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Free Study Guide-White Fang by Jack London-Free Online Book Notes
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Chapter 4

The She-wolf now leaves her cub alone more often to go on her hunting expeditions. It has been impressed upon him that he should not set foot outside the cave. Since instinct is developing in him, he accepts fear as one of the restrictions of life, and he does not go near the mouth of the cave. Once he hears a strange sniffing at the cave, which comes from a wolverine. His mother arrives in time to protect him.

One day the cub goes out into the open, rolls down the slope, is dazzled by the light, and starts crying like any frightened puppy. When he finally gains a foothold, he goes on to explore the grassy area that surrounds him. He is frightened by a squirrel and a woodpecker. He comes across a ptarmigan nest, eats the babies (all seventy of them), and dares to fight the mother ptarmigan, injuring her. A hawk interrupts the battle, which the ptarmigan seemed to be winning, and kills the bird. The cub then falls into a river. He struggles towards land, swimming for the first time, but is carried downstream where he is safely deposited. He also comes across a weasel with whom he starts a fight. He would have been killed by the mother weasel had it not been for the timely intervention of his own mother. When she kills the weasel, they eat it together.


The cub is maturing quickly and learning valuable lessons about life. He quickly realizes that obedience to laws is a method of avoiding hurt. Most importantly, he learns about fear. The cub classifies objects into the ones that he should fear, because they hurt, and the ones that do not cause fear. Although instinct and law demand obedience from the cub, his "growth demanded disobedience." As a result, the cub sets out on his own to explore the world beyond the cave. The unknown, the dazzling light, the "wall," and the sheer extent of space all terrify him, but he accepts the challenge. His experiences do not discourage him but motivate him to explore further. The squirrel and the woodpecker are the first live creatures he encounters, and he forms the conclusion that animate objects are more likely to do harm than inanimate objects. He also gets his first taste of live meat, which is very exciting to him. He learns, however, that lives things can fight. Fortunately, the hawk saves him from being destroyed by the mother ptarmigan.

On his very first days outside, his experiences, as he fights with other animals and hunts for food, foreshadow that he will have many adventures and overcome many obstacles in his life. Luck will also play a big part, as he is saved from the wolverine by his mother and from the ptarmigan by the hawk. Although swept away by the river, the cub is ultimately saved again by fate, for the river deposits him safely on land. Then his mother intervenes to save him from the weasel. It is as if the gray cub is destined for greater things, and his encounters make him stronger and more resilient to face what lies ahead.

Chapter 5


After his adventure, the cub rests for two days before setting out again. This time he encounters the baby weasel and devours it with relish. He also finds his way back to the cave easily when he is tired. In sharpening his own skills, he tries to follow the example of his mother. However, as he grows older, the she-wolf grows impatient with him.

Since food is short, the cub now goes hunting in deadly earnest, not just for the joy of it. Failure encourages him further, and he carefully hunts for squirrels, woodmice, and birds. He even challenges the hawk. The she-wolf eventually brings him the meat of a lynx cub. She herself has devoured the rest of the litter. She is later challenged to a fight by the mother lynx, and the cub participates. After a long fight, the lynx is finally killed and eaten by mother and son. Although the cub is hurt by the lynx, he is rather proud of his feat. He is also proud to accompany his mother on the hunt, where he learns the principle of "eat or be eaten," the basic law of the survival of the fittest.


The cub's terrifying experiences do not discourage him. He always bounces back and explores a wider territory without becoming lost. He is capable of assessing his strengths and weaknesses and exercises caution when required. The author refers to him as a little demon of fury when he comes upon a stray ptarmigan. His first experiences with squirrels, woodpeckers and woodmice have taught him to be more aggressive with such creatures.

The cub feels a growing respect for his mother, the she-wolf. Her fearlessness and powerful nature demand obedience from him. When he does not please her, she loses her temper with him. When food again becomes a problem, the cub goes out to hunt for food in earnest. He even foolishly challenges a hawk. Each adventure, however, teaches him something and brings new self-confidence.

On seeing his mother and the lynx fight, the cub intervenes and sinks his teeth into the hind leg of the lynx, helping to save his mother, who is already wounded. Although he too is injured and whimpers, he returns to the fight until the lynx is dead. It is this episode, his first actual fight, that gains him his mother's confidence; afterwards, he is allowed to accompany his mother on the hunt, where he begins to understand the law of the survival of the fittest. It is obvious that this cub is meant to lead, to fight, and to survive all ordeals.

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