A comparison of the ways by which both novels represent the relationships formed between humankind and canis lupus/canis familiaris.It is often said that a dog is man’s best friend. ‘White Fang’ and ‘Red Dog’ both explore this concept in different ways; London’s ‘White Fang’ agrees with the notion by using a half-dog, half-wolf as the main character.
White Fang is not easily tamed but eventually, after much cajoling and human influence, he is persuaded to become ‘man’s best friend’. Red Dog, however, is much his own character and enjoys both the solitary travelling life and the companionship of humans. An interesting cultural point is that ‘canis lupus’ is often feared and has been wiped out in many countries, whereas ‘canis familiaris’ are often preferential as pets than many other animals and generally generate a lot of affection from the surrounding humans. This could affect the differences between how the relationships are portrayed in White Fang and Red Dog.In De Berniï¿½res’ novel, a significant episode occurs when Red Dog meets John, ‘the only person to whom he ever belonged’. All John does is shake Red Dog’s paw and they are both smitten. This is a realistic account of how animals seem to ‘choose’ their owner, rather than be chosen, rather like humans select their friends. It is almost like them choosing a pack-leader in the wild.
The relationship that Red Dog has made when he meets John is one for life, and he really is John’s best friend. We can also see this in ‘White Fang’ when White Fang’s life is saved by Weedon Scott. By saving White Fang from the most hated human being that ever appeared in his life, it inspires devotion from the wolf-dog and a tendency to howl when Weedon is away on business.
Even though Matt, Weedon’s assistant, is the one that spends most time with, and feeds, White Fang, it is still evident to the wolf who is boss. And, moreover, it is evident to the audience, in both these novels, who the ‘best friend’ has chosen.Another similarity between the relationships between humankind and the canis family that occurs in both books is that White Fang and Red Dog form significant relationships with more than just their favourite characters. Red Dog, for example, meets Nancy, who ‘sat next to him whenever she liked.’ ‘There were not many others who dared to try it,’ which still shows the audience that Red Dog is a ‘picky’ character, but Nancy is a different relationship. However, it is revealed in the following chapter, ‘Nancy, Red Dog and John’, that John and Nancy bond over Red Dog, and briefly start seeing each other. This could be evidence of Red Dog’s strong bond with John, in that we can see Red Dog almost forcing friendships which he approves of.However, although Red Dog is a bonding point between Nancy and John, he is also the end of their relationship (because he interrupts their first kiss, and Nancy ‘never did get that kiss’) and John becomes aware that ‘as long as Red Dog was his companion, he probably wouldn’t be allowed to have a girlfriend’.
From this, dogs seem to have a jealous streak, which could be a bit too anthropomorphic for a ‘true story’. White Fang becomes a ‘snarling, raging demon’ when Wheedon’s mother hugs him, which could be seen as ‘jealousy’ also. However, London chooses to portray this as protection (through describing the hug as a ‘hostile act’ rather than something White Fang is jealous of) which seems like more of an animalistic reaction human affection, in that it is difficult to see that a dog would understand the sentiment behind hugs and kisses. The use of ‘snarling’ is almost onomatopoeic in sound, and this quality often lends a stronger, more potent feeling to the words, which in a way represents both White Fang and the relationship he has with his master, his God.White Fang also has more than one significant relationship. The first human that he ‘belongs to’ is Grey Beaver. Grey Beaver was the one who ‘saved’ White Fang from the wild and first civilised him, which demanded a certain loyalty from White Fang, but never devotion – this is a forced relationship, because Kiche (White Fang’s mother) was his brother’s dog. Weedon Scott was the only person who was able to make White Fang ‘croon’, but Grey Beaver still had authority in White Fang’s eyes.
This is again evidence that, although dogs can be trained to obey anyone, they still prefer to choose their owners.White Fang also provides us with an example of a purely negative relationship that wolves can form. This comes in the shape of Beauty Smith, a cruel master whose only use for White Fang is for money making. What’s more, he tricks Grey Beaver into giving him White Fang.
White Fang hates Smith, and so we can again provide evidence that the love of a wolf cannot be won by simply ‘owning’ the wolf – Beauty Smith’s cruelty is much more of a deciding factor for White Fang than Beauty Smith being the hand that feeds him.The feeding plays a significant part in the relationship between the dog and the human. It is a prominent point that Red Dog will ‘forgive anyone who was generous with food’, and goes to the houses that will provide him with sustenance. Although the above points have illustrated that a dog will choose its ‘favourite’ owner, it is possible to gain certain reliability from providing food. This is contradicted in White Fang, in that Matt (Weedon’s assistant) provides the food, but Weedon is still preferred by White Fang, and when left alone with Matt, he tries to find Weedon, as if Matt isn’t capable of caring for him.Another aspect of the relationship between White Fang and Beauty Smith is to examine the almost sadistic way that Smith enjoys his punishment of White Fang, and provides the swing of the ‘whip or club’ whenever he feels necessary.
Jack London notes that “Beauty Smith enjoyed the task. He delighted in it. He gloated over his victim, and his eyes flamed dully, as he swung the whip or club and listened to White Fang’s cries of pain and to his helpless bellows and snarls.” The building onto the word ‘enjoyed’ with the more powerful ‘delighted in’ moves the reader on from a simple hobby to some fascination, for Smith, with the power that he can exert over another living being. The first sentence being so short, and then being followed by another simple sentence of similar meaning makes the reader feel that Jack London has written a line, and then decided that the word ‘enjoyed’ isn’t strong enough and had to lend more emphasis to the sheer joy that Smith gets from White Fang, even though it’s not exactly a positive thing, nor is it what a modern reader would expect as an average way of getting ‘delight’ from your dog. It is also notable that Beauty’s eyes ‘flamed dully’.
Rather than use the word glistened, or simply just used ‘flamed’, London has used this oxymoron to express the rather strange relationship that White Fang and Smith have; Smith loves to be in possession of White Fang, his passions ‘flame’ when he thinks of the money he receives from owning him, but ‘dully’ because he doesn’t really care about the wolf itself, and doesn’t really seem to have any interest in anything but pain and suffering, rather religiously. This links back to the ‘humans as God’ theme, in that Beauty Smith can be the God of the Old Testament, in that he’s more punishment based, and Wheedon Scott is the God of the New Testament, in that he is more redemption and kindness based. This illustrates another aspect of the dog and human relationship.A parallel can be found with the writings of Nietzsche, who was writing at the same time as London, on this point, by focussing on Nietzsche’s opinions why saints are ‘revered’ and respected.
Nietzsche felt that by admiring the saints, we are often admiring aspects of ourselves, or wishing that we had their virtues and power. Seen in this light, Beauty Smith is coveting White Fang because he desires his strength and ferocity, and punishing him because he sees something negative in the wolf’s fierceness that is much like his own, and is making White Fang suffer for what he highlights about Smith’s very own nature. Here, White Fang plays saint to Smith’s ordinary person, which is similar to how domestic dogs are put on a pedestal in the 21st century.London’s constant repetition of the name ‘love-master’ from the perspective of White Fang is also significant in this analysis, and is significant in its use for Wheedon Scott. The word ‘love-master’ isn’t used in common English, and appears to be a word of London’s creation. The use of this compound noun emphasises White Fang’s love for his master, by producing a new word to illustrate how serious White Fang’s admiration really is. London always precedes ‘love-master’ with the word ‘the’, which highlights the singularity of the wolf’s love.
London even uses ‘The Love-master’ as a chapter title, which lends even more importance to Weedon Scott.De Berniï¿½res employs a different method in separating the master from the crowd of acquaintances. Although separating such a short piece of work into sections seems strange, the main purpose of the separation is to provide a clear definition between ‘having John’ and ‘after John’.
This allows for us to see how important John was to Red Dog, who dedicates the second half of his story to searching for his missing master, who he doesn’t understand the loss of. It also highlights the theory that ‘Red Dog’ could be a children’s story; it can be used to illustrate how much loss affects everyone, even a dog. It’s a ‘nice’ let-down, and an easy way to explain death. Of course, the prominent point is to illustrate the potential depth of the relationship between man and dog.Of course, all the above points illustrate how the dog becomes attached to the human.
However, White Fang is told by an omniscient narrator who doesn’t really talk about the internal dialogue of the characters. There is only one section, in the final chapter, that really illustrates the effect that White Fang has had on ‘his’ people; he earns the name ‘Blessed Wolf’, and London uses a lot of religious semantics to show how people really feel about him. For example, the women ‘chorus’ when he is re-learning to walk and there is a ‘procession’ outside made by ‘The Blessed Wolf’ himself. Even the name that Judge Scott promises to use ‘hence-forth’ is religious. This shows that the wolf is worshipped much like a god, which is contrary to the rest of the book which portrays the human species as god. We can see that the relationship between canis lupus and humankind is two-sided.This is far more strongly illustrated in Red Dog.
Red Dog is constantly surrounded by, cared and paid for, and fed by the humans that hold him in the utmost respect and have a lot of love for the dog. On his death bed, ‘Patsy, Ellen, Nancy, Bill, the ranger and some of the boys from Dampier Salt and Hamersley Iron all called in to say goodbye to Red Dog’, which just shows how many people’s lives that Red Dog influenced. When the owner of the caravan park tries to evict Red Dog, his car is ‘boxed in’, and he eventually has to leave. Again, this shows how much people care for Red Dog; and they admire his freedom. They are fighting for his freedom to explore, and this appears to show that people admire him as well as love him, in that they would love to be able to travel constantly like he does, and are struggling for him to be able to have the life that they want so much for themselves.
An element that Red Dog has that White Fang arguably doesn’t is to show that dogs have a capacity to forgive. When Ellen Richards burns his nipples because she thinks that they are ticks, we learn that Red Dog ‘could forgive anyone who was generous with food, [after she had] given up all that painful business with hot needles and methylated spirits’. This adds a layer of complexity into the relationship between human kind and the canis familiaris, although explained with De Berniï¿½res’ trademark simplicity. White Fang never learns to forgive Beauty Smith, although, like Ellen, he also caused pain.In ‘White Fang’, another point of emphasis on the ‘love-master’ and how attached White Fang becomes to him is shown by how well he ‘cures’ the wolf’s hatred of laughter. He ‘did not have it in him to be angry with the love-master, and when that god elected to laugh at him in a good-natured, bantering way, he was non-plussed’. This shows that, through the love for his master (another example of how well Jack London uses the compound noun) his shame and hatred of laughter have been ‘cured’. This portrays humans as healers, which adds another layer to the human-dog relationship in that it shows that dogs (even White Fang, who is mostly wolf) need humans sometimes, and that they are a very revered and valued part of a dog’s life.
Both White Fang and Red Dog refer (White Fang continuously, Red Dog sporadically) to human beings as gods. Again, this shows how much that dogs value humans, and the novels give them the ability to recognise them as the ‘superior race’. Although this can be construed as somewhat egotistic on the author’s, especially London, part, as humans technically do not or cannot lord over or be a ‘god’ in the typical sense of the word, it is an interesting in its use as a synonym, because the audience (who may not know the personality of dogs) can see an interpretation of why dogs obey us as humans – we are pack leaders, almost. It also demonstrates the relentlessness of the famous dog trait of loyalty.Another point to note on human beings as gods is that both of the dog characters in this book share a similarity in name.
Both White Fang and Red Dog don’t have ‘human names’, (although White Fang arguably has a Native American human name), but instead a very animalistic, simple name based on the dominant colour associated with both them and their environment. This again leads to the appearance of the human race seeming superior, because they aren’t given ‘real’ names but these instead. The simple masculine words that comprise the names seem to illustrate the thought that the animals are simple, masculine creatures that aren’t worth real names. They seem to denote a separate species (which of course, they are), but one that requires names like those from a typical children’s book – simple, like them.Loyalty seems to be a recurring theme in the subject of relationships between dogs and humans. For example, although Red Dog used to visit many people when he wanted a change of scenery, he stayed for as long as they needed. For example, when a child was ill, he would stay by their bedside until they had recovered.
White Fang doesn’t show the same loyalty to those who weren’t his ‘love-master’, and this is the main difference between the two portrayals of dogs. White Fang seems to be forced into obeying those who ‘own’ him, which is ironic in that he is much more dominated than Red Dog. Red Dog, however, only ‘belongs’ to John, but although he has his freedom, he chooses to help those who need his comforting figure.In reviews of Red Dog it is easy to find how the relationships in the book affect relationships between the reader and their pet. Kathryn Flett says that it will ‘make you highly indulgent towards the one you love’.
This is not only an example of how the storyline has affected the audience, but also a case in point of how realistic Red Dog is when taking advantage of anyone ‘generous with food’. Humans tend to be highly indulgent towards anything under their care, and pets are an obvious example of when this happens.To summarise the relationship between canis familiaris and canis lupus and the human race, as portrayed in these two books, it is obvious that they both have very realistic elements in that they both show a lot of the same characteristics in describing the relationships. This means that the dogs (and domesticated wolves), that the authors based their ‘idea’ of the main character upon must have similar characteristics, and similar ways of reacting to humankind. Although there are some differences, I think, overall, in exploring the topic (using two books), it has helped to show just how complex the relationship is, with dogs showing protective instincts, loyalty and the ability to choose a favourite.
We can also see that, through the similarities between White Fang and Red Dog (of which there are many) that the canis family is similar, no matter if it is the domestic dog, or the domesticated wolf.