White Fang: Novel Summary: II.3 The Gray Cub

The only gray cub, and the fiercest member of the she-wolfs litter, demonstrates a special awareness and aptitude for survival early on. He discovers that one wall of the cave opens to the outside world. All the cubs are drawn toward the light, but the she-wolf keeps them away from the “wall of light” first with her nose, then with her paw. “Thus [the gray cub] learned hurt.” Eventually, however, as hunger takes hold, even his attempts to gain the wall of light cease: “The cubs slept, while the life that was in them flickered and died down.” Desperate to feed their offspring, One Eye and the she-wolf spend a great deal of time outside the lair in search of food. As the famine wears on, only the gray cub survives. One Eye eventually stops returning to the lair; the she-wolf discovers One Eyes remains at the end of a certain trail, the physical evidence of a battle One Eye lost against the lynx.
Only now, after five chapters, does London introduce his readers to the novels title character, the as-yet unnamed White Fang. Alone among the litter, White Fang discovers the liminal nature-that is, the threshold or “in between” quality-of the cave entrance, that “wall of light” beyond which he will soon venture. This discovery can be taken as a symbol of White Fangs destiny to be a liminal creature himself, long on the threshold or straddling the border between the Wild and the world of men, feeling the impulses toward domesticity and wildness warring even within his own nature. Further, the “wall of light” symbolizes the striving White Fang will undergo: the constant striving to survive-“He was always striving to attain it. The life that was within him urged him continually toward the wall of light.”advertisementAlso of note in this chapter is the way in which London further highlights the bonds that are common to all life. The she-wolf understands-again, it would seem, instinctively-that the lynx who killed her mate has her own kittens for which to provide. “[T]he Wild is the Wild,” the narrator concludes as if on the she-wolfs behalf, “and motherhood is motherhood, at all times fiercely protective whether in the Wild or out of it.” London thus not only emphasizes the common elements among wild creatures but the experience of motherhood that unites those “beasts” with supposedly “civilized” humanity.