What is the theme of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"?

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The theme of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is heroism—more specifically, the growth and development of a hero facing his first challenges, and the nature of his heroic qualities. In this, a children's story about an anthropomorphized mongoose is very similar to some of the greatest epics in literature, particularly Beowulf, the first part of which it resembles in structure. This is clearly Kipling's intention, since he begins the story by telling the reader,

This is the story of the great war that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought single-handed, through the bath-rooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment. Darzee, the tailor-bird, helped him, and Chuchundra, the musk-rat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always creeps round by the wall, gave him advice; but Rikki-tikki did the real fighting.

Rikki, like all the great heroes, is a solitary figure, alone because he is without peer. The story begins with him a state of complete helplessness, apparently dead, and in truth very nearly so. Although the family rescues him and the other animals are on his side, he has to work out how to fight snakes for himself and rely on his own innate qualities in his journey to true heroism. These qualities include endless curiosity, alertness, and most of all, courage.

Rikki is also motivated by a strong sense of responsibility. He quickly adopts the human family, and makes it his mission to protect them, along with the animals in the garden. Like any hero, he soon discovers that he is exceptional and concludes that it is his duty to protect those who are not as strong and brave as he is.

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