What is the historical context of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling? (i.e. How did the history influence the book's central theme)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back --
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. 
― Rudyard Kipling

There is something both of the child and the man in The Jungle Books, reflective, perhaps, of the two experiences that Rudyard Kipling had in India: one of birth (1865) and early childhood, a romantic venture into the exotic charms of a foreign land, and the other as a journalist in which he was in close contact with the British military where he uncovered some of the ugliness of colonization in the subjugation of men and the abuses of power and witnessed the "strength of the Pack is the Wolf" as only few thousand British controlled a country of two hundred fifty-five million. And, yet the "Pack" of British brought many improvements to India, ushering in industrialization, especially with the railroad systems; governmental offices were established and births, marriages, etc. were recorded; hospitals and universities were constructed; English was established as the official language (this has remained beneficial to the Indian people as there are so many dialects that educated Indians speak English to one another yet today). For the first time, with the introduction of industrialization and government offices there began to be a middle class in India.

Nevertheless, since there was, as Kipling named the condition of colonialism, "The White Man's Burden," resistance to the British Raj. did occur. From 1857-1858 the only serious challenge to British rule came with the Great Rising; later the massacre at Cawnpore was a large scale killing of Indians. After World War I, Indian nationalism grew, especially on the college campuses.  Violence between Muslims and Hindus became widely publicized as a feature of colonial India's history. The reportage of this violence is varied as the issues were complex; however, it is viewed by some as

a faithful reflection of the actual crystallization of communitarian identities based on religion, in response to certain colonial policies.

Such "colonial policies" may have been the fact that British Raj's census taking and registrations violated Purdah laws as it threatened to uncover female privacy as women were forbidden to say the name of their husband and from having their photographs taken.

Aware of the British presence and influence in India and equally aware of the culture of the Indian people, Rudyard Kipling employs his anthropomorphic animals in allegorical narratives whose lessons are closely tied to some of the issues of colonial repression. For instance, the jackal in "The Undertakers" makes proverbial remark,

"To hear is one thing; to know is another," said the Jackal, who had a very fair knowledge of proverbs, picked up by listening to men round the village fires of an evening.

Certainly, too, the story of the resourceful mongoose, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who fights the encroaching cobras can be an allegory on the colonialism of India.

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