Last Updated on April 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 968
The story begins on a warm evening in the Seeonee hills in India. Father Wolf is going out to hunt when Tabaqui, the jackal, comes to his cave begging for food. Tabaqui tells the wolves that Shere Khan, the lame tiger, has shifted his hunting grounds to the hills. Soon afterward, the wolves hear the tiger’s snarling and realize from the sound he makes that he is hunting Man, which is forbidden by the Law of the Jungle. When he goes outside to investigate, Father Wolf finds a human baby, or man’s cub, just old enough to walk, clinging to a tree. He brings the child inside the cave, where Mother Wolf begins to look after and feed the child alongside her own cubs.
Shere Khan comes to the mouth of the cave and demands the man’s cub. The Mother Wolf ferociously defends the child and tells Shere Khan that the boy will grow to manhood and hunt him. Shere Khan departs in fury and frustration, while Mother Wolf decides to raise the boy as her own and gives him the name Mowgli (“the frog”).
When they are old enough, Father Wolf introduces all his cubs into the Wolf Pack, in a ceremony that is held every month at the Council Rock to ensure that the wolves all recognize each other. When he brings Mowgli forward, Shere Khan speaks from behind the rocks, claiming the boy as his prey. Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear, who teaches the cubs the Law of the Jungle, both speak up for Mowgli, and Akela, the leader of the Wolf Pack, dismisses Shere Khan’s claim.
At this point, the story skips ten or eleven years into the future. During this time, Mowgli has grown up and, without knowing it, learned many things from Father Wolf, Baloo, and Bagheera. One day, Bagheera tells Mowgli a great secret. He was not born in the jungle, but escaped from the king’s palace in Udaipur. Just as he had to come to the jungle, his natural habitat, so he says Mowgli must return to live among his own kind. Before that, he must protect himself. Akela is growing weak and will soon be unable to lead the Wolf Pack. When they select a new leader, the pack will probably turn against Mowgli, particularly as some of the young wolves have begun to follow Shere Khan. To defend himself when this time comes, Mowgli must obtain the one thing feared by everyone in the jungle: fire, which the animals call “the Red Flower.”
Mowgli steals a fire-pot from a nearby village and feeds it with sticks until he is summoned to the Council Rock. Akela is lying by the side of his rock rather than on it, as a sign that the leadership of the pack is open. Shere Khan begins to address the wolves, which he has no right to do, and Mowgli challenges him. An argument breaks out, with Akela and Bagheera defending Mowgli, but Shere Khan and most of the pack are against him. Mowgli uses his fire-pot to start a fire. He thrusts a branch into it and uses the burning stick to beat Shere Khan, berating both him and the wolves who follow him. He drives away the tiger and all the wolves except his own supporters, who include Akela. Mowgli weeps as he goes to bid farewell to the Mother and Father Wolf. He vows to return one day, after he has killed Shere Khan, and lay out the tiger’s hide on the Council Rock. He then leaves the wolves to go and live among men.
This story takes place before the end of the previous chapter, when Mowgli is still a member of the Seeonee Wolf Pack. Mowgli is learning the Law of the Jungle from Baloo the bear, who is delighted to have a more intelligent and inquisitive pupil than the wolf cubs. However, Mowgli quickly becomes impatient with Baloo’s methods and arrogant in his attitude toward his teacher. After an argument with Baloo, he begins to talk to the Monkey People, who are despised and shunned by the other animals because they have no law and are constantly chattering and causing trouble. Baloo explains this, telling Mowgli that the Law of the Jungle forbids anyone to consort with the Monkey People, who, as a consequence, are always striving to attract the attention of everyone else in the jungle.
While Mowgli is sleeping, he is kidnapped by the Monkey People. Bagheera and Baloo decide to seek help from Kaa, the python, whom the Monkey People fear because he can climb as well as they can. They discover from Rann the kite that the Monkey People have taken Mowgli to the Cold Lairs, a ruined city where the monkeys sometimes go and imitate the men who once lived there. Baloo and Bagheera attack the city to rescue Mowgli but are in danger of being overwhelmed by the Monkey People until the monkeys see Kaa, who terrifies them. Kaa speaks a single word, and the monkeys are paralyzed. He hypnotizes them and forces them to approach him. Kaa’s mysterious power is so compelling that even Bagheera and Baloo come towards him until Mowgli pulls them back.
Mowgli is contemptuous of Kaa’s powers, which do not affect him, and refers slightingly to the python’s sore nose. Bagheera and Baloo point out that Kaa was injured in rescuing Mowgli, and Bagheera beats him for the trouble he has caused. The Law of the Jungle, however, states that after one has been punished, the fault is permanently wiped out: “There is no nagging afterward.” Mowgli lays down his head on Bagheera’s back and falls into a deep sleep.
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