Places Discussed

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*India. Because the locations given for Mowgli’s world are vague, except for the reference to India’s Waingunga River, the forest in which Mowgli lives is chiefly symbolic of a world in which the laws of the jungle prevail, much as legal systems prevail in civilization. Mowgli’s jungle is made up of several settings, the first being the wolf cave in which he is sheltered as an infant and young boy by Father and Mother Wolf.

Several times Mowgli encounters human villages, usually as they relate to a woman named Messua who believes that Mowgli is her son who was taken from her years before. Through one season, Mowgli lives in the village and learns of the ways of humankind; however, he is run off when he unites the animals to trample Shere Khan the tiger. The villagers suspect that Mowgli is a demon possessed because he knows how to talk with the animals who helped raise him.

Later, Mowgli returns to this same village to rescue Messua and her husband, who are being prepared for execution because their son Mowgli lives as a brother to the animals. This time Mowgli enlists the help of his jungle friends to help his human parents escape and, especially with the help of the chief elephant Hathi and his three sons, destroys the village without killing the people. For many years, Mowgli is convinced that villages are more dangerous places to live than the jungle, where he understands the laws of the beasts. Later, when Mowgli is seventeen, he finds Messua in another village and goes to live with her as he comes to accept his place among people.

Council Rock

Council Rock. Place in the jungle where the wolves and others of the jungle meet to make important decisions. At this location the infant man cub, named Mowgli, or “Frog,” is spared from the wrath of Shere Khan the tiger by the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther. Later, at this location, Mowgli defends the wolf pack’s aging leader, Akela, by spreading fire, or the Red Flower, to frighten away the younger wolves of the Seeonee Pack, who seek Akela’s and Mowgli’s deaths. Years later, when Mowgli is grown, he finally kills his sworn enemy, Shere Khan, and hangs his hide on the Council Rock. So the Council Rock is a symbol of leadership and power, where Mowgli finally wins a good name for himself.

Cold Lairs

Cold Lairs. Lost city that Mowgli visits several times, once when the monkey people take him captive there, and again when he explores the treasures stored in this forgotten place. A place of ruined houses and temples, Cold Lairs is a reminder of death. A white cobra guards the treasure, and when Mowgli takes a jeweled and thorn-pointed ankus into the jungle, he finds six men willing to kill one another for it before he returns it to Cold Lairs. The role of greed among men causes Mowgli to reject the gold coins and other treasures of this lost city. By the law of the jungle, Mowgli learns to live free of greed.

Other places

Other places. Other stories in this collection are set in a variety of places, such as St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, Devon Island above Lancaster Sound in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and near a village in the Himalayan Mountains beyond Mutteeanee Pass. In each of these settings, whether Kipling is discussing white seals fighting for survival or men seeking the meaning of their lives, their isolation helps the reader focus on the essentials...

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of life. Just asThe Jungle Books as a whole focus on the law of the jungle, so the stories in other settings also focus on the principles of dignity, honesty, and valor in challenging circumstances.


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The first story opens in the jungle near a native village, a setting that evokes a timeless atmosphere, similar to the beast fables of Aesop or to certain folktales where animals have the power to think and speak. The reader is first introduced to the wolves, who are passionately discussing the violence of humans. Father Wolf then saves Mowgli, a human baby who has strayed away from the village, from a hungry tiger named Shere Khan. Father Wolf brings Mowgli home to Mother Wolf, who rears him as one of her own.

In later stories the reader observes a human household from the viewpoint of a mongoose and sees an army camp through the eyes of the army animals. In one story Kipling leaves the Indian jungle altogether to tell the story of a young seal in the Bering Sea, who, like the jungle animals, understands all too well the cruelty of humans.

Literary Qualities

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The stories of The Jungle Book have a lyrical quality characterized by concise descriptive passages and a simple, elegant storytelling style. In the story "Mowgli's Brothers," the description of the black panther dropping into a circle of wolves demonstrates Kipling's lyrical style:

A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui [the jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.

Kipling's flair for storytelling has delighted adults, as well as the younger readers for whom The Jungle Book was intended. Of special charm are the poems at the end of each story that enlarge upon some aspect of the story.

Social Sensitivity

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Like Aesop's Fables, the stories of The Jungle Book all seem to have a moral. Kipling shows how Mowgli, Toomai, and various animals confront danger, learn to overcome it, and in the process become aware of the diversity and meaning of life. The central characters, whether they be human or animal, learn much about the evil of the jungle and of human beings, but they also learn about goodness and develop their own values. Order and wisdom are predominant values found among the animals. Kipling's narrative reflects nineteenth-century attitudes in its depiction of nature as possessing a moral order that is superior to the human order. While ignorance and violence abound in the jungle, these traits in humans seem much worse, because humans have the power to choose to do good or evil.

"The White Seal" is Kipling's most didactic piece. In it he condemns hunters who pursue and kill seals only to sell their pelts. In Kipling's view, greed is at the root of most of the failings of humankind.

In contrast to prejudices that were common in British colonial India in the nineteenth century, Kipling shows respect for the Indian people, although he often portrays them as overly subservient to priests and superstitions. He often pokes fun at the air of superiority many of the British adopted toward the Indians. Examples of this may be found in "Toomai of the Elephants," where the British characters make such statements as "native boys have no nerves." Kipling's true feelings are revealed by his emphasis on Toomai's innocence, the very quality that allows him to see the elephants' dance.


Key Ideas and Commentary


Connections and Further Reading