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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’’ enjoyed unwavering success as a children’s story well into the early 2000s, by which time it was considered a classic and appeared in numerous editions and anthologies.

Kipling himself was the subject of criticism since he began publishing in his early twenties. His receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1907 was met with wide approval from the general readership with which he was immensely popular and dismay by the literary world. He was perceived by the literary establishment as a writer of verse, rather than of prose; the simple style of much of his prose was considered little more than entertaining; over the decades many found his blunt, straightforward politicizing both unrefined and offensive.

The English poet T. S. Eliot, however, years after Kipling’s death, found value enough in his verse to publish a newly edited collection in 1941; in his introductory essay he defended Kipling’s abilities as a poet. However, by 1941, Britain had faced one world war, was embroiled in another, and its once-powerful empire was crumbling; the unquestioned optimism and belief in the superiority and the romance of imperialism that was so much a part of Victorian-era philosophy was replaced by cynicism and pessimism that characterized the postwar, post-empire era. Kipling’s work was markedly characterized by what became his dated promotion of British imperialism—a theme that appeared even in the children’s story ‘‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’’—and by this time the greatest defense Kipling needed was not for his questionable talent, but for the incorrectness of his political views. Eliot attempted a defense by writing: ‘‘Poetry is condemned as ‘political’ when we disagree with the politics; and the majority of readers do not want either imperialism or socialism in verse. But the question is not what is ephemeral, but what is permanent . . . we have therefore to try to find the permanent in Kipling’s verse.’’

Eliot’s defense of Kipling...

(The entire section is 469 words.)