By virtue of status as a human being, Mowgli is by definition an outsider in the world of the jungle. And yet, by virtue of his status as a human being, he is endowed with an authority over the natives beyond his right. More than just an interloper; Mowgli’s inequitable place in the jungle hierarchy casts him as a symbol of imperialism and colonialism.
Shere Khan (Symbol)
The tiger and sworn enemy of Mowgli is a symbol of the lack of civilization, rules and law and order which colonial imperialists used to justify their invasion of foreign lands and forced assimilation into their own culture. Shere Khan does not just violate law by hunting outside his territory and by killing man, he uses devious means to turn others against Mowgli.
Baloo the Bear is a wonderfully amiable companion for Mowgli, capable of instructing him on how to obtain and use the bare necessities in life. And there’s the rub. Baloo symbolizes the colonial view toward any culture obviously blessed with riches of natural resources with which they have done almost nothing beyond ensuring the barest means of survival. Baloo is a symbol of the lack of intellectual achievement, management skills, and foresight.
The crafty mongoose and star of his own story in the book of the jungle is perhaps the most symbolic figure in the tales. He nearly dies from drowning during the flood, but efforts to revive him lead to a “resurrection” in which he becomes aware of his special significance. He stands up to his enemies and then even journeys down into the underworld of Nagaina's hole. Rikki-tikki meets all the earmarks of Joseph Campbell’s questing hero and even manages to defeat the symbolic opposite of heroic goodness.
Nag and Nagaina (Symbol)
Any doubt that this duo is intended to symbolize pure evil can be laid to rest when the temptress whispers to her mate that if there were no humans, serpents would rule the garden. Not that such Biblical allusion is required; even other snakes think these are creepy, slithering forces of wickedness.
Bagheera's Mark (Symbol)
Bagheera tells Mowgli, "I, Bagheera, carry that mark - the mark of the collar" (15). This mark symbolizes captivity, control by humans, the suppression of the wild animal instinct, and power. It is a reminder to Bagheera of his past and a mark that more generally indicates the unbalanced relationship between man and animal.
The Jungle Book Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Jungle Book is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.