Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Classics Review: White Fang

My overall takeaway from White Fang is, "Wow! That book is violent!" Since the first 30% or so takes place in "the Wild," I didn't mind all the throat ripping - this was animals hunting for food, after all. This opening third of the book brought to mind National Geographic documentaries ~ Cue voiceover: "The wolf waits silently, hidden by the snow, for the unsuspecting squirrel to emerge from its tree."

Then, suddenly, the entire tone of the book changed. When White Fang begins to live with humans he is beaten by stones, sticks, and clubs. Rather than cast these 100+ pages of beatings as cruelty toward animals, Jack London explains that this treatment is laudable in White Fang's eyes. It's the only way he knows to obey a human.

Some might argue that White Fang ultimately learns that life is better with kind humans, but still... 100 pages of unquestioned brutality from humans was over the top for me.

The worst scenes for me were when White Fang began to kill for fun.

He slaughtered innocent, weaker dogs simply because it was his nature (according to Jack London). Once again, this period of his life was treated as commonplace. REALLY?

And what's the deal with describing white people as "superior" to Native Americans? Is this just an indication of the time in which the book was written?

Don't get me wrong, Jack London's writing is great. It's just that the content is so questionable.

My 5th graders love White Fang, but they read the abridged version (like the one on the right). They make a lot of changes in the White Fang abridged versions to make the story more palatable for young children. It seems like they want itto be a fun-loving dog story.

I would rather my students hold out for the real deal. Because this is so violent, and the vocabulary is incredibly dense, I recommend this book (in its unabridged form) to the 13+ crowd.

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