their tribe: it was born from the union of a wolf and a bitch. Dur­ing a famine, the half-wolf fled into the wilder­ness and joined a pack of wolves. After sev­er­al years, she returns to the Indi­ans, her pup in her wake. Because of his strik­ing teeth, the young wolf is named White Tooth by his new mas­ter, the Indi­an Gray Beaver. Lit­tle by lit­tle, White Fang becomes more famil­iar with his new sur­round­ings and the rules of the humans, who seem like all-pow­er­ful gods. From the begin­ning, his only ene­mies are the com­mon dogs. One dog in par­tic­u­lar, the undis­put­ed leader of the dogs in the Indi­an camp, makes life dif­fi­cult for White-tooth.

When White Fang and his moth­er are sep­a­rat­ed, the young wolf, who is only a quar­ter dog, has to learn the hard way how to defend him­self against the dogs. This makes him unpop­u­lar with many of the Indi­ans. Most of them insult the wolf­dog and chase him away when he comes near them. The only excep­tion is Gray Beaver, who treats White Fang a lit­tle more fair­ly but still leads him with a firm hand. Hat­ed by humans and ani­mals alike, White Fang’s gen­tle side is with­er­ing. He espe­cial­ly hates being laughed at when he burns his nose on his first encounter with fire.


White-tooth’s desire for free­dom is so strong that he flees into the near­by woods one day. But the Wolfhound has become too accus­tomed to being around humans, despite all the evil, and vol­un­tar­i­ly returns to the Indi­ans. The wel­come is not warm, but the return is reward­ed with extra food. White Fang is now also used as a sled dog, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing his rela­tion­ship with the oth­er draught ani­mals. On the oth­er hand, he feels a par­tic­u­lar bond and loy­al­ty to Grey Beaver and his fam­i­ly. White Fang runs with the sled team of Mit­sah, Grey Beaver’s son. When oth­er chil­dren attack Mit­sah, the Wolfhound stands by him and defends him. In return, he receives praise and extra food. Slow­ly but sure­ly, White Fang finds his place in the community.

When he was three, the Indi­ans were hit by a great famine. Some dogs are slaugh­tered. The more intel­li­gent ani­mals, includ­ing White Fang, flee into the woods. There, he preys on the weak­er mem­bers of his species to sur­vive. He also unex­pect­ed­ly encoun­ters his neme­sis, the male from the Indi­an camp, who has also fled into the for­est. White-tooth — now a more than equal oppo­nent — kills him. When the food short­age ends, the Wolfhound vol­un­tar­i­ly returns to the Indi­ans. He is now stronger than most dogs and reg­u­lar­ly proves it to them. He regains the respect he lost as a sub­or­di­nate sled dog in the wild night fights. Unlike the dogs, White Fang does not warn his numer­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or oppo­nents but attacks them direct­ly and makes short work of them. Because of the many dogs that fall vic­tim to him, he soon gains a leg­endary rep­u­ta­tion among the Indi­ans, but this does not make him any more popular.

A New Master

White Tooth accom­pa­nies his mas­ter, Gray Beaver, on a long jour­ney to Fort Yukon. The place is over­crowd­ed with gold seek­ers, who leave from here for Daw­son and the Klondike. The Indi­an makes a roar­ing trade in skins and furs, while White Fang hunts the new­com­ers’ dogs for fun. The Wolfhound is cun­ning enough only to hunt and catch the new dogs, leav­ing their killing to the dogs of Fort Yukon, who want to defend their ter­ri­to­ry. How­ev­er, they also suf­fer the pun­ish­ment of the dog own­ers. In this way, White Fang can harm all the hat­ed dogs. His clever actions are noticed and attract the inter­est of the shady cook and assis­tant, Beau­ty Smith. He wants White Fang because he takes sadis­tic plea­sure in his bloody feuds. At first, Gray Beaver refus­es to sell his unique Wolfhound, but then Smith intro­duces the Indi­an to alco­hol. All the mon­ey is spent in no time, and Gray Beaver trades White Fang for a few bot­tles of fire­wa­ter. The ani­mal takes sev­er­al blows from both sides before accept­ing his fate.

In the Arena

White Fang is now trained and made aggres­sive with clubs, taunts, and insults to com­pete in dog fights orga­nized by Beau­ty Smith. White Fang enjoys the fights because he can let off steam and always comes out on top. He main­tains the upper hand even in fights with sev­er­al oppo­nents at once or with wolves and lynx­es. The win­ning streak con­tin­ues, and soon there seems to be no suit­able oppo­nent for White Fang, known as the “Fight­ing Wolf”. The tables turn when White Fang is pit­ted against a pit bull. At the end of a bru­tal fight, the pit bull bites the wolf­dog’s neck, leav­ing him in a life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion. A man by the name of Wee­don Scott hap­pens to be pass­ing by the are­na. Dis­gust­ed by what is hap­pen­ing, he insults the spec­ta­tors and vio­lent­ly ends the show: after knock­ing down Beau­ty Smith, he buys White Fang from the ani­mal abuser under threat of fur­ther violence.

The Beloved Master

Wee­don Scot­t’s first attempts to get close to the wolf­dog end with bloody hands and legs, but Scott and his sled dog dri­ver, Matt, aren’t about to give up. The most crit­i­cal steps to suc­cess are free­ing White Fang from the chain, no more beat­ings, and reg­u­lar feed­ing. With great sen­si­tiv­i­ty and patience, Scott gains White Fang’s trust and begins to enjoy being touched and pet­ted. In return, he proves to be a reli­able watch­dog and sled leader. How­ev­er, the Wolfhound finds it dif­fi­cult to express his new feel­ings. He does not bark, wag his tail, or play. He has nev­er learned any of that. He responds more sub­tly with depend­abil­i­ty, growls, and sheer pres­ence. White-tooth has trou­ble tol­er­at­ing when his new mas­ter is away on busi­ness. Dur­ing that time, the Wolfhound refus­es to eat and becomes ill. When his mas­ter returns, his con­di­tion con­stant­ly improves quickly.

When Wee­don Scott decides to return to his home in Cal­i­for­nia, he first wants to leave White Fang in the care of his friend Matt. But the Wolfhound jumps through a closed win­dow and arrives on the Yukon steam­er short­ly after his mas­ter. Scott can’t bring him­self to leave White Fang behind and takes him with him. When they come to San Fran­cis­co, White Fang is deeply fright­ened by the big city’s hus­tle and bus­tle and noise. He feels more depen­dent on his mas­ter than ever and, at first, growls at any­one approach­ing him.

The New Home

White Fang’s new home in sun­ny Cal­i­for­nia is not a city but the Scott fam­i­ly’s large estate. White Fang meets Wee­don Scot­t’s par­ents, chil­dren, sib­lings, and ser­vants there. Over time, he makes friends with his new sur­round­ings, over­comes some shy­ness, and learns many new rules. He devel­ops affec­tion for most fam­i­ly mem­bers and real­izes he must leave oth­er pets alone. By this time, how­ev­er, many chick­ens have died in the Wolfhound’s jaws. One of White Fang’s most amaz­ing changes is that he plays, at least with his mas­ter, to whom he is uncon­di­tion­al­ly devot­ed. He also accom­pa­nies him on long rides into the sur­round­ing coun­try­side. When Scott falls while rid­ing and is injured, he orders White Fang to run home and get help, which he does. The ani­mal’s affec­tion only wanes once when the female sheep­dog in the house, who is ready to mate and has always been dis­mis­sive of White Fang, shows inter­est in him for the first time and invites the male to go on an out­ing with her.

A Tough Guy

As a judge, Wee­don Scot­t’s father once sen­tenced a man named Jim Hall to a lengthy prison term, and Hall swore revenge in the court­room. When Hall man­ages to escape prison, he goes to the Scott estate and breaks into the house at night. Before he can wreak hav­oc, the crim­i­nal is con­front­ed by White Tooth. Hall does not sur­vive the brief fight that ensues, but he inflicts severe injuries on the Wolfhound: gun­shot wounds, bro­ken bones, and inter­nal bleed­ing. A grate­ful Judge Scott pro­vides White Fang with the best med­ical care, and he sur­vives thanks to the excel­lent treat­ment and care he receives and his bru­tal nature. Once back on his feet, White Fang takes his first unsteady steps at his mas­ter’s side into the sta­bles, where six curi­ous pup­pies greet him. The shep­herdess had just giv­en birth to them. Sat­is­fied with him­self and the world, White-tooth lies down to doze in the warm sun while the kit­tens play­ful­ly crawl over him.

Structure and Style

Jack Lon­don choos­es a some­what unusu­al intro­duc­tion for White Fang: the first part intro­duces char­ac­ters who play no role in the rest of the sto­ry. In the fol­low­ing part, Lon­don does not take the per­spec­tive of humans but of ani­mals. The open­ing episode reads like an intro­duc­to­ry short sto­ry, pri­mar­i­ly set­ting the action’s time and place and estab­lish­ing the nov­el­’s atmos­phere: In the harsh wilder­ness of the Amer­i­can North, the law is to eat or be eat­en. As the sto­ry pro­gress­es, the action moves fur­ther away from this bar­ren region, end­ing in sun­ny Cal­i­for­nia. The exter­nal action is fol­lowed by the devel­op­ment of White Tooth’s per­son­al­i­ty, from whose per­spec­tive Lon­don writes. The strug­gle against his wolfish sav­agery is, metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, the con­flict between nature and civ­i­liza­tion. Lon­don gets to the point quick­ly: his sen­tences are short, and he uses active verbs and brief descrip­tions of nature and mood. Above all, he wants to enter­tain, describes more than he explains, and large­ly avoids moral digres­sions. When Lon­don adopts the wolf’s point of view, he always describes the events in a nat­u­ral­is­tic, calm and objec­tive way, with­out sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty and with­out try­ing to human­ize the ani­mal too much.

Historical Background

The Klondike Gold Rush

White Fang is set against the back­drop of his­to­ry’s most incred­i­ble gold rush. The area around the Yukon and its trib­u­tary, the Klondike, was explored by Robert Camp­bell, a fur trad­er for the Hud­son Bay Com­pa­ny, in the 1940s. The area became part of the Cana­di­an North­west Ter­ri­to­ries in 1870. At that time, the area was a des­o­late wilder­ness. This changed abrupt­ly with the dis­cov­ery of gold. On August 16, 1896, Amer­i­can George Car­ma­ck and his Indi­an rel­a­tives struck gold at Rab­bit Creek. The news imme­di­ate­ly attract­ed sev­er­al men to prospect around the small town of Forty Mile.

For almost a year, the ini­ti­ates could col­lect gold in peace with­out being dis­turbed by the out­side world. How­ev­er, when some of the new­ly mint­ed gold mil­lion­aires trav­elled up the west coast of the U.S. by steamship, the news of the gold dis­cov­er­ies caused a ver­i­ta­ble earth­quake. More than 100,000 Amer­i­cans jour­neyed to the Yukon, and adven­tur­ers came from as far away as Aus­tralia, Europe, and Asia. At first, the gold was panned by hand; lat­er, mines were built. Not all new­com­ers sought gold; many want­ed to make mon­ey in the bur­geon­ing gold-min­ing towns with their crafts and trades. Out­fit­ters, pro­vi­sion­ers, laun­dries, hotels, saloons, and broth­els flour­ished. Prospect­ing con­tin­ues in the Klondike today, albeit with exca­va­tors, bull­doz­ers, and pans.


Charles Dar­win was a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on Jack Lon­don. His the­o­ries were well-known by 1900 and shaped many peo­ple’s views of nature and life. Jack Lon­don used Dar­win’s pop­u­lar­i­ty as ear­ly as 1903 in his nov­el Call of the Wild, which describes the fer­al­iza­tion of a dog that sur­vives in the harsh nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment thanks to its out­stand­ing adapt­abil­i­ty. The book’s suc­cess quick­ly aroused the desire in Lon­don to write anoth­er nov­el with a sim­i­lar theme, not a sequel, but set in the con­text of the first. In Feb­ru­ary 1906, he told his pub­lish­er that he intend­ed White Fang to be the coun­ter­part to Call of the Wild: “I shall reverse the process. Instead of show­ing how a domes­ti­cat­ed dog reverts to a wild ani­mal, I shall show the path of evo­lu­tion, the civ­i­liza­tion of a dog. Nat­u­ral­ly, Lon­don hoped White Fang would be a hit, build­ing on the suc­cess of the ear­li­er book.

He began writ­ing the nov­el in the sum­mer of 1906. Once again, he used the harsh life in the icy north of the Unit­ed States and the gold rush in the Klondike as the back­drop for his plot: he had prospect­ed for gold in the Klondike in 1897. Lon­don want­ed to describe the devel­op­ment of his ani­mal pro­tag­o­nist metic­u­lous­ly and sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly. Using an ency­clo­pe­dia, he sketched: “White-tooth is con­ceived in Feb­ru­ary, born on April 3, opens its eyes for the first time after 21 days, is suck­led until June 5, eats meat from May 3, leaves its moth­er in Decem­ber, is ful­ly grown in three years, and lives 15 years.” Lon­don made rapid progress on the nov­el. It was fin­ished in ear­ly Octo­ber 1906, and the book was on the mar­ket a month later.

History of Impact

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, Call of the Wild, White Fang was and remains one of Jack Lon­don’s most famous nov­els. Lon­don was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly suc­cess­ful as an author who delib­er­ate­ly chose the gen­er­al pub­lic as his audi­ence and who want­ed to make a liv­ing from his books. Trans­la­tions into some 30 lan­guages and mil­lions of copies in print speak for them­selves. Lon­don was one of the first to address the influ­ence of the envi­ron­ment on the indi­vid­ual and Dar­win­ism and to cre­ate an atmos­pher­ic setting.

Like any good adven­ture nov­el, White Fang has been made into a movie sev­er­al times. How­ev­er, not all adap­ta­tions stuck to the orig­i­nal plot. For exam­ple, the 1991 film with Ethan Hawke and Klaus Maria Bran­dauer took a very lib­er­al approach to the sto­ry but was so suc­cess­ful that a sequel even fol­lowed it.



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