White Fang: Novel Summary: IV.4 The Clinging Death

White Fang is pitted against Cherokee the bulldog, with surprising results. Having never faced a bulldog before, White Fang is unsure how to defeat him; and, very quickly, the fight degenerates, to White Fangs harm. Cherokee eventually takes White Fang by the neck and slowly begins choking the life out of him. White Fang is in mortal danger until the fight is interrupted by Weedon Scott, a mining expert who arrives in camp with his companion Matt. Scott buys White Fang from Beauty Smith, despite Smiths protests that the dog is not for sale.
The dog fight described in this chapter led President Theodore Roosevelt to accuse London of being a “nature faker,” declaring, “I cant believe that Mr. London knows much about the wolves, and I am certain he knows nothing about their fighting, or as a realist he would not tell this tale.” London replied: “President Roosevelt does not think a bull-dog can lick a wolf-dog. I think a bull-dog can lick a wolf-dog. And there we are. Difference of opinion may make, and does make, horse-racing. I can understand that difference of opinion can make dog-fighting. But what gets me is how difference of opinion regarding the relative merits of a bull-dog and a wolf-dog makes me a nature-faker and President Roosevelt a vindicated and triumphant scientist.”
This controversy aside, the fight serves to demonstrate, once more, the power of life, its will to survive; White Fang lives because Weedon Scott intervenes, but he would not have survived to that point had not his nature rebelled ferociously against death: “The basic life that was in him took charge of him.” Note that London continues the portrayal, begun in IV.3, of White Fang as an irrational creature: “All intelligence was gone. It was as though he had no brain.” The description points out how far White Fang has fallen from the status of an animal who once possessed “cunning” (see, e.g., IV.1). This emphasis on White Fangs irrationality also contrasts with Scotts “sane rage” when he breaks up the dog fight. London appears to be suggesting that the “mere flesh-love of life,” while powerful, does not in and ofadvertisementitself constitute living. As Weedon Scott will demonstrate, to really live means to think and to love. Since Beauty Smith and his fellow gamblers possesses neither of these qualities, therefore, it is quite appropriate, and more than just an accident of language, for Scott to call them, repeatedly, “beasts.” They have demonstrated that they are no better than the dogs they pit against each other-and perhaps quite a bit worse. Here again, London sounds his theme of the “bestial” nature, or at least bestial potential, within supposedly “civilized” man. (Compare with Londons description of Smiths “bestial” face in IV.6.)