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What is the message in the poem "The Law of the Jungle" in The Jungle Book?

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literature2011 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted May 31, 2011 at 9:26 PM via web

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What is the message in the poem "The Law of the Jungle" in The Jungle Book?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:01 AM (Answer #1)

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The message of this poem is that the wolves of the forest have both rights and responsibilities.  It is saying that wolves should have a great deal of freedom, but that their freedom should not extend to allowing them to do things that will hurt their community.  This can be read as a commentary on Kipling's part about how human society should run.

As an example, we are told that a wolf's lair is his "refuge" and that not even the head wolf may enter without permission.  That shows that wolves have rights.  At the same time, however, if the wolf has "digged it too plain," the Council can tell him to "change it again."  This means that the wolf cannot use his rights to do something (like having his den where humans can find it) that will endanger the pack.

These parts of the law show that wolves have rights, but they also have responsibilities to their communities.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 16, 2015 at 1:44 AM (Answer #2)

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We can learn a lot from wolves.  Pohnpei did a good job explaining the benefits of wolf responsibility and how humans can learn a lot from their wolf society in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book as a whole and "The Law of the Jungle" specifically.  Let's take a look at some specifics of the poem that show the rights and responsibilities of wolves (and people).

Interestingly enough, Kipling begins with the responsibilities and ENDS with the rights!  Both are almost always contained in the first line of a stanza.  Let's begin with what Kipling does:  responsibilities.  There are many, but here are a few important ones

Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, / ...
But kill not for pleasure


The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack


The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf.

If humans need to learn one thing it is not to kill "for pleasure."  Wolves, according to Kipling, have the same responsibility.  You will see quickly that rights and responsibilities begin to blend together.  While the pack has a responsibility to help kill, they all have the right to eat it.  However, if one wolf makes a kill, he can eat it on his own.

Now, Kipling believes, it is finally time to discuss the rights of the wolf.

Pack-Right is the right of the meanest

Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling

Lair-Right is the right of the Mother.

Cave-Right is the right of the Father --

Here we learn that the meanest wolves are left the best meat. Further, the young are able to eat as much as they want when they want in "full-gorge."  No wolf can deny a young cub this right.  We also learn that mother wolves have major rights, too, called the "lair-right."  This, again, is about food for the young, actually.  A mother is allowed to take any "haunch" for her young so that they can eat before they can claim it for themselves as cubs.  Finally, the wolf fathers have rights, too.  Fathers are welcome to actually ignore the call of the pack and hunt for their own family.

Thus, you can see that the message of the poem is that wolves have responsibilities before rights.  Humans should have the same.

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