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White Fang: Novel Summary: II.2 The Lair

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Summary
The she-wolf eventually shakes the lure of the Indian camp and moves on with One Eye. She is very close to giving birth to her litter when the pair finds a suitable cave. The she-wolf settles into the lair while One Eye instinctively goes in search of food for the soon-to-arrive pups. After his first foray, he returns with no food, but does find that the she-wolf has given birth. She is at first very protective of the pups, exercising her motherly, instinctual knowledge that the father could be a danger to the newborns. As time passes, however-and, importantly, once One Eye returns with food-she relaxes her guard.
Analysis
London continues to develop the theme of life's fragility, and yet at the same time its persistence, in this chapter. Note, for example, his careful attention to the chronological setting: "Life was stirring. The feel of spring was in the air, the feel of growing life under the snow, of sap ascending in the trees, of buds bursting the shackles of the frost." The important role that instinct plays in this chapter also contributes to this theme's development. The text implicitly states that life persists despites its vulnerability through the mechanism of instinct. Instinct bridges that tension. For instance: "Old One Eye was feeling the urge of an impulse, that was, in turn, an instinct that had come down to him from all the fathers of wolves. He did not question it, nor puzzle over it. It was there, in the fiber of his being; and it was the most natural thing in the world that he should obey it by turning his back on his newborn family and by trotting out and away on the meat trail whereby he lived." Clearly, instinct allows survival in the Wild. As readers will see later in White Fang's own experience, however, an opposite principle holds true for "civilization," in which instincts must often be checked.
This chapter also gives readers a glimpse of the wolves' place within the larger scheme of living things. Note that One Eye is able to kill the ptarmigan easily but is unable to kill the porcupine until after it has been wounded in its fight with the lynx.

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Here we see that "survival of the fittest" is not always the operative principle in surviving the Wild-or, perhaps, that "the fittest" can be defined in more than one way, for One Eye has the cunning and resourcefulness to take advantage of the lynx and porcupine's fight to his own benefit, and that of his family. The episode is an absorbing look at the hierarchy of living creatures, very different, and yet united by the common bond of life itself; as the text states when One Eye, the porcupine, and the lynx eye each other, "[A]ll three animals were keyed to a tenseness of living that was almost painful."




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