Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Mowgli, the boy-hero who strays away from a village in India when he is a very small child. He is pursued by Shere Khan, the tiger, but escapes when the beast misses a leap at the boy. Mowgli is reared by Mother Wolf with her own cubs and becomes a member of the jungle wolf pack. He has many adventures among the jungle animals, but when he is about seventeen years old, he realizes that he must return to the Manpack to stay.
Messua, the woman who adopts Mowgli for a time. She finally tells Mowgli that she believes he is her son who was lost in the jungle many years before.
Shere Khan, the tiger who pursues Mowgli when he is first lost in the jungle. Shere Khan shocks the other animals when he announces that he has killed a man from choice and not for food. Then follows the story of how the tiger first killed Man and was condemned to wear stripes.
Mother Wolf and Father Wolf, who find Mowgli, give him his name, and rear him with their own cubs in the jungle.
Baloo, the bear who becomes Mowgli’s teacher and instructs him in jungle lore.
Bagheera, the black panther who speaks for Mowgli’s acceptance into the wolf pack and advises Mowgli to get fire to protect himself against his enemies.
Akela, the leader of the wolf pack and Mowgli’s friend in many adventures.
The Bandar-Log, the monkey people, who are despised by the other jungle dwellers. They carry Mowgli off when he climbs a tree and tries to make friends with them.
Kaa, the rock python who helps to rescue Mowgli when he is carried off by the monkeys.
Gray Brother, Mowgli’s brother in the wolf pack, who helps Mowgli rescue Messua and her husband when they are confined by the other villagers.
Buldeo, a village hunter, who follows Mowgli’s trail when he returns to the jungle after living with Messua in the human village.
Hathi, the wise elephant, who tells the story of why the tiger has stripes.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Blount, Margaret. Animal Land: The Creatures of Children’s Fiction. New York: William Morrow, 1975. Analyses the Mowgli stories as variants on the school story. Discusses the inversion of moral order between the animal and human worlds.
Frey, Charles, and John Griffith. The Literary Heritage of Childhood: An Appraisal of Children’s Classics in the Western Tradition.Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Analyzes Mowgli as a character situated between two cultures, unable to fit into either fully, and connects Mowgli’s situation to Kipling’s position in regard to Indian and English society.
McBratney, John. “Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space in Kipling’s Jungle Book.” Victorian Studies 35, No. 3 (Spring, 1992): 277-293. Detailed examination of Mowgli stories in relation to contemporary categories of race and ethnicity. Argues that the stories are an attempt to create in fiction a society in which distinctions of caste and race do not operate. Kipling is a “quiet rebel” against prevailing racial ideas.
McClure, John A. Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Examines The Jungle Books in relation to the politics of imperialism. Mowgli stories offer Kipling’s conception of the ideal education for imperial rule. The beast fable structure obscures the flaws in his concept.
Murray, John. “The Law of The Jungle Books.” Children’s Literature 20 (1992): 1-14. Provides a good summary of earlier writings on Kipling’s concept of law and argues that this concept must be understood in the context of group survival against inimical forces, rather than as natural or ethical law.