White Fang: Novel Summary: III.5 The Covenant

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White Fang is one of seven dogs in the sled team of Mit-sah, Gray Beaver's son. Lip-lip is another. Mit-sah makes Lip-lip the lead dog of the team. The other dogs in the team so hate Lip-lip that they strive to attack him as they run, with the result that the sled goes faster. To further increase the other dogs' animosity toward Lip-lip, Mit-sah gives him preferential treatment. When Lip-lip is overthrown, however, White Fang does not immediately become leader of the pack; he is too isolated, too hostile, for that position. Instead, he treats the other dogs as a tyrant treats his oppressed subjects-behavior he has learned from Gray Beaver's treatment of him.
In a village to which the sled travels, White Fang learns that "the unpardonable crime was to bite one of the gods" is not a law without qualifications, for he attacks a boy who threatens him with a beating when he tries to eat scraps of frozen meat that the boy has created by chopping some meat up. Gray Beaver defends White Fang, however, for the dog was only obeying "the law of forage." Later, White Fang defends Mit-sah when the village's boys gang up on him. This behavior, too, Gray Beaver defends, and even rewards White Fang that night with extra meat. Thus Gray Beaver and White Fang solidify "the ancient covenant" between human and dog.
London continues to trace the effects of White Fang's environment (or "nurture," although the humans in his life are far from nurturing) on the dog. The chapter portrays White Fang as "a monstrous tyrant" who "oppresse[s] the weak with a vengeance" in obedience to "the law" of the Wild. Were White Fang not a dog, one might say that London is depicting the character's "dehumanization." At any rate, he is firmly fixing the situation from which White Fang will be "redeemed" as the novel progresses. In fact, London expressly anticipates White Fang's future relationships with human beings by contrasting those relationships with his relationship to Gray Beaver: "Gray Beaver did not caress nor speak kind words." London develops the image of the human hand and its potential to do good or ill: "White Fang knew nothing of the heaven a man's hand might contain for him." White Fang is caught in a "bleak and materialistic" view of life; the narrative thus returns to the questions, raised in the beginning chapters, of, "What is life? Is it futile, or does it possess meaning?"
Other significant elements in this chapter include: White Fang's distinction between "his" humans and other humans-as well as the dog's insight that "a thieving god was usually a cowardly god"-that foreshadows events near the novel's conclusion; London's use of religious language (the "covenant") to continue developing his portrait of the relationship between man and


beast; and London's reference in this chapter to the "cunning" in "the recesses of the Indian mind," which could be construed as a stereotype against Native Americans but is, given the novel's concern with the relationship between beast and human, more likely a statement about the cunning of the human mind when dealing with animals. The covenant depends upon cunning-indeed, London goes to great lengths at this chapter's end to point out that it does not depend upon love: "He [i.e., White Fang] did not know what love was. He had no experience of love."

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