In the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, what is the law of the jungle?

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In Rudyard Kipling’s famous story The Jungle Book, he depicts a young boy, Mowgli, living all alone in the middle of a jungle, working alongside the animals. In the story, Mowgli lives in a pseudo-society within the jungle, and the society is governed by the “Law of the Jungle." This law essentially is that of the animals, the strong kill the weak, and you will get retribution for the bad things you do.

It is a simplistic and animalistic idea that essentially just means nature is wild and dangerous. Mowgli learns to live in this environment and is able to survive in spite of these troubles. He is intelligent and resourceful, which keeps him safe, but the chaotic law of nature makes it a very dangerous place indeed.

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Kipling's "law of the jungle" has an entirely different meaning than the colloquial phrase often interpreted as "anything goes."

It is the code of law governing the behavior of the individual wolf and defines his rights and responsibilities within the wolf pack. Because obedience to the code helps to ensure the prosperity of the wolf and the pack, the punishment for disobedience is death.

The law mandates proper daily grooming and forbids drinking water to excess. Wolves are to hunt at night and sleep in the day. Wolves are not to feed on leftovers from lions but to get their own food. Certain animals are to be respected and avoided: the tiger, the panther, the bear, the snake, and the boar. Encounters with other wolf packs should be left to the diplomacy of the leaders. Fights between wolves in the pack should take place far away and only between the two so the pack is not embroiled in conflict.

A wolf's lair is private, and all wolves must respect this privacy. The only exception is that if it is too visible, the council may ask that it be moved. Wolves are not to howl over their kills before midnight lest they scare game away from others. Killing is only for food and never for pleasure. Wolves must never kill men, under any circumstances.

If you plunder food from a weaker wolf, don't eat it all. Leave the head and hide for the weakest. A kill should be shared where it lies and never hauled back to one's lair. The wolf that brought down the kill must give permission for others to partake of it.

Wolf cubs under a year have the right to eat of all kills after the hunter has eaten. A mother gets one haunch of each kill for her litter. A father has the right to hunt for his own, only subject to the council. Because of his cunning and skill, the word of the head wolf is law.

This is a didactic poem meant to instruct its young readers in the rights and duties of social life. Although the poem applied ostensibly to wolves, its teachings are frequently metaphors for how to behave in human society.

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