Kipling once said that his “original notion” as a writer was “to tell the English something of the world outside England.” An Englishman reared in India, Kipling grew up to be fascinated with other cultures. As an adult, he traveled extensively, visiting or living in such places as South Africa, Japan, the United States, and Bermuda. He sought to introduce his readers to distant lands through the exotic settings of Just So Stories: South America, the Middle East, India, and Africa, among other places.
In addition to enlightening readers about other cultures, Kipling’s stories reveal his connection with and understanding of the world of children. He wrote Just So Stories when his three children were small, completing the book after the death of his eldest, favorite child, Josephine. The intimate narrative tone of the book suggests that the stories were written, on one level, to allow Kipling to reexperience his close relationship with his daughter.
This personal tone is expressed through Kipling’s innovative use of language. His language is colloquial and informal, with rhythms closely matching those of speech. He uses words incorrectly and misspells them, as a child might. For example, it is the elephant child’s “’satiable curtiosities” that get him into trouble. Kipling’s style is also lushly descriptive in a way that delights children. He uses poetic devices such as onomatopoeia, forming a word by imitation of a sound made or associated with...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
Before the creation of Rudyard Kipling’s naughty but lovable animal-children in Just So Stories, children’s literature tended to offer children two models of behavior: the good child and the bad child. Kipling’s stories declare that it is natural and right for children to exhibit all types of behavior as they form their identities.
Just So Stories celebrates the innocent spontaneity of very young children. Some of Kipling’s other children’s works go a little further by examining the moral development of children as they grow older. The Jungle Books (1894-1895), Kim (1901), and Stalky & Co (1899) relate how children’s characters are formed as they learn to distinguish between good and bad, to be assertive, and to express unique identities.
Mowgli, from The Jungle Books, is the ultimate uninhibited child. An Indian orphan reared in the jungle by wolves, Mowgli is Kipling’s child version of the “noble savage” described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Like Rousseau, Kipling believed that human nature would basically turn to good unless corrupted by the evils of civilization. Mowgli’s challenge is to retain his good “animal identity” as he confronts the world of humans. Similar in theme to The Jungle Books, Kim relates the identity crisis of an Irish boy orphaned in India. Kim feels like a Hindu but, through sometimes painful experience, learns that he is a Sahib. Stalky & Co. tells how three boys survive the often brutal bullying by adults and older children at a boys’ boarding school. Like Mowgli and Kim, the boys must struggle to keep their natural goodness intact so that they do not themselves grow up to be oppressors.
In all his works for children, Kipling shows his admiration for the innate nobility of humans and animals and his distaste for the brutality and corrupting influence of “civilized” adults.