Essay: Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

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¶ … Wolves Turn Against Mowgli?

The reason the wolves turn against Mowgli is based in part on one of the original details in the story -- the fact that the tiger Shere Khan has vowed from the beginning that he would kill the boy. Shere Khan was originally upset that he could not keep the baby boy and that the wolves took possession of him, brought him into their pack. "Mother Wolf told him once or twice that Shere Khan was not a creature to be trusted, and that some day he must kill here Khan," but because he was young at the time, he did not remember (222).

Mother Wolf wasn't the only one to warn Mowgli of this ongoing antipathy the tiger had for him. The panther Bagheera, "who had eyes and ears everywhere," had told Mowgli "once or twice" in "so many word" to watch out for Shere Khan, because he (Shere Khan) planned to kill him some day (222). But Mowgli would laugh it off, believing that he had the backing of the wolf pack.

The way Kipling builds up to the confrontation is to emphasize that the elder wolf, Akela, is getting up in years and will lose his leadership status. Shere Khan knows this of course, and has been propagandizing the younger wolves against Mowgli, even though Mowgli brags that he has pulled thorns from the paws of all the wolves and he believes they will protect him because they are all "brothers."

One key to Shere Khan being able to plant seeds of distrust and hate against Mowgli is that none of the wolves can look him in the eye. Looking into another's eyes is a way of building trust. Not even the panther Bagheera -- born among humans and used to being around humans -- can look Mowgli in the eyes.

Another key to Shere Khan's plan to kill Mowgli is the fading leadership status of Akela. As the old wolf gradually loses his hunting abilities, Shere Khan pushes the issue: "No man's cub can run with the people of the jungle. Give him to me!" (226). And by this time the pack is in full harmony with Shere Khan's hateful language toward Mowgli.

Meantime, why did the villager turn against him? There were a number of instances in which Mowgli angered the villagers with his honesty and his seeming impertinence. In one instance Mowgli picked up a "god" from the temple and asked the priest to "make the god angry" sop Mowgli could fight it (264). Also Mowgli did not respect the "caste" system and he helped haul a donkey out of a pit, and stacked the pots for the potter, a "low-caste man"; he was scolded by the priest and then threatened to put the priest on the donkey, a social no-no for sure (265).

What Mowgli did that angered the elders was to speak when it was not his turn. And when Mowgli heard the elders saying things about the jungle that Mowgli knew were not true, he called their tales "…such cobwebs and moon-talk" (265). He knew better than the rumor that the elders repeated that the tiger limps because his "pads are unequal" and it mad Mowgli angry enough to call their assertions "child' talk." In the Indian culture, it is not only rude for a young person to challenge his elders, it is a cultural taboo.

When Mowgli finally arranged (thanks to the buffalo herd) to kill Shere Khan, and Buldeo refused to give Mowgli a reward of any substance, Mowgli had Akela pin Buldeo on the ground. Buldeo returned to the village to report that actually Mowgli was a "sorcerer" and some kind of dangerous enchanted being (not human) (272). Imagine a young boy being able to talk to a wolf, and you can imagine the fear that went through the village. They tried to stone Mowgli, and he herded the buffalo into the village, scattering the residents, further angering them as well.

It was never going to be a mutual admiration society between Mowgli and the villagers; he was raised in a wolf pack and they only understood human values. Anything he did while interacting with the jungle beasts would not be accepted or understood, and his sharp tongue didn't exactly endear him to the villagers either.

What are the advantage and disadvantages for Mowgli in the jungle and in the village?

In the jungle Mowgli has many advantages. He is most comfortable there around the wildlife, whereas in the village he felt closed in. But in the jungle -- in the first place -- the baby Mowgli has the backing of a wolf pack. From the very beginning of the story, when the tiger Shere Khan demands that Raksha wolf turn Mowgli over to him, she stands up for the "man's cub." "The man's cub is mine. He shall not be killed. He will live to run and hunt with the pack," she stated, adding that Shere Khan should be aware that "in the end" Mowgli will "hunt you" (219).

And so the advantage that is most obvious is that the little boy from human stock has the affection and the protection of a pack of wolves. It would be hard to imagine any better protection for a tiny boy in the wild jungle. When the sleepy brown bear -- the only animal outside of the wolves that is allowed at the Pack Council -- signed off on Mowgli becoming part of the pack, readers know this is another advantage for Mowgli. The bear, after all, is the animal that teaches the cub wolves the "Law of the Jungle," and so having his endorsement is an important first step for the man-cub Mowgli.

It is interesting how Kipling take the reader through "ten or eleven whole years" and reviews those years giving the reader a clue about how successful Mowgli was in growing up in a wolf pack. He learned many things that turned out to be advantages for him. For example, he learned the meaning of: a) "every rustle in the grass"; b) "every breath of the warm night air"; c) every note of the owls above his head; d) "every scratch of a bat's claws as it roosted" in a tree nearby; and e) "every splash of every little fish jumping in a pool" (221). And so by becoming a member of the pack, and pulling thorns from the paws of wolves, Mowgli certainly made his presence felt in a positive way and that was advantageous for sure.

As to the disadvantages in the jungle -- there are several aspects to this answer. One, it is a distinct disadvantage to have a tiger out to kill you. Certainly he could not trust Shere Khan, and that was a disadvantage. Also, because his eyes could not meet the eyes of the wolves, his brothers, that was a disadvantage. Another disadvantage for Mowgli was that Shere Khan had the ability to coax the wolf pack into rejecting Mowgli ("A man! A man! What has a man to do with us?" The wolves cried out in unison [226]).

The advantages in the village for Mowgli were several. One, he was reunited with his mother, albeit that relationship wasn't a close one. Two, Mowgli accepts for the time being that he is human ("Well, if I am a man, a man I must be" [227]). Three, Mowgli knows he could tear the thatch away in a heartbeat "…if he wanted to get away" (263). Mowgli could laugh at the humans' descriptions of the jungle animals because he knew much more about that part of the world than anyone in the village; he knew the true story about why the tiger limped, and that was… [END OF PREVIEW]

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