Mowgli, the boy-hero who strays away from a village in India when he is a very small child. He is pursued by Shere Khan, the tiger, but escapes when the beast misses a leap at the boy. Mowgli is reared by Mother Wolf with her own cubs and becomes a member of the jungle wolf pack. He has many adventures among the jungle animals, but when he is about seventeen years old, he realizes that he must return to the Manpack to stay.
Messua, the woman who adopts Mowgli for a time. She finally tells Mowgli that she believes he is her son who was lost in the jungle many years before.
Shere Khan, the tiger who pursues Mowgli when he is first lost in the jungle. Shere Khan shocks the other animals when he announces that he has killed a man from choice and not for food. Then follows the story of how the tiger first killed Man and was condemned to wear stripes.
Mother Wolf and Father Wolf, who find Mowgli, give him his name, and rear him with their own cubs in the jungle.
Baloo, the bear who becomes Mowgli’s teacher and instructs him in jungle lore.
Bagheera, the black panther who speaks for Mowgli’s acceptance into the wolf pack and advises Mowgli to get fire to protect himself against his enemies.
Akela, the leader of the wolf pack and Mowgli’s friend in many adventures.
The Bandar-Log, the monkey people, who are despised by the other jungle dwellers. They carry Mowgli off when he climbs a tree and tries to make friends with them.
Kaa, the rock python who helps to rescue Mowgli when he is carried off by the monkeys.
Gray Brother, Mowgli’s brother in the wolf pack, who helps Mowgli rescue Messua and her husband when they are confined by the other villagers.
Buldeo, a village hunter, who follows Mowgli’s trail when he returns to the jungle after living with Messua in the human village.
Hathi, the wise elephant, who tells the story of why the tiger has stripes.
Themes and Characters
As in beast fables, Kipling's characters represent certain traits, qualities, and values. For example, the wolves personify order. They have a code of law developed by a council that determines every aspect of life, from the rearing of young to interaction with the other animals. But the wolves are also capable of great compassion. Mother Wolf loves and protects Mowgli and fights for him to be accepted by the other wolves.
In one episode a tribe of monkeys called the Bandar-Log kidnap Mowgli. These monkeys are the very antithesis of the orderly wolves; they are some of the most ignorant and lawless creatures of the jungle and are despised by the other animals. Mowgli's friends— Bagheera the panther, Baloo the bear, and Kaa the rock python—come to his rescue.
Mowgli lives as a wolf and is as knowledgeable about the jungle as a wolf might be, but his underlying humanness begins to emerge as he responds to the dangers posed by Shere Khan. The cruel and vengeful tiger relentlessly stalks Mowgli from story to story, building suspense with each encounter. In one scene Mowgli uses fire to defeat him, which precipitates an identity crisis. The use of fire by a "wolf" is unheard of. All of the animals fear fire, and Mowgli's command of it brings into question whether he is a human or a beast.
Mowgli's adventures lead him, as well, into the village where he is adopted by a woman named Messua and employed to watch her flocks. From his position as an "outsider" in the village, he can study more closely the ways of the humans but still communicate with his animal friends in the jungle. One day he hears from Gray Wolf, his brother, that Shere Khan is planning once and for all to kill him. In response they make a plan to rid the jungle of the tiger. Mowgli cleverly lures Shere Khan into the middle of a buffalo herd, where he is trampled to death.
Instead of appreciating his deed, the villagers look upon Mowgli as a sorcerer who talks to animals. They drive him out of the village with stones, and he vows to live as a...
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