London’s Representative Animals

April 8, 2007 at 1:14 am 2 comments

I’m beginning to think about Jack London‘s bestiary of exemplary specimens, to be found in White Fang, and throughout London’s oeuvre.

In White Fang, Weedon Scott tells Beauty Smith, “[a] man’s got his rights. But you’re not a man. You’re a beast” (Library of America WF, 230). Men are frequently beasts in London’s work. What’s interesting is the length London goes to explain that these beast-men could have been otherwise were it not for the barbarous inequalities of feral capitalism.

Jim Hall (which sounds to me like Joe Hill, though a connection would be anachronistic), the escaped prisoner appearing toward the close of White Fang, is a “victim of the moulding he had received at the hands of society. The hands of society are harsh, and this was a striking sample of its handiwork. He was a beast–a human beast, it is true, but nevertheless so terrible a beast that he can best be characterized as carnivorous” (277). Society makes men like Jim Hall carnivorous human beasts, fighting animals.

Jim Hall’s “moulding” closely resembles White Fang’s brutal treatment at the hands of Beauty Smith: “Straight-jackets, starvation, and beatings and clubbings were the wrong treatment for Jim Hall; but it was the treatment he had received from the time he was a little pulpy boy in a San Francisco slum–soft clay in the hands of society and ready to be formed into something” (277). A “pulpy boy”? London appears to be punning on the orthographic proximity of “puppy boy.”

This “pulpy boy,” whelped by man, “growl(s) like a wild animal” and grows to become “a man and a monstrosity, as fearful a thing of fear as ever gibbered in the visions of a maddened brain” (278). In other words Jim Hall’s development is arrested at precisely the point that White Fang had attained as a result of Beauty Smith’s abuse. Had White Fang not been deprogrammed by the Love-master, Weedon Scott, White Fang and Jim Hall would be spitting images of man and beast.

Having escaped from Prison, Jim Hall is chased by “the sleuth-hounds of the law, the paid fighting animals of society, with telephone, and telegraph, and special train, [clinging] to his trail night and day” (278).

Hall is headed for Judge Scott’s house. Judge Scott wrongly convicted Hall of an unnamed crime on false evidence from the police. Hall is “railroaded” into the jail from which he escapes, himself wrongly blaming Judge Scott for being in on the fixed trial.

White Fang discovers Jim Hall in Judge Scott’s house. This last dog-fight occurs off-camera. Hall is killed, White Fang badly wounded. While White Fang is recovering he suffers from “one particular nightmare…the clanking, clanging monsters of electric cars that were to him colossal screaming lynxes” (282). This dream is emblematic of the beast/man dichotomy London vigorously deconstructs. Both man and beast are “railroaded” by feral capitalism into barbarous relations, what London names the “law of club and fang” in The Call of the Wild. In fact, “Club and fang” place in neat thematic apposition the human and canid contiguity of dominance and submission that characterize London’s vision of a monstrous modernity.

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Entry filed under: American Literary Naturalism, animals/men, books, fiction, Jack London, White Fang.

A Note on Pizer Whiteness in Melville and London

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. skunkcabbage  |  April 8, 2007 at 1:23 am

    I want to just add that in White Fang London doesn’t naturalize “club and fang.” The emphasis is on the “moulded” environmental causes that condition the growth of his murderous beasts and men.

    Reply
  • 2. skunkcabbage  |  April 8, 2007 at 1:24 am

    I refuse to see what Disney did to London’s text.

    Reply

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