Study Guide

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

by Rudyard Kipling

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Themes

Themes

Courage
‘‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,’’ as a children’s story, is designed both to entertain and to disseminate the values of virtuous behavior. Courage, one of the characteristics exhibited by the hero, Rikki-tikkitavi, is one such virtue. Rikki, knowing that he has to kill Nag in order to protect the human family, is fearful of the cobra’s size and strength, but his fear is trumped by his own courage, and he succeeds in killing the snake. He is rewarded for his courage by being deemed a hero and given a permanent place in the home of the humans. The virtue of courage is further emphasized by the story’s portrayal of shameful cowardliness; Chuchundra, the fearful muskrat who ‘‘never had spirit enough to run out into the middle of the room’’ is unable to overcome his fear and, therefore, elicits disdain from Rikki and the other garden creatures.

Loyalty and Duty
Kipling was deeply influenced by the codes of honor and duty evangelized at the military prep school he attended in his late childhood. Loyalty especially figures as a theme in ‘‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.’’ Rikki is loyal to the human family that takes him in, and his loyalty drives him to protect them from the cobras, even to the point of risking death. Rikki also risks death out of a sense of duty regarding his heritage as a mongoose: when he attacks Nag he ‘‘was battered to and fro. . . . he made sure he would be banged to death, and, for the honour of his family, he preferred to be found with his teeth locked.’’

British Imperialism
Kipling is well known for promoting British imperialism in his writing; Victorian-era imperialism was not just the practice of colonization, but it reflected an attitude and philosophy of assumed British superiority, and even the children’s story ‘‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’’ reflects this racial prejudice. The story makes clear that the family living in the...

(The entire section is 792 words.)