White Fang: Novel Summary: III.1 The Makers of Fire
III.1 The Makers of Fire
During a foray outside the cave, White Fang comes upon five Indians-"his first glimpse of mankind." One of the Indians laughs at the cub's white fangs, thus bestowing upon the animal a name. In terror, White Fang bites one of the men when he tries to touch him. The men only laugh. White Fang's mother rushes to her cub's defense, but is cowed when one of the men recognizes her. He calls her Kiche. Kiche once belonged to the man, but ran away a year before. White Fang watches, amazed, as his mother submits to the Indian, who is named Gray Beaver. When he rubs White Fang, White Fang does not resist; in fact, he, to his own surprise, enjoys the sensation.
Shortly, the remaining members of the Indian tribe arrive, with their dogs-another new experience for White Fang. The Indians defend Kiche and White Fang from the dogs. The tribe continues its march, taking Kiche and White Fang with them on leashes. When they finally make camp, White Fang encounters Lip-lip, a bullying puppy who comes to antagonize him often. White Fang is also hurt by the fire that he, in amazement, watches Gray Beaver kindle; its flames scorch his nose when he wanders too close. Restless and nervous, White Fang tries to adapt to the new world of men.
With this chapter, London both further develops his reflections on the nature of power and establishes the novel's controlling religious metaphor for the relationship between human beings and animals, the relationship between "gods" and mere creatures. When White Fang discovers the people, we read that "great awe descended upon him. Here was mastery and power, something far and away beyond him." German theologian Rudolf Otto would not publish Das Heilige until 1917, yet White Fang's reaction to the men evokes Otto's "idea of the holy" as the mysterium tremendum that simultaneously attracts and repels, fascinates and terrifies. (Note how White Fang "experienced two great impulsions-to yield and to fight.") The men control fire (that elemental force of light so necessary for living), wield dead things (sticks, rocks, etc.) in their service, and exercise the right to name other living things (as the Indian names White Fang)-all attributes that reinforce their godlike status in the Wild. Man is also "god" in the Wild because he makes laws and administers justice; Gray Beaver and the other men defend White Fang and Kiche from the tribe's dogs. They render protection and deliverance. White Fang will soon learn, however, that man can withhold justice and protection, as well. The "man-animals," in making camp, also demonstrate their ability "to change the very face of the world."
London rings several changes throughout White Fang on this religious metaphor. If the narrator's words can be taken as a reliable indicator of the author's intent, then London may want to suggest something about the nature of religion among humans; note, for instance, how the narrator explicitly compares the two forms of "worship": "In fashion distantly resembling the way men look upon the gods they create, so looked White Fang upon the man-animals before him." London seems to be suggesting that in this area, as well-the response to the "holy"-man and beast are not so far apart. Indeed, perhaps he views awe-filled reverence for "the unknown" as an essential ingredient in survival, albeit one that man has possibly grown able to dispense with. Readers could choose to further explore London's intriguing suggestion that religion is what evolutionary theory might term a "survival mechanism."
The chapter also further develops White Fang's characterization by showing him feeling not only physical but also emotional pain. When he is burned by the fire, he hears the men's laughter and feels ashamed. This innate sense of honor will prove to be an important constituent of White Fang's character. Indeed, to some extent, it proves responsible for his survival, and thus bears on the novel's dominant theme of how life persists and triumphs over adversity.