Family and loyalty to family are themes running throughout the stories. From the moment Mowgli wanders into Mother and Father Wolf's cave they adopt him as their own, with Mother Wolf actually favoring him to his brothers on many occasions. The importance of the Pack is always emphasized and there is a hierarchy that ensures decisions are made as a family. Each of the animals lives in their own family and whatever the animal, when they get married and raise cubs of their own, they are permitted to leave their pack or group. Loyalty to family is also paramount; at Mowgli's looking over, Raksha prepares herself to fight until the death for him. Mowgli also demonstrates his loyalty to Akela, his pack's leader and Lone Wolf, by leaving the jungle to protect him and later by defending him and the entire Pack from the red dogs. Kipling also continues the theme of family loyalty when Mowgli returns to Man and finds his pseudo-mother, whom he loves deeply and desires to protect above all else.
Importance of Rules and Laws
Jungle Law is very important and every animal has to learn it because it is literally life-saving. Rules of the jungle preserve personal safety and also preserve the future of the jungle and each species within it. Law is practiced democratically with a council and voting system. When a law is broken, steps must be taken to hold the violator accountable and dole out punishment if necessary. For example, Jungle Law means that Shere Khan has no right to baby Mowgli, but this does not matter to him, and when he flouts the Law he is punished. There are also laws and rules that relate to self-protection and the greater good, which sees everyone working together to ensure a future for the jungle. This is evident during the Water Truce and when many species work together to drive Man out of the village.
Most of the characters in The Jungle Book are brave and demonstrate their bravery through their willingness to defend, fight, or undertake an arduous quest. Mowgli repeatedly shows bravery in battle, killing Shere Khan, fighting the red dogs, and standing up to the villagers. Kaa is also brave when saving Mowgli from the monkeys; Baloo and Bagheera are courageous here as well. In the other stories, Rikki-tikki-tavi possesses enormous bravery by protecting his human family from the murderous cobras, attacking one with great skill in the bathroom, and disappearing into a burrow with the second. Little Toomai shores up his courage to watch the elephants dance, Kotuku ventures out into the foreboding wilderness to save his people from starvation, Kotick journeys for miles and miles to find a safe island, and Purun Dass embodies pacifist, noble courage both as a politician and a holy man. Kipling is keen on reinforcing the moral virtues considered important to late-19th-century Englishmen: bravery, loyalty, strength, rectitude, and a willingness to protect one’s dependents.
Coming Of Age
Mowgli becomes a young man as the book progresses, and the reader watches him grow from an impulsive and earnest man-cub into a leader. Like most adolescents, he believes he is not allowed to do as much as he wants to do, but readers see him grow out of that phase and learn patience and the importance of knowledge from his elders. It is also interesting to note that as he and Gray Brother are leaving the village, Mowgli notices a young woman walking towards them and seems captivated by her (not to mention his strange feelings for Messua), a sure indication he is becoming a man and beginning a new stage in his life. Mowgli’s coming of age is universal in that it mirrors all young people’s move from one stage of life to another, but it also possesses a melancholic singularity in that he will never be completely part of the world of man due to his upbringing and his knowledge of the jungle.
Kipling's evocation of English imperial and colonial endeavors in India is more implicit than explicit, but it is certainly there. Examples of how significant this historical context was for the development of his tales can be seen in: 1) the lauding of the law, seen as a British colonial construction; 2) the hierarchy present in the world of the animals that corresponds to the hierarchy of English ("good" native and "bad native"); 3) the primacy of whiteness (in "The White Seal"); 4) the echoes of the 1857 Mutiny and the punishment of rebel Indians (in "The Undertakers"); 4) the fear of native "madness" and contamination; and 5) the eradication of Shere Khan, the dangerous outlier representative of bad natives. These are only a few specific examples, but overall Kipling depicts a world that the colonizer makes organized and orderly and that, consequently, is good and just. He uses Social Darwinism to justify hierarchy and implies that there are "natural" characteristics present in races/nationalities/species.
Kipling is a big believer in hierarchy, as were most Englishmen at the turn of the century. Britain was putatively the most powerful country in the world in terms of political influence, reach of empire, economy, and culture. Her colonization of India and African countries solidified this, but had to be justified by a variety of theories. The English, as well as other Western countries, saw themselves as racially, culturally, and evolutionarily superior to the "savages" they colonized. They were keen to enforce this hierarchy with rules and force in order to maintain their power in the colonized regions. Similarly, Kipling's jungle is very hierarchical in its organization. Every animal and tribe knows its place; moving beyond the appropriate boundary or caste meant punishment, exile, or death. Kipling suggests his jungle is as orderly and rational as it is because every creature understands where they are and knows not to push against that position.
Mowgli struggles with his in-betweenness, his liminal status, his sense of belonging to two worlds. He loves the jungle but despairs being kicked out of the pack. He rues the fact that he cannot smell as well as the animals can, that he does not know all the stories of the jungle, and that he does not participate in the Time of New Talk. Conversely, while he likes Messua, he hates the greedy and superstitious villagers as well as many of their customs, and chafes at life in the village. Thus, Mowgli's identity takes a long time to develop because he is constantly torn between these two worlds. He chooses the life of man at the end, but it is clear that he will have to reconcile with the fact that he will never be truly man nor cub. Kipling suggests that identity is a malleable, fungible thing that is never fully fixed and takes patience and perspicacity to develop.
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.