What is the conflict and the theme?
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The main conflict of Kipling's enduring short story is Rikki's inevitable battles with the cobras, Nag and Nagaina. Rikki is aware of the cobras' deadly abilities, but his natural instinct takes over on two fronts: A mongoose's mortal enemy is the cobra, and his own fears become secondary when one is near; and, his other duty was to protect the human family which had befriended him. His own safety was less important than these two instinctual urges.
The story contains several different themes. Courage vs. fear is one. Man vs. nature is another. Kipling's military background focuses on the importance of loyalty and duty, and the Darwinian theories of the survival of the fittest is yet another example.
The might of the British Empire vs. the simple ideals of Indian culture is another theme. It expounds Kipling's belief of the superiority of the white man (represented by the British family as well as Rikki) over the Hindu people (symbolically epitomized by the evil Nag and Nagaina and the cowardly Chuchundra).
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