White Fang is born in the wild, in a cave, in which his mother is the center, a veritable goddess. The cave itself represents the womb, the body of which is mother earth, the maternal material out of which all life emerges, and to which all life returns, settling to sleep the mysterious and unconscious sleep in the deep tomb.
White Fang is to begin with unconscious, but a blind will, like unto a plant, ever striving upward out of the earth, for the power of the Sun. He is born blind, his eyes shut, with no sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, his eyes open, and by the light and through the eye, he gains a sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, he become conscious, more than a mere blind will, and gains, slowly and be degrees, the power to choose.
This cave is mother’s lair. It is safe, warm, kind, though with some pain. From her, he begins to learn limitation. With the sharp nudge of her nose, and with sufficient nips and bites, she begins to teach him ‘no,’ which, when internalized, becomes an essential feature of consciousness and conscious choice.
As he becomes increasingly aware, his eye takes note of another in the cave: his father. His father has special powers, for he can come and go as he pleases, and pass through the wall of light, which is the cave entrance.
Father can go into the other world, the world beyond, whereas White Fang cannot. Whereas White Fang cannot pass through the back walls of the cave, owing to some mysterious law; and whereas White Fang cannot even approach the wall of light, owing to mother’s law which forbids his even approaching the light, White Fang gets the impression that his father is above the law, a kind of supernatural being endowed with godly powers. Father has some power which White Fang lacks.
Tragically, White Fang’s father is killed, and stops returning to the cave, though White Fang neither knows or speculates on the reason why. It is just a fact that his father is absent; it is an unconscious fact, and a constituent feature of his consciousness that he lacks a father. This his journey to self discovery will be in pursuit of a lack: in this case, White Fang’s journey will be a quest for father.
As White Fang becomes more and more conscious, and grow strong, he begins to struggle with a set of opposites: his mother’s ‘no,’ and his organic and natural ‘yes.’ His mother has forbidden that he approach the wall of light, but the life stuff of which he is composed reaches for the light. Eventually, the growth imperative forces him out of the cave, in a symbolic birth. He crosses this threshold, and enters into a new and strange world.
In this new world, he learns a great deal, and begins to categorize and formulate laws by which he will be able to understand this world, and by which he will be able to effectively negotiate between his ‘no’ and his ‘yes.’ With these laws, he will master his world, learning to avoid all that would harm him, and learning to get what he wants and needs. With these laws, he will minimize all that would diminish his power, and maximize all that would augment his power; for, life is The Will to Power.
White Fang slowly begins to master his world, though he is yet profoundly dependent on his mother. His universe is still centered on the feminine. But, as the Sun is born in the east and ascends to noon, or as life is born in the spring after a long winter’s night, so White Fang will, like all life, reach toward the light. His young male mind will, Icarus-like, ascend to the Sun. Thus, as the Sun rises, the moon will wane. In this quest for Father, White Fang’s world will grow by degrees more masculine, even to the extreme, before it will find balance, atonement, and equilibrium.
As the story continues, White Fang and his mother move out of Mother Nature and the rule of natural law, and into a Patriarchally ordered village, in which Gods make and enforce their laws.
One day, White Fang happens upon men in the outer world which was once the sole domain of his now absent father. His mother rushes to the scene to protect her boy from these dangerous creatures, as she has many times before, each time demonstrating her absolute power. But this time, things are different.
White Fang’s mother is half domestic dog, and half wolf; and it just so happens that she was born among these very men. White Fang expects his mother-goddess to do as she always has, and to overwhelm these men with her power, but she does not. One of the men recognizes her, calls her by her name, Kiche, and she submits to his will. This man is Grey Beaver, a Native American, and how powerful he must be that mother would bow to him! What a god!
Grey Beaver takes possession of his old dog, Kiche, and her puppy, White Fang. At first, the little White Fang refuses to submit to this god, but for this he gets a horrible beating. Grey Beaver put the fear of god into him, and White Fang submits. Grey Beaver becomes a surrogate father for White Fang, though this is no loving father.
When White Fang was still in his mother’s cave, his father came and went as he pleased, and was somehow above the law. The world outside was an unknown world, and carried with it an anxious association of the terrible unknown, the approach of which brought with it punishment. When White Fang first sees Grey Beaver in the chapter entitled “The Makers of Fire,” London writes, that here “was the unknown, objectified at last, in concrete flesh and blood”. And when Grey Beaver picks up the puppy and gets bit, he punishes him. Thus, the the father image, which was unconsciously a defining lack in White Fang’s psychic constitutions, begins to transfer to this Father-god.
White Fang is weak and impotent before this omnipotent god. Neither his mother nor his absent father can protect him. But Grey Beaver proves himself to be a just but unloving god, for White Fang has other emasculating foes. The other dogs in the village attack him at first, and Grey Beaver protects him. Thus, Grey Beaver is an extension of White Fang’s power; more precisely, Grey Beaver is the thing which White Fang lacks. That Grey Beaver empowers and protects White Fang legitimates his rule, and mitigates his resentment for his master.
Grey Beaver represents the master who is lacking none. His superfluous power overflows, and benefits his inferior slave-dog. He feeds his dog and protects him; yet White Fang wishes to be free, independent and wild, in mother nature. As White Fang grows himself in power, he masters the other dogs by the rule he has learned from Grey Beaver, the godly legislature, namely, to obey power and to oppress weakness. Thus, White Fang is simultaneously a master and a slave: he has killed his former rival, Lip-Lip, and become the top-dog; but he dare not challenge his master.
During a famine, Grey Beaver’s village goes hungry, and White Fang takes his chance to gain freedom. He returns to nature but for a moment, but this world is wild and unruly; it is chaotic, dangerous, and carries with it the mortal threat, the nothingness, the pronounced and formless anxiety which is a lack: Death.
Fear and anxiety resemble each other in all respects, save one. Whereas fear has an object, anxiety has none. Fear is always of some particular thing, which can be controlled. Anxiety is the ever looming possibility of an absolute impossibility: death. And whereas life rejoices in the free expression of power, it revolts at every possibility of powerlessness, and the ultimate powerlessness which the nothingness of death is. Anxiety is the ever-looming presence of an absence, a lack; it is the ever looming opposite of omnipotence, which is absolute impotence.
White Fang enjoyed his god’s unloving rule exactly insofar as this god empowered him and made him by the enforcement of his law potent. But when the superfluidity of his master’s power dried up in the famine, he choose to follow his inward call to independence and went into the forest. But this lawless region is without master, and White Fang was not willing to take the absolute chance which mastering the wild would be. So he chose to flee from his freedom. Paradoxically, he chose to return to his master, and chose his slavery, owing to the anxiety of death. The absolute lack loomed large in the forest, and so he pronounced the no his mother taught him, and returned into bondage.
Later, when Grey Beaver decides to go to the village of the white gods, London introduces us to another character, who represents the resentment of slavery. This man is sarcastically named “Beauty Smith”; for, he is ugly, small, weak, impotent, emasculated among men, and pregnant with evil. This man lacks, is castrated, and sees in White Fang, who is potent and a master of the other dogs, that thing which he lacks: potency.
At first, Grey Beaver refuses to sell his dog, for he has no need to sell the dog, and he likes having the dog. But Beauty Smith is cunning in backwater ways, and brings Grey Beaver whiskey, and makes him dependent and a slave of it. As Grey Beaver’s thirst grows, he loses control, and eventually sells the dog in order to get more whiskey.
When Beauty Smith takes charge of White Fang, he does so with a club, which is a clear phallic symbol. Since Beauty Smith lacks the physical power to master this thing he wants, he takes up the club, the shadow of which is a lack. In Beauty Smith’s case, this lack is his psychological castration. He enjoys possessing this weapon, which extends his power, and he enjoys sadistically beating White Fang, for it makes this impotent man feel omnipotent and god-like. But what’s more, White Fang himself, as a potent master and killer of other dogs, represents the phallus which Beauty Smith lacks. That is, in possessing White Fang, Beauty Smith possesses a potent phallus; ergo, White Fang becomes Beauty’s phallus.
White Fang does not consent to this god, and resents his power terribly. He is not a just god, like Grey beaver. White Fang resents having a lesser and emasculated master, for this master does not empower him, but rather possesses him as a phallus. Therefore, Beauty Smith is illegitimate.
Grey Beaver is a just and legitimate god precisely because he empowers White Fang. Grey Beaver sees White Fang as a good dog to have because the dog symbolizes his already abundant power. Grey Beaver lack in loving the dog, but does not phallically lack. Grey Beaver is the master of his world, unlike Beauty Smith. But that White Fang choses that Grey Beaver would be his master implies that White Fang is not a master of that world, and that White Fang lacks. As a symbol which extends the power which White Fang lacks, Grey Beaver is White Fang’s phallus.
And herein lies the difference between the two masters. Beauty Smith enslaves White Fang in order to posses a phallus. Beauty Smith is motivated by a lack. Grey Beaver does not seek to possess a phallus in White Fang. He keeps the dog out of a feeling of abundance, not of lack. Whereas Beauty Smith emasculates White Fang in order to possess him as a phallus, Grey Beaver empowers him. Further, Grey Beaver is for White Fang the phallus. He is that symbol of power–like the club–by which he controls his world. White Fang possesses a master, who is his phallus, the shadow of whom represents the lack.
In Beauty Smith’s possession, White Fang is made to fight; and in fighting, he gets his only sense of power. This sense of power is, within the pit, absolute. The dog is an omnipotent fighter, which gives the possessor of this phallus the vicarious thrill of omnipotent godliness. Everywhere out of the pit, White Fang has no choice, no freedom. Only in the pit can he express the will to power which he is.
But things are horribly out of joint, twisted, and unbalanced. This world of the phallus is hyper-masculine. The goddess whom he had known in puppihood is gone. The moon has completely waned. Correspondingly, the female counterbalance plays no regulatory function in his soul. He knows only expressions of dominance and submission, and nowhere is there care or concern. There is only higher and lower, master and slave, no recognition, no compassion, no equality.
In his final fight, he meets death, which is the absolute impotency, in the form of a bulldog named Cherokee. In this pit, the bulldog’s jaws of death slowly pursue him, and lock about his throat. And here we see the absolute extinguishment of White Fang’s free will and potency: absolute castration. And in this pit, with the jaws of death locked around his throat, in contradistinction with the waxing of his consciousness the cave, his consciousness is completely snuffed out. He succumbs to complete panic, with no control whatsoever. He has no will, and the sense of ‘I’ is completely extinguished.
Yet it follows, as the night the day, as yin yang, that when one extreme reaches fullness, the opposite is already growing. Just as the feminine principle has completely waned and the masculine completely waxed, in White Fang’s absolute castration the balancing feminine principle arrives in the form of a man, who will prove to be loving, caring, and kind; one who will recognize in White Fang an equal being worthy of compassion.