Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615
Kipling once said that his “original notion” as a writer was “to tell the English something of the world outside England.” An Englishman reared in India, Kipling grew up to be fascinated with other cultures. As an adult, he traveled extensively, visiting or living in such places as South Africa,...
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- Critical Essays
Kipling once said that his “original notion” as a writer was “to tell the English something of the world outside England.” An Englishman reared in India, Kipling grew up to be fascinated with other cultures. As an adult, he traveled extensively, visiting or living in such places as South Africa, Japan, the United States, and Bermuda. He sought to introduce his readers to distant lands through the exotic settings of Just So Stories: South America, the Middle East, India, and Africa, among other places.
In addition to enlightening readers about other cultures, Kipling’s stories reveal his connection with and understanding of the world of children. He wrote Just So Stories when his three children were small, completing the book after the death of his eldest, favorite child, Josephine. The intimate narrative tone of the book suggests that the stories were written, on one level, to allow Kipling to reexperience his close relationship with his daughter.
This personal tone is expressed through Kipling’s innovative use of language. His language is colloquial and informal, with rhythms closely matching those of speech. He uses words incorrectly and misspells them, as a child might. For example, it is the elephant child’s “’satiable curtiosities” that get him into trouble. Kipling’s style is also lushly descriptive in a way that delights children. He uses poetic devices such as onomatopoeia, forming a word by imitation of a sound made or associated with its referent (“greeny-crackly melons,” “twirly-whirly eel,” “ooshy-skooshy” sea); alliteration, starting two or more words of a word group with the same letter (“great grey-green, greasy, Limpopo River”); and repetition of phrases to evoke time, place, and mood.
Although verses follow each story, sometimes Kipling uses rhythm and rhyme within a story for whimsical effect, such as this passage from “How the Whale Got His Throat”:. . . he stumped and he jumped and he thumped and he bumped, and he pranced and he danced, and he banged and he clanged, and he hit and he bit, and he leaped and he creeped, and he prowled and he howled, and he hopped and he dropped, and he cried and he sighed, and he crawled and he bawled, and he stepped and he lepped . . .
While using language in a way that appeals to children, Kipling also demonstrates his profound respect for the innocent vulnerability of the young by drawing a parallel between animals and children. The Just So Stories are anthropomorphic; that is, the animal characters speak and act like humans. In particular, they act like human children.
Kipling felt a strong empathy with children because of his own childhood experiences. At age six, Kipling and his sister were sent from India to England to live with grossly abusive relatives for six years. When asked as an adult why he and his sister never let anyone know the horror of their lives in what they called “The House of Desolation,” he replied: “Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established.”
Through giving mute animals a voice in the Just So Stories, Kipling was actually giving children a voice. The animal-children in the stories are uninhibited and independent in a way that Kipling could never be as a child. They sulk, steal cake, run away from home, and even take revenge on their tormentors, as when the elephant child uses his newly stretched trunk to severely whip all the relatives who had unjustly spanked him for his “’satiable curtiosities.” Just So Stories is an affectionate, exotic gift to Kipling’s own adored children, and the book offers its audience an ideal vision of childhood as a time of innocence, independence, whimsy, and wonder.