“Mowgli’s Brothers” was first published in May of 1894 as one of seven stories included in Rudyard Kipling’s collection The Jungle Book. Several years after first outlining the traits and personality of his character Mowgli, Kipling published The Jungle Book, which was considered “the literary event” of 1894. Kipling is known for his colorful depictions of characters, both human and animal, and for setting, most often the jungles of India, and his predilection for delivering a moral or lesson. “Mowgli’s Brothers” is no exception. It is the story of the orphaned boy, Mowgli, who is adopted by a pack of wolves and must learn how to live in the jungle with the pack. The tale is rich in self-exploration and the search for personal identity.
The story exemplifies the struggle between Mowgli’s learned traits as a wolf and his innate traits as a man. The two mutually exclusive identities create great difficulty for Mowgli as he attempts to be both what he is by birth and what he has become in the jungle. Through his attention to the Law of the Jungle, Mowgli is proven a worthy member of the pack. Yet, through his innate human faculties, he possesses a power that is enviable among the jungle creatures. In the polar characteristics of Mowgli’s complex identity as wolf and man, Kipling constructs a didactic framework from which he delivers lessons and morals.
The story opens with the presentation of Mother and Father Wolf and the family’s necessity for food. Father Wolf is readying himself to begin hunting to feed his mate and cubs when the jackal, Tabaqui, enters their den looking for scraps. Tabaqui finds a bone and is satisfied. After eating the bone, the devious jackal compliments the wolves’ children to their faces, which is considered unlucky. Both Mother and Father Wolf are uncomfortable, and Tabaqui revels in his mischief. Amidst the tension, Tabaqui delivers the news that the lame tiger, Shere Kahn, plans to shift his hunting patterns to the wolves’ hills. This news angers Father Wolf who knows that the tiger will disrupt the patterns of local game, making his hunt increasingly difficult. The exchange so frustrates Father Wolf that he throws Tabaqui out of his den.
After sending Tabaqui out of their cave, Mother and Father Wolf hear the tiger below in the brush. Father Wolf is angered because the tiger’s noise will surely scare away his family’s dinner. Mother Wolf realizes that Shere Kahn is not hunting game, but man. The wolves are anxious as they listen to the tiger because the Law of the Jungle forbids killing man, except under certain circumstances. They hear the tiger spring to attack, but none of the villagers is caught. The tiger lands in the fire, burning his paws and scaring the villagers away. The wolves are pleased, but they hear something coming towards their den. Father Wolf poises himself for attack, and just as the creature is about to arrive, Father Wolf leaps to attack. Checking mid-jump, Father Wolf realizes the creature is a small “man-cub.” Father brings the boy into the den and the boy pushes his way in between the wolf cubs looking for warmth. Next, Shere Kahn and Tabaqui arrive, blocking the entrance to the wolves’ cave and demanding the man-cub. Father Wolf does not comply, and the tiger roars with anger. Mother Wolf leaps forward, threatening and insulting the lame tiger. Shere Kahn, although filled with fury, leaves the den, proclaiming that eventually he will get the man-cub. Shere Kahn knows that tall cubs, man or beast, must be presented to the pack at Council Rock. The tiger believes the pack will reject the man-cub, and he will be able to finally eat the boy.
The wolves decide they must keep the man-cub, and Mother Wolf names him Mowgli the Frog because he is small and hairless. After some time, Mother and Father Wolf decide that it is time to present their cubs to the pack at Council Rock. At the Council Rock, the cubs are all brought before the pack. Akela, the leader, instructs everyone to, “Look well—look well, O Wolves!” If there is a dispute over the right of a cub to be accepted into the pack, then the cub must be spoken for by two members of the pack other than his mother and father. Mother Wolf pushes Mowgli into the middle of the pack to be accepted or rejected. There is a great disturbance, fueled by Shere Kahn’s desire to eat the boy. Yet, in the end, two extended members of the back, Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther, speak for Mowgli. Baloo agrees to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle, and Bagheera buys the pack with a freshly killed bull. With this, Mowgli enters the wolf pack.
After Mowgli’s first appearance at Council Rock, the story leaps forward by a decade. With the help of his family, Baloo, and Bagheera, Mowgli now understands the Law of the Jungle. He knows what to eat, how to kill, and how to enjoy the jungle. He understands that Shere Kahn is not to be trusted. Mother Wolf tells him that one day he must kill Shere Kahn.
Akela is aging, and Shere Kahn sees the changing of leadership as an opportunity to turn the pack against Mowgli. He plants the seed of envy amongst the young wolves by reminding them that no animal in the jungle can look Mowgli between the eyes. The tiger challenges the wolves by proclaiming that Mowgli is too powerful, too much like man, and that he does not belong in the jungle. Shere Kahn convinces part of the pack to plot against Akela. Once Akela misses a kill, the Law of the Jungle allows the pack to challenge the leader one-by-one until someone kills the leader, taking his position. With the change of tide, Shere Kahn believes he will finally be allowed to eat Mowgli.
Bagheera is aware of Shere Kahn’s devious plan. He informs Mowgli and counsels the boy. The panther tells Mowgli to steal fire from the village and then, at Council Rock when the pack is set to challenge Akela, wield the fire and save the aging leader from the tiger’s cabal. Mowgli follows Bagheera’s advice. At his final appearance at Council Rock, Mowgli listens to Shere Kahn’s attempts to incite his followers to overthrow Akela. Clearly his only motivation is his desire to eat Mowgli. With a large portion of the pack against him, Mowgli begins to understand that he must leave the jungle and return to a human existence. Yet, in a final act of gratitude, Mowgli silences Shere Kahn and his wolves. He ignites a dead branch with the fire he has stolen from the villagers, frightening all the beasts. Mowgli exerts the power of fire, burning Shere Kahn and sending him howling into the jungle. After disposing of the tiger, Mowgli demands that Akela be allowed to live, and he banishes the mutinous members of the pack. With this final show of power, Mowgli knows he must forever leave the jungle and enter an unknown future in the village. He says farewell to his foster family and walks down the hillside toward the village.
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