The Jungle Book Questions and Answers
by Rudyard Kipling

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Why was it important for Mowgli to know the meaning of things in the jungle?

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Father Wolf takes it upon himself to teach Mowgli "the meaning of things in the jungle." Kipling does not state explicitly why he does this, but it is clear that, to Mowgli, the goings-on in the jungle are to him as a business would be to any other man: he is able to understand what every rustle in the leaves signifies, meaning that he can tell when other animals are approaching, when the weather is about to turn, and when he is in danger. This is particularly important for Mowgli because he is not like the other animals, and, as we have seen from the discussion about what to do with him, there are some among the animals who do not believe he should be looked after in the jungle. Father Wolf teaches him what to do when he is "dirty or hot," swimming in the pools of the forest in order to cleanse himself, and Baloo explains to him that he can eat "honey and nuts." Bagheera shows Mowgli how to climb trees in order to reach the honey. All of these skills enable Mowgli to survive in the jungle, avoiding predators, keeping himself clean, and feeding himself adequately. The animals also teach him how to travel in the jungle until he can move "like a gray ape" between the branches, how to kill and avoid killing, and how to avoid the traps of men which have been hidden in the jungle. All of this training is extremely important for Mowgli to stay alive and to thrive in an environment which is not natural to him.

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