Yolen’s postscript at the novel’s end gives credit to her research on feral children, Indian folklore, and jungle life after her discovery of the diary of a Mr. Singh. Her genius lies, however, in the well-turned tale, excellent characterization, and exceptional themes. Readers readily empathize with Mohandas’ efforts to create a social and ideological identity. He must reconcile his Bengali past with his British present, his Hindu beliefs with Christianity and his admiration for the Reverend Welles, and his social inferiority with his intellectual and imaginative superiority. Many young people have also encountered a Rama, the always-better-at-everything charmer with a winning smile; a Mr. Welles, the patient taskmaster whose aloof idealism does not fit life’s reality; or an Indira, the fathomless and furious bully.
What Mohandas must acknowledge is the power of language and action, a major theme of the novel. He has, after all, the soul of a writer, the imagination to see possibilities and to spot the inconsistencies and ironies of life. Yet, until he has the courage to act, he cannot capture the power inherent in words. As he watches, Kamala learns to speak, only to be subjected to the other children’s cruelty; she is different and therefore rejected by the orphanage society. He feels a kinship with this abandoned orphan and her wildness, seeing “my other self, different, full of unspoken words, and alone” mirrored in her. Until he can accept and name this side of himself, he cannot be transformed. When he does, the story reaches its climax: He goes alone into the dark jungle to search for Kamala, realizing at last that he is both beast and human, belonging to this world...
(The entire section is 696 words.)