A dead man's two colleagues trek towards the man's waiting grave in civilization with their pack of 6 sled dogs. A female wolf first slips in to steal some fish, and then draws off the dogs one by one for her pack to kill and eat. It is the middle of winter and they are hungry. As the pack disappears after drawing off the fourth dog, one of the men takes his three last shots to try to protect it. Both the dog and the man are eaten. The remaining human is driven to the edge of exhaustion, loses his last two dogs, and is nearly eaten himself before fate brings several passing humans to save him and his cargo.
Click here to see the rest of this review
The pack moves on, held together by hunger until they reach lands with more plentiful game. As food becomes less scarce, the wolves pair off to mate. Three wolves compete for the lead female, but only the most experienced one survives to claim the prize. The two travel and hunt together until the female finds a cave to her satisfaction and gives birth to five pups – 4 brown, and one gray. The father hunts for food while the mother takes care of the cubs.
When famine comes, the pups weaken. The gray one, the strongest and most curious, is the only one to survive. Then the father, too, is killed by his would-be prey, and his mother must take over the hunt. The cub grows large enough to come explore the world outside the cave with her. It is large and confusing at first, and the pup does not think about things in the reasoned, mature way an adult human would, but fortune, instinct, and his mother's watchful eye keep him alive and help him learn quickly about the dangers and opportunities of the Alaskan north.
One day, the cub comes across a human camp. He is curious about the fire and about these strange beings (humans) around the fire, but also nervous. When his mother comes and submits when they call her by her name – Kiche – he does the same. She is in fact half-dog and half-wolf and had run away from this very Indian tribe one year before. They tie her up to prevent her from running away again, and White Fang, as he is named, is bound by his dependence on her.
As they travel with the Indians along the river, White Fang learns about camp life. Another young pup, Lip-lip, is a bully when he can get away with it. The humans provide food, and White Fang is also amazed by their technological abilities to make fire, and to create items such as canoes and tepees out of otherwise inanimate materials. He learns to obey humans, whom he regards as gods.
After being separated from his mother, Lip-lip leads the other pups to make life miserable for White Fang. White Fang learns to defend himself, but also becomes vicious and solitary. He one day decides to run away, but has been among man so long that he is lonely and has become too dependent on man, so he returns. His master, Gray Beaver, subsequently teaches him to be a sled dog. During this time, Lip-lip becomes lead dog, which in this situation is a hated position that ebbs away at his power among other dogs. White Fang thus finds retribution for Lip-lip's bullying. When famine strikes, however, they and some other dogs from camp, such as Kiche, strike out on their own to find food in the wild. White Fang is quite successful, and one day upon encountering Lip-lip, also successfully and fatally challenges Lip-lip. White Fang becomes lead dog upon returning to camp.
One one trip up the river, Gray Beaver begins selling furs to incoming miners, who buy them at quite inflated prices. Gray Beaver's visit is prolonged, and White Fang has nothing to do but get himself into trouble, which he does quite successfully, provoking other Alaskan dogs into helping him bully and finish off new dogs, and slipping away to avoid punishment. His behavior is observed by “Beauty” Smith, a dishwasher of small brains or bravery, poor looks, and little esteem among town men. Beauty obtains White Fang for use as a fighting dog by addicting Gray Beaver to alcohol and slowly ebbing away at Gray Beaver's amassed fortune. Only thus can he convince Gray Beaver to sell his wolf-dog.
White Fang does not like Beauty and runs away twice, but subsequently becomes a fury in the ring, winning Beauty many bets. When people stop bringing dogs to challenge, Beauty earns money by showing him as a beast for money. During this time, White Fang knows nothing but anger and hatred. Fighting dogs is illegal, however. Beauty's fortune comes to an end when an owner brings his bull-dog challenger, and the bull-dog wins through his small size (which prevents White Fang from reaching his throat) and persistence. As he is choking White Fang to death, a kind and honest man by the name of Weedon Scott comes by, breaks up the fight, and practically forces Beauty to sell him as a sled dog.
Scott's colleague Matt does not believe that White Fang can be trained or calmed, but Scott is determined to prove him wrong. Both recognize White Fang's intelligence. Little by little, Scott succeeds, and while he remains solitary and aloof from other dogs and humans, White Fang grows to love Scott. He show this by protecting Scott's property and working hard as a sled dog. Others recognize White Fang's value, also. Once, Beauty tries to steal White Fang back, but the dog's vicious attack quickly discourages him.
Scott later goes south to visit his family. White Fang loses all interest in food, work, and life in general, and sleeps and broods by the fire. His will to live returns when Scott returns. The second time Scott goes south, this time permanently, White Fang realizes beforehand and begins brooding and howling at the moon. Scott is already upset at the idea of leaving White Fang behind, but doesn't know what a wolf-dog like him would do in sunny California. In the end, Scott changes his mind.
Life in California requires some adjustment. Some rules are much more complicated for White Fang to learn, such as which animals he is allowed to catch and which are forbidden. It is also much more populous, even where he lives on a farm with Scott's family. With practice, however, and with the help of his love for Scott, White Fang learns. He gradually learns to tolerate and even like Scott's family, and he gains their trust. He remains aloof from one of the dogs, a male, but the female collie (who he will not attack because she is female) doesn't trust him and won't leave him alone. At the end of the book, the collie has recently given birth to a litter of puppies sired by White Fang while White Fang recovers from wounds inflicted when he protected Scott's family from a break-in by a vindictive prison escapee who was wrongly sentenced by Scott's father. Scott's father had no idea the escapee was innocent; in some ways, his plight shadows what White Fang's might have been had Scott not found him. White Fang himself was, after this incident, given one in ten thousand chances to recover. White Fang, however, is no ordinary dog, and recover he does.
Best part of story, including ending:
Jack London stresses the power that patience, persistence, and kindliness can have, even in what seem to be the most extreme cases. White Fang grows up to be a bit of a loner with a reputation for ferocity, but his last master is able to see and bring out the best in him.
Best scene in story:
When Lip-lip is hitched in front of the sled and the other dogs begin to chase after him, Lip-lip as a bully begins to have a taste of his own medicine as the tables turn and he loses power. White Fang has a sense of vindication, that justice has been served.
Opinion about the main character:
Like many people, White Fang is capable of both great good and great evil. As a dog, however, he does not reason this out entirely logically, and it takes the right sort of person to bring out his best qualities.