Rudyard Kipling

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S. T. Sharma (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: Sharma, S. T. “Kipling's India: A Study of Some Short Stories.” Literary Criterion 22, no. 4 (1987): 54-61.

[In the following essay, Sharma explores Kipling's identification with India as expressed in the four short stories collected in The Day's Work: “The Maltese Cat,” “William the Conqueror,” “The Tomb of His Ancestors,” and “The Bridge Builders.”]

The question of Kipling's identification with India becomes relevant in view of the fact that Kipling spent his apprentice years in India and emerged on the literary scene as a major Anglo-Indian writer. It is equally interesting because Kipling spent his early years in India accepting its pattern of life, and that too at a time when there was a general opinion that to adopt to Indian conditions was to conform to an inferior standard.

The life pattern of Kipling also indicates a constant displacement which forced him to commit himself to a new home whether it be British India or Vermont or Sussex. Each time the commitment was sudden and wholehearted. No wonder then when he came to India he soon discovered that he had a proprietary and hereditary claim to the soil and once remarked “My English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength”.1

The political condition of India was complex when Kipling arrived. There were two major forces at work. There was the pressure of the Indians towards national unification and self-government and an equal pressure of the English national conscience towards more efficient and beneficient government of the Indians. Kipling was exposed not only to this land but also a land with its bewildering variety of people, rich cultural traditions, social organisations, intellectual achievements, speculative thoughts, emotional and aesthetic achievements in art forms and spiritual achievements. Above all there were the metaphysical truths of Indian philosophy stamped on the general mind of the people. If an Englishman came to India just as a visitor he could probably criticize objectively the British India. But once a man committed himself to the Anglo-Indian endeavour as did Kipling, he found that the process had determined for him a way of thinking and acting. He realised the potential value of British India as a subject for fiction and like Conrad wrote from direct observation. Whether or not he achieved unqualified success as a novelist, the best part of his writing certainly is preserved in his short stories.

When a major British writer publishes a collection of stories based on Indian life it is an event worthy of consideration. As the approaches to criticism of the short story are manifold, there are structural, textual, social and political elements that need examination. One useful approach would be to look for relevance and study the overall impact of the story at this distance of time. Especially in Kipling whose fictional mode is suffused with the inner springs of Indian culture and tradition a few stories tend to become highly philosophical on account of his genuinely religious and moral involvement in Indian consciousness. Deeply influenced by the national character of India Kipling identifies himself with the verious aspects of Indian life. A brief analysis of the four Indian stories in The Day's Work will substantiate the point.

‘The Maltese Cat’ is more or less a fable written in the manner of the Panchatantra stories. It contains an unusual characterisation and the entire narration is from the point of view of horses. The story is more like a running commentary on the polo game played by the two teams. The Archangels and The Skidars. The European game is played on...

(This entire section contains 2999 words.)

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the Indian soil with fine and costly horses of a superior breed on one side and cheap ponies gathered ‘often from the country carts’ on the other side. The central figure is the Maltese Cat, an ageing pony who was once drawing vegetable carts. But he is endowed with extraordinary qualities of leadership. When the spirit of competition mounts to a tension the Maltese Cat directs the movements, exhorts his companions and wins the game. The antithesis between the two teams is beautifully worked out and the conversation among the horses reminds us of the story telling device of thePanchatantra. Animal passions are expressed in the human form. The horses of the ordinary breed prove to be more than a match for their counterparts. The central symbolism is a veritable pointer to the political context. The whole action and its larger resonances revolve around the idea of leadership and unity. Behind a simplistic and apparently sportive game is the Westerner's positive assessment of the potentials of the Indian soil. The characters inhabiting the fictional milieu may be animals but their capacities prepare the ground for what the men could achieve.

‘William the Conqueror’ is a tender love story in which two hearts are drawn to each other in the Madras State which is in the grip of a famine. Probably the famine of the Dhathu Varsha must have had its terrible impact on Kipling during his stay in India. What begins as a social history mellows into a subdued, unobtrusive and silent love story. Scott, a military officer, is sent to a famine-hit area in Madras for relief work and William is the sister of his colleague Martyn. The lovers are Western and the birth of their love is on the Indian soil where values of life are different. Forgoing all her comforts William works in the relief camps and takes charge of the starving children. In Scott we find the apparent disregard for finer sentiments since he supervises over the relief measures like a man possessed. Nor does William articulate her feelings and practically all the conversation between them is about relief work. It is only towards the end that we find them dancing at a party and William wipes tears from her eyes. There is no formal proposal or engagement nor a passionate declaration though Scott had danced with her several times. Their love has the fragrance of an Indian rose, tender, beautiful and yet sacred. William knows how to restrain herself, how to hide her feelings. It is in the ‘land of death’ that love is born and what could have become a romantic tale becomes a sacred relationship. Kipling plants the sapling of European love in the Indian soil, waters it with unspoken gestures, manures it with toil and human sympathy and love blossoms with a typical Indian fragrance.

Based on the Hindu belief of rebirth ‘The Tomb of His Ancestors’ is a story that covers three generations of a single family with John Chinn as the central figure supposed to be the reborn grandfather, John Chinn. The Chinns had served India generation after generation. The grandson also comes to Central India, the place where the old Chinn had served. He serves a culturally primitive race known as the Bhils and the people adore him for ‘He's a Pukka Chinn’. He identifies himself with the tribal people and establishes a wonderful relationship with them. He knows the life style of the Bhils, their manners, culture, beliefs and superstitions. There is a pattern about the behaviour of the Chinns and in line with his ancestors whom young Chinn not merely resembles physically but also in his behaviour, young Chinn wields his power with a threat and a smile. The people's faith in the theory of rebirth is reinforced. Like his great ancestor he infuses confidence in the people, cleverly gets them vaccinated, a thing which they had resisted for years. This he could achieve only when he admonishes them from the tomb of his ancestors and the people believe that it is the voice of old Chinn. He walks on foot to kill the menacing tiger and establishes his leadership. The British Officer comes to serve in a place where values and beliefs are different. He knows that to disturb these values which have been strengthened by centuries of moral, religious injunctions would only amount to inviting trouble. Still he is able to sensitize a race to a new line of acceptance. This he could achieve because of his cultural and emotional identification with the people. Instead of attempting to define what should be India the author understands what is India.

‘The Bridge-builders’ is a complex story with various strands of experience woven in its texture. With a sensitive and informed mind Kipling displays a deeper understanding of the social, and political problems of India. The spiritual tradition of India serves as a huge backdrop for the story.

Findlayson undertakes the responsibility of building the great Kashi Bridge over the Gunga. Assisted by Hitchcock and the Indian lascar Peroo, he almost completes his task when heavy floods arrive in the Gunga. Findlayson is terribly upset when the racing water threatens the piers. Induced by Peroo he takes a few pellets of opium to alleviate his fever and tension and falls into a reverie. He sees a synod of Indian gods who try to appease Mother Gunga. When all discussions fail Lord Krishna appears on the scene and consoles Mother Gunga. Findlayson recovers himself to see the flood under control.

What is significant in the story is the second half, the reverie in which the Panchayat of the gods is presented. Details relating to Indian mythology, religion and philosophy are presented to the minutest detail. The gods appear in the animal form starting with The Bull (Lord Shiva), The Ape (Hanuman), The Elephant (Lord Ganesa), The Tigress (Kali Matha), The Ass (Sitala Matha, goddess of small pox), and The Black Buck (Indira). There is also a drunken Man representing Kala Bhairava, and a green parrot representing Karma. The Mugger of the Ganges is Gunga Matha who is grieved over the ‘shrinking of her waters.’

The Synod is divided into two apparently irreconcilable camps, each preparing to fling itself on the other and the strife does not get resolved. The arrival of Lord Krishna climaxing their discussion seems to be the most fascinating and final answer to the problem presented. It is not a Krishna who exhorts an Arjuna to a war path but a lovable Lord characterised by mellowed music, soft towards all creatures, from a blade of grass to animals, birds, men and women. Krishna is the avatar of Brahman as he himself says.

“… I alone of us all walk upon the earth continually and have no pleasure in our heavens … but ye live far off, forgetting from whence ye came. So I do not forget”.2

The assembly needs his presence and He answers all the doubts of the lesser gods, dispels their fear, avoids destruction and establishes peace and bliss.

This philosophical background is closely related to the political context. The East India Company which came to India for trade slowly took over the administration of the land. It began to transform the modes and thoughts of the nation in terms of its own parameters, at the same time when its environment was improved. Though a section of the land was fascinated by the British way of life there were still men at the lower level whose acceptance of the British supremacy did not clash with their native faith. Hence Kipling characterises Peroo the lascar, a nondescript, as the representative of the Indian conscience. It is he who first raises doubts over the successful completion of the bridge:

“What think you Mother Gunga will say when the rail runs over”?3

Findlayson is sceptical and remarks,

“She has said little so far.”4

Peroo comments:

“There is always time for her.”5

Peroo is a commoner who believes that Nature in India is the deputy of god. Though he has travelled far and wide he believes in the Gunga:

London is London, Saheb, Sydney is Sydney, and Port Darwin is Port Darwin. Also Mother Gunga is Mother Gunga, and when I come back to her banks I know this and worship.6

The opposition to British rule was gradually taking shape and if the revolutionaries took a destructive attitude it would damage all the benefits attained. The bridge across the Ganges would not only ‘shrink the waters’ but also provide improved means of transport. It is at this point that the story releases a tremendous symbol. The title suggests building a bridge between Britain and India, between Western and Eastern cultures and explores the age old Indian philosophy and its relevance to the modern context.

Mother Gunga represents Mother India and her complaint against the construction of the bridge represents the revolt against the British authority. Kali Matha symbolising the reactionaries favours the idea of destruction while the lesser gods like Ganesa (of Good Luck) representing the traders and the common folk remain confused. It is at this crucial moment that Lord Krishna appears and tells Gunga:

Mother, get thee to thy flood again. The matter is not for thee, what harm shall thy honour take of this live dirt? Thou has given them their fields new year after year, and by thy flood they are made strong. They come all to thee at the last. What need to slay them now? Have pity, mother, for a little—and it is only for a little.7

The Gunga is a little disconsolate. Krishna makes a final appeal.

‘Be certain that it is only for a little. The Heavenly ones have heard thee, and presently justice will be done. Go now, mother, to the Flood again’.8

Gunga repeats

‘But the bridge—the bridge stands’.9

Krishna understands the futility of her wrath and says.

‘And when all is done, what profit? Tomorrow sees them at work. Ay, if ye swept the bridge out from end to end they would build anew’.10

The final in junction comes now.

‘It is but a little time to wait, and you shall know if I lie’.11

This dialogue seems to suggest that the bridge across the Ganges is only a temporary bridge or rather, the British sway in India would not last long. Even half a century before India attained independence Kipling had a prophetic vision of its becoming free. As one who had rightly understood the Indian philosophy Kipling lays emphasis on the basic principle of the Indian tradition that India, said to be a secular state, does not reject the reality of its own faith and no nation can arrogate to itself the rights and privileges of another nation which are not legitimately its own. The concept of the Flood and its fury is the mahapralaya which means creation—destruction and creation again. Even in destruction ‘Karma’ does not die and so the parrot is with Krishna. Every time destruction occurs a new ‘Kalpa’ begins and a fresh cycle of creation and construction begins. People live and die. The change is only in names.

‘Beloved, they will do no more than change the names, and that we have seen a thousand times’.12

This philosophical awareness of the Infinite has given Kipling a better understanding of the political change in India. It amounts to saying that even after a series of invasions and conquests the under-current of values and faiths still persists. The story is more or less a requiem for the British Raj in India and that could come from Kipling because of his identification with the precious Indian heritage which defines the passing of events. An Indian has to value this significant awareness and its persistent manifestation through the centuries for promoting an increase in the national consciousness.

Taking the four stories together it is possible to notice some common identifiable features which give fresh insights into the author's identification with India. The four stories have a common locale namely, British India, whether it is Upper India (‘The Maltese Cat’) or Madras State (‘William the Conqueror’) or Central India (‘The Tomb of the Ancestors’) or Kashi (‘The Bridge-builders’). In all these stories there is a British contribution in the form of a polo game, or famine relief work, or service to a primitive community or the construction of a bridger. There is a British commitment to the work undertaken and the protagonists are engaged in a quest not so much for the inner truth about themselves as for a place in the social or professional world to which their talents are ideally suited. The conditions of life in India constantly test the physical and emotional stamina of the Britishers whether it is training ponies of an inferior breed, or carrying out relief measures against odds, or civilising a primitive community that wants to kill a vaccinator or constructing a bridge in spite of the lack of amenities and administrative red-tape. In all the four stories the Britishers never fail because of their adventurous grit. From one angle it looks like a portrait gallery of successful Britishers who served India. But one must also take into account that the protagonists are led only by the Indian characters, be it an inferior pony, or an Indianised William, or the Indian servant Bukta or Peroo the lascar. The pony displays wonderful qualifies of leadership, love takes a sacred form, the theory of rebirth is respected and above all Advaita philosophy is affirmed to be the best solution to alleviate sorrow. All this points out to Kipling's great sense of awareness in Indian matters and it has been rightly pointed out that “I … British sndia produced no author with individual characteristic as striking with a vision of India as personal and coherent, as Kipling's”.13 When Kipling sailed from India in March 1889 he was “a returned Anglo-Indian, a homeless man who had left a vital part of himself in the East, a writer whose view of the world was inexorably conditioned by the land and the people amongst whom he had grown to maturity”.14


  1. Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 44

  2. Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Bridge-Builders’, The Day's Work (London: Macmillan, 1964), p. 39.

  3. Ibid., p. 9.

  4. Ibid., p. 9.

  5. Ibid., p. 9.

  6. Ibid., p. 10.

  7. Ibid., p. 37.

  8. Ibid., p. 37.

  9. Ibid., p. 38.

  10. Ibid., p. 38.

  11. Ibid., p. 42.

  12. Ibid., p. 41.

  13. Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India, p. 121.

  14. Ibid., p. 165.


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Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

(Full name Joseph Rudyard Kipling) English short story writer, poet, novelist, essayist, and autobiographer.

The following entry provides an overview of Kipling's short fiction works.

Creator of many of the world's most cherished short stories, Kipling is considered one of the finest writers of short fiction in international literature. Credited with popularizing the short story genre in England, Kipling is perhaps most famous for his insightful stories of Indian culture and Anglo-Indian society. Kipling is equally renowned for his masterful, widely read stories for children, which are collected in Just So Stories for Little Children (1902), the two Jungle Books (1894; 1895, respectively), Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), and Reward and Fairies (1910). Many critics consider Mowgli, the central figure in the Jungle Books, one of the most memorable characters in children's literature.

Biographical Information

Kipling was born in Bombay, India, to English parents. At the age of six he was sent to school in southern England, an unhappy experience that he wrote about in the story “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” For five years he lived with unsympathetic guardians in a foster home Kipling called the “House of Desolation,” and at the age of twelve he was sent to boarding school in Devon. Despite being bullied and ostracized by his schoolmates during his first years there, Kipling wrote fondly of his public school experiences in the short fiction collection Stalky & Co. (1899). Just before his seventeenth birthday, Kipling returned to India to work as a journalist on the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette and the Allahabad Pioneer. The stories he wrote for these two newspapers, published in 1888 as the collection Plain Tales from the Hills, earned him widespread recognition in India. Kipling returned to England in 1889 in order to pursue a literary career. Soon after arriving in London, he began collaborating with Wolcott Balestier, an American literary agent. In 1892 Kipling married Balestier's sister Caroline, and the couple lived on her family's estate in Vermont for four years. During this time Kipling produced the two Jungle Books and began writing Kim (1901), considered by many his finest novel. Disenchanted with American society in general and devastated by the death of his daughter Josephine in 1899, Kipling returned to Europe, eventually settling in Sussex, England, a locale that figures prominently in the stories from Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies. In 1907 Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature for both his short fiction and novels, the first English author to be so honored. He died in 1936 after several years of illness and was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Kipling's fame as a short fiction writer is based predominantly on three types of stories: his exotic tales of India, his narratives about the military, and his children's books. As a journalist in India, Kipling had the opportunity to explore many facets of Anglo-Indian culture, and the East provided the setting for much of his early fiction. His portrayal of India and its culture occupies many dimensions; he wrote stories about virtually every sector of society. These tales are imitative of the French conte and are considered remarkable for their innovative plots and deceptively simple structures. In general, critics concur that his best stories of India are those in which he reveals an underlying chaos and lack of control amidst a seemingly well-ordered society. “The Bridge Builders,” for instance, dwells on the exotic appearances of Indian laborers, the arcane Indian pantheon, and the catastrophic flooding of the Ganges to show, in contrast, the pathetically limited imagination of British architecture and its ineptitude in controlling nature. Kipling was fascinated by the military—the lives of British soldiers in India, the Far East, and during World War I inspired many of his stories. His early portraits of British soldiers during peacetime are light-hearted and diverting, but also realistic and without illusions. Kipling's best-known military tales are those that focus on three British soldiers: Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd. The “soldiers three” are jauntily portrayed in their manic lives of romancing, drinking, mischief-making, and occasional fighting in such stories as “The Madness of Private Ortheris” and “Private Learoyd's Story.” Kipling's later military tales depict the horrors of World War I with tragic insight and exactitude. His grim yet lyrical delineation of agony and irrecoverable loss is starkly revealed in “Mary Postgate” and “The Gardener,” two stories that reflect both the hate and undying love inspired by the war. Kipling achieved perhaps his greatest literary success with the stories he wrote for children, most of which contain elements of humor intended for adults as well. Kipling fashioned these tales to be read aloud, and critics agree that the oral beauty of his writing makes these stories particularly memorable. The Just So Stories for Little Children, written in a nonsensical secretive language, are intended for very young children and comically consider such timeless mysteries as why camels have humps or how writing was developed. Kipling's most famous collections, the two Jungle Books, chronicle the life of Mowgli, a boy who is abandoned by his parents and raised by wolves to become the master of the jungle. Commentators often note Kipling's gift for anthropomorphism in his fiction, and the animal characters in the Jungle Books are presented with simplicity, humor, and dignity.

Critical Reception

Kipling began writing short stories in the mid-1880s; by the turn of the century he was one of the most widely read authors in England. Prestigious newspapers including the Times of London and the Scots Observer published his stories regularly, and by 1896, his works had been collected in a uniform edition—a rare honor for so young a writer. Kipling was not without detractors, however, and some commentators rejected his stories as imperialist, vulgar, simple-minded, and unnecessarily brutal. Critics concur that Kipling's early success stemmed, in part, from his ability to inspire deep emotions in his audiences. Few readers reacted with indifference to his writing. The imperialist views Kipling expressed in his Indian stories also contributed to his initial success; however, later in his career after political tides in England had shifted, his stories were considered outdated and his popularity waned. Critical attention concentrated upon the jingoist and racist aspects of Kipling's writing almost to the exclusion of his literary accomplishments. Following his death, a major reassessment of his talents led to his recognition as an astute storyteller who possessed profound insights and a rare gift for entertaining. Although his stories are not uniformly praised, he is nonetheless regarded as one of the masters of the short story form. His exotic tales of India and entertaining children's stories are enjoyed by readers of all ages. Indeed, at the time of his death in 1936, Kipling's collected stories—roughly 250 of them—had sold over fifteen million volumes.

T. C. W. Stinton (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: Stinton, T. C. W. “What Happened in ‘Mrs. Bathhurst’?” Essays in Criticism 38, no. 1 (January 1988): 55-74.

[In the following essay, Stinton finds thematic similarities between the story “Mrs. Bathurst” and several other Kipling tales and explores the story's discontinuous narrative.]

To use one work of an author to illuminate another is always hazardous. Each work starts from different premises to reach different conclusions. So it is an error to use Sophocles' Oedipus Coloneus to illuminate his Oedipus Tyrannus, and vice versa. With Kipling it is even more hazardous, since he said himself that it was his policy to avoid repetition, and clearly implied this in ‘The Bull that Thought’: ‘no artist can be expected to repeat himself’.1 Nonetheless, he did often treat the same theme more than once, not only in a general way, such as the themes of laughter or revenge which occur throughout his works, but with themes of more restricted scope, treated in different ways. I believe that the special and much discussed difficulties of ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ justify a cautious comparison with other stories, and that there are enough analogies, as I deem them, to make this worth-while—stories, that is, which embody the theme of ‘destined reunion’. These I shall briefly review, summarizing only those parts that are immediately relevant.

‘By Word of Mouth’ is the last but one of Plain Tales from the Hills (1888). Dr. Dumoise is a Civil Surgeon, called ‘“Dormouse”, because he was a round little, sleepy little man’, who ‘married a girl as round and sleepy-looking as himself’. The couple lived in happy isolation, absorbed in each other, till Mrs. Dumoise died of typhoid in an epidemic. Dumoise, inconsolable, goes on leave to walk in the hills, where ‘the scenery is good if you are in trouble’. As he halts for the night at a remote dâk-bungalow, his terror-stricken bearer appears to tell him that he has seen the dead woman, and that she has given him a message for her husband: ‘“Ram Dass, Give my salaams to the Sahib, and tell him that I shall meet him next month at Nuddea”’. Dumoise waits all night for her but she never comes. Closely questioned, the bearer says he does not know where Nuddea is, has no friends there and ‘would most certainly never go to Nuddea, even though his pay were doubled’. Nuddea is in fact in Bengal, twelve hundred miles from Dumoise's station in the Punjab. On his return there Dumoise has just finished telling the story to his locum when a telegram arrives ordering him on special duty to Nuddea—alone, since his bearer refuses to come with him—and eleven days later he is dead.

The story is a straightforward one, and the supernatural element—which cannot be rationalized—is not outside the range of other magazine stories of the time. Its strength lies in the simplicity and restraint with which it is told: it has none of the complexity or irony which characterize that brilliant but erratic collection to which it belongs, and achieves a pathos matched by very few of the others, such as the equally simple ‘The Story of Muhammad Din’. Forty years later, in ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’ (Debits and Credits, 1926), Kipling treated the theme in a very different mode. As in some other stories of the Great War and its aftermath, this has its setting, and its frame, in the Masonic Lodge where its victims are made welcome and given such help or healing as is possible. The war is over. Strangwick, a boy who went out in 1917 and served as battalion runner, breaks down; ‘I’ and Keede, the doctor, who has already come across him as a shell-shock case in France, take him aside and get him to talk about what is troubling him, while the sedative he has been given does its work.

At first he talks hysterically about the frozen corpses which creak beneath the duckboards, but Keede senses that this is a cover for something deeper. Strangwick's platoon sergeant has been found dead from charcoal fumes in a dug-out. Keede, who has known about this, is puzzled by it, and probes the boy in the belief that he has some guilty knowledge, which is the cause of his malaise. The truth that emerges is very different. Strangwick has known his platoon sergeant John Godsoe since infancy as ‘Uncle John’—no real relation, but a friend of the family who lives in the next street. His mother's sister Bella (‘Auntie Armine’ because she was ‘“like somethin' movin' slow,” in armour’: she had been handsome, and her husband's surname, as we learn later, is Armine) has also been close since infancy. During his leave in January 1918 she has given him a message for Godsoe: ‘“Tell Uncle John I hope to be finished of my drawback by the twenty-first, an' I'm dying to see 'im as soon as 'e can after that date”’. The drawback, as we know but Strangwick does not, is terminal cancer—‘“a bit of a gatherin' in 'er breast, I believe”’—and he delivers the message on his return on January 11th. Ten days later, on January 21st, he goes to warn Godsoe for immediate leave, one of his duties as runner. On his way he is startled for a moment to see his Auntie Armine, but ‘“it was only the dark an' some rags of gas-screen, ‘angin’ on a bit o' board, ‘ad played me the trick”’. He tells Godsoe this, and laughs: ‘“That's the last time I 'ave laughed”’. Godsoe takes it calmly, but on the way back asks exactly where she was.

‘“In 'er bed at 'ome”, I says. “Come on down. It's perishin' cold, and I'm not due for leaf”.

‘“Well, I am’, 'e says. ‘I am …” An' then—give you me word I didn't recognise the voice—he stretches out 'is neck a bit, in a way 'e 'ad, an' he says: “Why, Bella!” 'e says. “Oh, Bella!” 'e says. “Thank Gawd! 'e says. Just like that! An' then I saw—I tell you I saw—Auntie Armine herself standin' by the old dressin'-station door where first I'd thought I'd seen her. He was lookin' at 'er an' she was lookin' at him. I saw it, an' me soul turned over inside me because—because it knocked out everything I'd believed in. I ‘ad nothing to lay ‘old of, d'ye see? An' 'e was lookin' at ‘er as though he could 'ave 'et 'er, an' she was lookin' at ‘im in the same way, out of 'er eyes. Then he says: “Why, Bella”, 'e says “this must be only the second time we've been alone together in all these years.” An' I saw 'er half hold out her arms to 'im in the perishin' cold. An' she nearer fifty than forty an me own Aunt! …

‘If the dead do rise—and I saw 'em—why—why anything can 'appen … For I saw 'er’, he repeated. ‘I saw 'im and 'er—she dead since mornin' time, ‘an he killin' 'imself before my livin' eyes so as to carry on with 'er for all Eternity—an' she ‘oldin' out 'er arms for it!’

The truth revealed, he passes out. ‘“That's the real thing at last”’, says Keede. ‘“All he wants now is to be kept quiet till he wakes”’.

The supernatural is again all-important, and no more here than in ‘By Word of Mouth’ can it be rationalized without making nonsense of the story. It is not, however, the vision of the supernatural in itself that has so shocked Strangwick and knocked the bottom out of his world, but the sudden apprehension of a love which is not only beyond his imagining in its scale and intensity, but literally out of this world; and the lovers who share this passion are two solid, middle-aged pillars of his own home life. The supernatural gives the scale: John Godsoe's suicide is to bring the lovers together for all eternity. Moreover, the appointment in death, to which their long years of mutual fidelity has somehow entitled them, is seen as sanctioned by powers beyond human understanding. No wonder Strangwick has rejected his conventional engagement to the conventional girl with whom he has been ‘pricin’ things in the windows’, and so (as we learn from Bella's widower, Brother Armine) implicated himself in ‘a little breach of promise action’. He is, as he says, left with ‘nothing to lay hold of’. The revelation has not only shown what he thought was real love to be an empty thing; it has shattered the once stable world of home in which his aunt and ‘uncle’ had hitherto played their appointed role as mother-and father-figures.

In this story, which must rank as one of Kipling's best, a complex theme is handled with admirable economy and tact. Nothing is out of key. The naive narrator, who does not fully understand what he describes—or in this case understands only when realisation is forced upon him—is a favourite device of Kipling's, and here particularly effective. The effect is helped by his uneducated speech, which does not jar as the dialect sometimes does in the early stories, and is brilliantly set off against the lofty, evocative words of the burial service, also only half-understood. The Masonic framework is unobtrusive, while giving a realistic occasion for the story; and the shrewd questioning of the experienced doctor, sympathetic but firm, keeps the war scenes in perspective and provides a natural means of penetrating the patient's hysterical evasions and bring the truth to light. As we should expect in Kipling's later work, some of the background is sketched in by the merest hint; but the theme comes through without obscurity and without residue. Bodelsen reads into Keede's last words, quoted above, the notion that for Strangwick, as for John and Bella, life is to begin only at death. But this is an unnecessary and over-subtle complication. On the other hand there seem to be clear hints that Strangwick's aunt and ‘uncle’ are closer to him than he thinks. Bella and her husband never had any children; this is the second time she and John Godsoe have been together in all these years. When we remember Helen Turrell in ‘The Gardener’, whose tragedy was that she could never acknowledge openly, though all the village knew it, that the nephew killed in action was really her son, we can fairly infer, even from such slight indication as these, that the lovers Strangwick saw with his own eyes preparing to carry on for all eternity were his own mother and father.

That ‘By Word of Mouth’ and ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’ deal, in a very different modes, with the same theme is clear enough. At first sight, ‘Love-o'-Women’ (Many Inventions, 1893) has nothing in common with these stories. Its elaborate frame, and incident which occasions the story, as often in Kipling, is not to the point, since it sits loosely to the story which is fully intelligible without it. Mulvaney recalls a gentleman-ranker, Larry Tighe, who could ‘put the comether on any woman that trod the green earth av God, an' he knew ut’. He did it not for pure devilry or amusement, as Mulvaney did (‘an mighty sorry I have been whin harm came’), but always ‘for the black shame’; and his targets—or his victims—were the most vulnerable: women of his class (the Colonel's governess) and of transparent innocence, who would be the most harmed by his seduction, and the least risk to himself, since no-one would suspect the liaison. Even Mulvaney remonstrates with him, and gets a short answer: ‘“An' I counsel you not to judge your betters”. “My betthers!” I sez. “God help you, Larry. There's no betther in this; 'tis all bad, as ye will find for yoursilf. … Fwhin your time comes”, sez I, “ye'll remimber fwhat I say”. “An' whin that time comes”, sez he, “I'll come to you for ghostly consolation, father Terence”’.

They next meet on the North-West Frontier, after a bloody engagement. Tighe says he is now married, as he hears Mulvaney is. ‘“Send you happiness”, I sez, “That 's the best hearin' for a long time”. “Are ye of that opinion?” he sezs; an' thin he began talkin' av the campaign.’ All seems normal, save that Tighe has an unnatural thirst for more fighting, and a curious lurching gait on which he brooks no comment. But when Mulvaney has been transferred as acting NCO to Tighe's depleted company, he presently discovers him one night, alone and trying to draw the enemy's fire on himself. ‘“Oh Lord, how long, how long!” he sez, an' at that he lit a match an' held ut above his head.’ Mulvaney pulls him down under cover. ‘“I dare not kill meself”, he sez, rockin' to and fro … I'm to die slow. But I'm in hell now” he sez, shriekin' like a woman. “I'm in hell now!”’. He is tormented by memories, and he can no longer get drunk. ‘“Di'monds and pearls”’, he begins again. ‘“Di'monds an' pearls I have thrown away wid both hands—an' fwhat have I left? … So long as I did not think … so long I did not see—I wud not see, but I can now, what I've lost … How cud I ha' believed her sworn oath—me that have bruk mine again an' again for the sport av seein' them cry? An' there are the others”, he sez. “Oh, what will I do—what will I do?”’ Just then a Pathan who had crept up with a knife, makes for Tighe, who makes no move; but a stone trips him and he falls. ‘“I tould you I was Cain,” sez Love-o'-Women. “Fwhat's the use av killin' him? He's an honust man—by compare.”’ So he is spare to recall his horrors. ‘Av the scores an' scores that he called over in his mind (an' they were drivin' him mad), there was, mark you, wan woman av all, an' she was not his wife, that cut him to the quick av his marrow. 'Twas there he said that he'd thrown away di'monds an' pearls past count, an' thin he'd begin again … to considher (him that was beyond all touch av bein' happy this side hell!) how happy he wud ha' been wid her.

One day his lurching, uncontrolled walk attracts the attention of the doctor, who knows at once what it is: ‘locomotor ataxi’, or tertiary syphilis. From then on he breaks up fast. On the long march back to Peshawar he is carried in a dooli, while Mulvaney walks beside him. The wives come out to meet their husbands—the Colonel's wife with Mulvaney's Dinah. As they meet, ‘He was watchin' us, an' his face was like the face av a divil that has been cooked too long … I dhrew the curtain, an' Love-o'-Women lay back and groaned’. Mulvaney takes him to hospital by a road well clear of the troops. ‘Av a sudden I heard him say: “Let me look. For the mercy av Hiven, let me look.” … There was a woman ridin' a little behind av us … an' she rode by, walkin'-pace, an' Love-o'-Women's eyes wint afther her as if he wud fair haul her down from the saddle. “Follow there”, was all he sez, … an' I knew by those two wan words an' the look in his face that she was Di'monds-an'-Pearls that he'd talk av in his disthresses.’

They came to the brothel where she works. At the verandah Tighe bids them stop, and, incredibly, swings himself out of the dooli ‘… a little froth came to his lips, an' he wiped ut off wid his hand and looked at her an' the paint on her … “Ay, look”, she sez, “for 'tis your work … you always said I was a quick learner, Ellis”’. So she taunts him with his betrayal of the one woman who would have died for him and with him. ‘“Ye know that, man! If iver your lyin' sowl saw truth in uts life ye know that.” An' Love-o'-Women lifted up his head an' said, “I knew”, an' that was all’. Somehow he finds the strength to go up the verandah steps, and then: ‘He lifted up his eyes, slow an' very slow, an' he looked at her long an' very long, an' he tuk his spache betune his teeth wid a wrench that shuk him. “I'm dyin', Aigypt—dyin',” he sez. Ay, those were his words, for I remimber the name he called her. He was turnin' the death-colour, but his eyes niver rowled. They were set—set on her. Widout word or warnin' she opened her arms full stretch, an' “Here!” she sez. … “Die here!” she sez; an' Love-o'-Women dhropped forward, an' she hild him up, for she was a fine big woman’. And so Mulvaney goes off for the doctor, and they come back to find that she has shot herself beside him.

There is nothing in this story of the finesse and elliptical restraint that is the mark of Kipling's later work. All is set out in detail and fully orchestrated. He has perhaps laid on the colour with too heavy a hand, but the story is a powerful and moving one, and finds its own economy at its own pace. In particular, he has been criticized for the narrator's dialect, especially in the rendering of Antony's words to Cleopatra. This is I think unjust. In some stories the dialect can be irritating, but here it has a point: it emphasizes the device, which we have already seen used to good effect in ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’, of a narrator who cannot fully understand what he was witnessed. It also underlines the difference in social status and education between the narrator and his subject.

There seems to be general agreement that the theme of ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ (Traffics and Discoveries, 1904) is the destructive power of love: by his obsession with her and the wrong he has done, whatever that may be, Vickery has made himself a private hell; with the rider that his incineration by lightning is the visible symbol of this infernal destruction. I shall argue that the main contention, though true, is not the whole truth, and that the rider is false.

It is what actually happens that is in dispute. There is some common ground, succinctly defined by Miss Tompkins as follows:2

The facts about Vickery are that he has a fifteen-year old daughter, his wife dies in childbed six weeks after he came out, so that he is free; he did not murder her; there was ‘a good deal between’ him and Mrs. Bathurst and he has some wrong or deceit against her on his mind. He says that she was looking for him at Paddington. He sees his Captain, is sent up-country alone and deserts eighteen months before his pension is due. He is found dead with a woman after a thunderstorm. Pyecroft and Pritchard both insist that it was not Mrs. Bathurst's fault. She was left a widow very young, never remarried, and had the respect of the non-commissioned and warrant officers who went to her little hotel in Hauraki. The scene From Lyden's ‘Irenius’ that precedes the tale makes the point that the groom, or clown, is caught in the same noose as kings—this may account for the grotesque stress on ‘Click’; that the woman destroyed him in ignorance, for she loved him; and that the groom in the end threw life from him out of weariness and self-disgust—which suggests that Vickery stood up to attract the lightning. This is not a continuous narrative, but neither is it confusion. Rather it is like the early biograph, ‘just like life. Only—only when any one came down too far towards us that was watchin', they walked right out o' the picture, so to speak.’

This is a very fair account, though some of the inferences from ‘Irenius’, as she indicates, are guesswork not fact, and may be wrong. That the flickering biograph represents the discontinuity of the story is a most interesting conjecture, and may be right; but it does not help with the problem, since Kipling cannot have started with a discontinuous plot. This is so of no other story, however allusive, and seems in any case to be ruled out by what he himself has said (and such revelations are rare) about the genesis of this one:

All I carried away from the magic town of Auckland was the face and voice of a woman who sold me beer at a little hotel there. They stayed at the back of my mind till ten years later when, in a local train of the Cape Town suburbs, I heard a petty officer from Simon's Town telling a companion about a woman in New Zealand who ‘never scrupled to help a lame duck or put her foot on a scorpion’. Then—precisely as the removal of the key-log in a timber-jam starts the whole pile—those words gave me the key to the face and the voice at Auckland, and a tale called ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ slid into my mind, smoothly and orderly as floating timber on a bank-high river.3

There is no question, then, of a deliberately bad story4, or even of a hoax, with the author leading his readers astray as Boy Niven led his fellow-seamen round an uninhabited island with the false promise of farming-land. It is a serious story, as any sympathetic reading confirms; and it must have a continuous plot, if only we could fill in the gaps.

These gaps are best indicated by a series of questions. Who is the other person struck by lightning with Vickery? What does the lightning signify? Why does it happen in a teak forest to the north of Buluwayo? What does the film mean? What was the wrong Vickery did to Mrs. Bathurst? What kind of man was Vickery? What did he tell the Captain, and why did his mood change after the interview? Why did the interview make the Captain put on his ‘court-martial face’, and why did he return to normal after going ashore? How far are we meant to rely on Pyecroft's judgement? Why was Vickery sent up-country on a solitary mission? Why did Vickery impress on Pyecroft that his legal wedded wife had died six weeks after his departure from England, and that therefore he was not a murderer? What is the point of the Boy Niven episode? Is there any significance in the locale of the frame? What is the point of the Malay boys trying to tamper with the wagons, thus provoking ‘I's comment, ‘The railway's a general refuge in Africa’? What significance is there, if any, in ‘I's missing the ship he came to meet?

I shall not try to answer these questions in any order, but I hope that answers to all of them, however speculative, will emerge. Firstly, I do not think there is any doubt that the second figure at the end is Mrs. Bathurst. Bodelsen's arguments are conclusive:5 Hooper carefully evades the implication of Pyecroft's remark, that the other ‘tramp’ is male; the shorter figure, squatting down and looking up at him, suggests a woman; above all, the reaction: ‘Pritchard covered his face with his hands for a moment, like a child shutting out an ugliness. “And to think of her at Hauraki!” he murmured … “Oh, my Gawd!”’. Bodelsen adds two other arguments. First the song of the picnickers, which must at this point be significant: ‘Underneath the bower, ‘mid the perfume of the flower, / Sat a maiden with the one she loves the best—’. Second, the illustration in the original publication, in the Westminster Magazine, which clearly shows a female figure. It is possible that this was not seen and approved by Kipling, but the illustrator must have had some instructions.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly (since this is his own contribution), I think Bodelsen is right in saying that Mrs. Bathurst is by then already dead.6 It is true that this means a three-dimensional spirit so solidly embodied that it can be struck by lightning and buried, but given a supernatural dimension, we need not stick at arbitrary limits to it. The alternative is to suppose that Mrs. Bathurst has come directly from London to the African hinterland, which makes little sense. (Why should she have come? If because Vickery's wife was dead, why could she not have met him in Cape Town? After all, he was free.)

The rest of Bodelsen's account I do not find so convincing. This is that Vickery's crime is to pretend to Mrs. Bathurst that he is not married, that she arrived in London, is met by him, told that marriage is impossible, retires hurt and dies, perhaps by her own hand. Vickery was a conventional family man, unwilling to risk his marriage; the evidence being that he has a fifteen-year old daughter, and that his wife dies in childbed shortly after he leaves England.7 This is as pedestrian as Bodelsen's assessment of Vickery. From Pyecroft's description of him as genteelly-spoken (sic) and half-bred he infers that Vickery is a lower-class character with pretentions above his station. He further infers from the fact that Vickery carries out his orders at Bloemfontein before proceeding north that he is unimaginative. But all the last point means is that he is a good soldier (sailor, marine etc.), as Godsoe is a good soldier (and presumably Larry Tighe, since he keeps company as equals with Mulvaney). For the rest, what Pyecroft actually says is this: ‘“They called ‘im a superior man, which is what we'd call a long, black-'aired, genteelly-speakin’, ‘alf-bred beggar on the lower deck”’. ‘Genteelly-spoken’ is patronising; ‘genteelly-speaking’ means that the man was educated. ‘Half-bred’ might mean that he was not out of the top drawer, but in this context it might simply mean that on the lower deck he was a misfit. Pyecroft later says that Vickery was not well known to anyone in the ship that brought them out because ‘“he was what you call a superior man”’. We are at once reminded of Sergeant Godsoe, ‘pensioned Sergeant with a little money left him—quite independent—and very superior’; also of Larry Tighe, whose superior education and status is more than once emphasized. The point of this gap in social status between subject and narrator in each case is not only that the narrator cannot wholly comprehend what he describes but also that the most intense forms of romantic love, for good or ill, are (so Kipling evidently felt) beyond the reach of the man in the street. Mulvaney has little more understanding of Tighe's hell than Pyecroft has of Vickery's.

Bodelsen thinks that here, as in ‘Wireless’, Kipling has seized on the dramatic possibilities of a new invention: a film can portray people to the life after they are dead, and so haunt the living. I believe Kipling had a deeper insight: that pictures on film do not guarantee the physical reality of their subjects (Hooper's remark, ‘“Of course they are taken from the very thing itself”’ is a deliberate irony).8 Mrs. Bathurst is already dead before the film was shot; she has never been to London, and Vickery knows it; so that the film not only intensifies his guilt, in that he cannot now make good to her the wrong he has done: it also sets him a problem, a message which he must decode. It is this combination at work which Pyecroft witnesses in the walks they take together.

What then is the wrong or deceit of which Vickery is guilty? Bodelsen is I think half right, in that Vickery has pretended to her that he is not married. But we are assured that she is not the sort of woman to have a casual affair with a visiting warrant officer. In fact, Vickery's crime is bigamy: he has persuaded Mrs. Bathurst to keep their ‘marriage’ a secret, as he is married already (note the emphasis of ‘my legal wedded wife’).9 This is one part of what he tells the Captain, so that he puts on his ‘court-martial face’; the confession of a love-affair in a distant port would scarcely have this effect. But he has also, I surmise, decoded the message of the film: he is to meet her ‘at the end of the line’.10 In England, at least to sailors based on Devonport, this means Paddington; in South Africa, it means somewhere far up-country. Vickery tells his Captain everything, and asks for leave to go north. This the Captain can do, or at least arrange a mission which makes Vickery's purpose feasible; hence Vickery is ‘happyish’ after the interview—he can at least go to his doom trying to fulfil his instructions. It is the bigamy which the Captain cannot condone without the authority of the Admiral on shore, and it is this authority which brings him back to normal. (Bodelsen points out that the position of the Admiral's house on the quay is twice unnecessarily stressed, and draws the right conclusion about the Captain's visit ashore.) Possibly the Admiral has also authorised the mission to Bloemfontein. Pyecroft still sees Vickery as damned, and wants nothing more to do with him. But the permission Vickery has obtained to meet his own destiny has given his fortunes a new, upward direction, which the half-comprehending Pyecroft has not grasped.

What then is Vickery's destiny? He meets his beloved somewhere up-country, some time before the conclusion (there is time for Hooper's predecessor to tell him about the ‘two tramps’). At the end of a siding in teak-forest,11 they are discovered struck by lightning. The bodies are buried, but there are two macabre features: the tattoo-marks turned white on Vickery's chest, and the undamaged false teeth. This is a sombre enough close, quite apart from the reactions of Pritchard and Pyecroft. But this is a case in which the narrator has not just half-comprehended the story: he has, in an important respect, misunderstood it. If Vickery's incineration is simply the visible mode of his damnation, what about his innocent partner, whether living being or embodied spirit? It is true that in Kipling's world there is very little justice; it is also true that the pair in ‘Unconvenanted Mercies’ (Limits and Renewals, 1932) suffer for no fault, and so (presumably) does Tighe's discarded mistress. But none of these are damned; nor is Tighe, though it is as true of him, as it is of Vickery, that (as Miss Tompkins puts it)12, ‘the moral nature of man is outside the sphere of fortune, and carries its own scourges’. Vickery is still in his ‘happyish’ mood when he leaves, he shakes Pyecroft's hand, and he carries out his duties in Bloemfontein to the letter before going north—an act which the Sikh Regimental Chaplain of ‘In the Presence’ would have approved no less than Godsoe's orderly preparations for suicide. Vickery does not commit suicide; his destiny is to wait for death to overtake him at the appointed time. In fact, Tighe is the mediating factor. Godsoe's reunion is never in doubt; Tighe's comes by some chance, fate or mercy. Vickery's fate seems to us horrific, but here I believe Kipling has left out his most important clue.

There has been at various times and places a widespread belief13 that those struck by lightning are sacred, singled out for some special honour by the power that wields the lightning. In particular, this belief was held in East Africa (and I quote from a book to which Kipling would pretty certainly have had access) in the following form: ‘[The Kafirs of South Africa] have strange notions respecting the lightning. They consider that it is governed by the umshologu, or ghost, of the greatest and most renowned of their departed chiefs, and who is emphatically styled the inkosi; … Hence they allow of no lamentation for the person killed by lightning14, as they say that it would be a sign of disloyalty to lament for one the inkosi had sent for, and whose services he consequently needed’. I should infer from this that the manner of Vickery's death signified not damnation but redemption. This would explain the inclusion of his partner: both are redeemed. Of course Vickery is guilty, and damned in his own hell; but, like Tighe, he is finally released from his torments, as Tighe is from his, and the pair in ‘Unconvenanted Mercies’ from theirs—released, that is, by divine compassion. It is true that there is no hint of such compassion in the story: Pyecroft's epigraph, ‘“avin' seen 'is face for five consecutive nights on end, I'm inclined to finish what's left of the beer an' thank Gawd he's dead!”’, if taken at face value, would rule it out. But Pyecroft does not wholly understand; and although it is true that the other half-comprehending witnesses, Strangwick and Mulvaney, nevertheless reveal the whole picture, I think it is the peculiarity of this story that the narrator does not reveal it.

It might also be said that the pastiche From Lyden's ‘Irenius’, which precedes the story and should therefore, after Kipling's manner, throw light on it (as Gow's Watch throws light on ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’, which it follows) holds no such hope. ‘Jack of the Straw’ (whom I take to be neither a groom nor a clown, but a common man) has not had his destiny foreseen when Vulcan caught Mars in the house of stinking Capricorn (i.e. ever since men and women were sexually attracted to each other) simply because he was a man of no account (as are Godsoe, Tighe and Vickery). ‘She that damned him to death knew not that she did it, or would have died ere she had done it. For she loved him.’ So far, so good: the reference is plain. ‘He that hangs him does so in obedience to the Duke, and asks no more than “Where is the rope?” The Duke, very exactly he hath told us, works God's will … We have then … only Jack whose soul now plucks the left sleeve of Destiny in Hell to overtake why she clapped him up like a fly on a sunny wall …’ … ‘He too, loved his life?’—‘He was born of woman … but at the end threw life from him, … for a little sleep … I left him railing at Fortune and woman's love’. There follow some lines about the caprice of Fortune15, to the effect that a person of no account is equally vulnerable to ‘lightnings loosed / Yesterday 'gainst some king’. This would imply that Vickery, victim of his obsession, killed himself as the only way to achieve peace. In this story, peculiar in so many ways, I suspect that the speakers in From Lyden's ‘Irenius’ are not intended to have any more idea of the true workings of fate than are Pritchard and Pyecroft. All that we can infer from it (and this is not explicit in the story) is that Mrs. Bathurst loved Vickery, as he loved her. The picture of woman's love that damns is true as far as it goes; but it does not extend to the final episode, not there in ‘Irenius’, in which the damned lover is redeemed. Jack of the Straw's ‘throwing away life for a little sleep’ does not refer to Vickery's standing up to attract the lightning—this may be the point of his posture, but by then it is to join his beloved rather than to end his agony—but to his decision in Simonstown to go north and seek his own end there. He knows that if he is successful he will meet Mrs. Bathurst; but he is not to know then that he is to be forgiven, and die in peace; so that he might still, like Jack, ‘rail at Fortune and woman's love’. But woman's love will finally be his salvation. Fate sometimes singles out common men, as well as kings, for singular recompense. Finally ‘the Duke, very exactly he hath told us, works God's will, in which holy employ he's not to be questioned’. We should not perhaps press too far the significance for a story of the poem or ‘dramatic fragment’ with which Kipling prefaces or concludes it. But the Duke looks very much like the Admiral, and if the Admiral works God's will, this may give a hint of divine sanction in Vickery's end.

One small point may give a little substance to all this speculation. Strangwick sees Bella Armine ‘stretching out her arms’ to Godsoe. ‘Egypt’ ‘opened her arms full stretch’ to Tighe, and ‘“Here!” she sez … “Die here!”’ The figure with Vickery is described in the text as ‘squatting down and looking up at him’, but in the illustration in the Westminster Magazine, which may not of course have had Kipling's imprimatur, she is holding out her arms.

Other questions concern the earlier part of the story. First the episode of Boy Niven, who tricks some fellow-seamen into deserting by false promises. This has been interpreted as representing the blind operation of fate—they walk round an uninhabited island and simply come back to where they started. In this story, however, fate is not blind, and there is a simpler answer. The deluded seamen follow a will-o'-the-wisp, they are duly punished and duly punish their deceiver, and all goes on as before. Moon, one of their number, is a womaniser—‘a Mormonastic beggar’—and he deserts for a positive reason, though its precise object is not defined. The object of Vickery's desertion is very clearly defined: it is one particular woman, to whom he is in thrall. The first two episodes of desertion, then, may be seen as leading up to Vickery's story and homing in on it. They are the introductory terms (or foil) to a climax, that well-known rhetorical pattern commonly called by classicists a priamel.16 This is what gives the story within the frame its structure.

The significance for Kipling's stories of their frame (the part outside the narrative proper) has often been noticed17. Bodelsen has observed how Kipling is especially prone to allusion in this part of his stories, and that we should therefore be particularly alert for clues—the phrase not quite in key, or the apparently unmotivated episode. Bodelsen himself sees a clue in the locale of the frame in ‘Mrs. Bathurst’: the sandy beach is just the place for Aphrodite, a Greek divinity already hinted at in ‘I’s purchase of his picnic from ‘Greeks’. This is wholly fanciful. Apart from reference to Horace, a favourite author (see n. 15), and astrology, Kipling never uses classical myth as a medium of expression. (‘Venus Annodomini’ is a joke, and if we had to look for its inspiration, we should probably find it in a reproduction of Botticelli in the Burne-Jones house.) The sandy, sun-kissed beach with its gentle breeze has more to do with a tourist brochure than with Aprhodite as Kipling would have seen her. As for the Greeks, it is simply an allusion to the fact that Greeks sell things everywhere, including Africa, India, and Afghanistan.

More to the point, perhaps, is ‘I’s ‘missing the boat’. This might just be an occasion for the story, as the failure of the Admiral's gig to meet Admiral Heatleigh is the occasion for ‘A Naval Mutiny’. But this is a serious story, and there may be some hint in this opening of the way in which Vickery fears he may have ‘missed the boat’ as he watches the film of Mrs. Bathurst ‘looking for him at Paddington’. A better candidate for a significant clue is the incident of the Malay boys, rebuked by Hooper for interfering with the wagon-couplings. ‘“Don't be hard on 'em. The railway's a general refuge in Africa”’, ‘I’ replies. The incident seems pointless, the remark uncalled-for. The allusion might simply be to the actual importance of the railway in the story: it is by the railway that Vickery goes north to meet his end, and on the railway, at the end of the line, that he finds it. But railways are a sufficiently obvious symbol for destiny. In war (and this story is set in the aftermath of war), a fatalistic belief in destiny—‘the next shell either has my name on it or it hasn't’—is what saves the reason of the average man in action. Vickery's reason is saved by the belief that destiny has offered him an opportunity which he must find the means to take, that of reunion with his beloved. In the event, the reunion is to be his salvation in a wider sense.

There are two main objections to my reading of the story. Firstly, the significance of the lightning-stroke: to take the point I am postulating, the reader must be acquainted with an obscure piece of anthropological lore. This is not Kipling's usual practice, nor that of any serious writer.18 I would argue that some clues are certainly missing from the story, and that this is one of them. It might even be that for once the professional has put his art at risk for the sake of a private joke: one reader at least would have the required esoteric knowledge, his close friend Rider Haggard; so too, no doubt, would Cecil Rhodes, with whom Kipling was in touch at the time the story was written.

Secondly, my reading might seem to conflict with the deliberately macabre tone of the close. I have tried to meet this objection by suggesting that the half-comprehension of the narrator, which Kipling uses to great effect in ‘Love-o'-Women’ and ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’—here becomes positive misunderstanding. The grim external circumstances are simply taken at their face value. The death of a syphilitic soldier in the brothel to which he has condemned his cast-off mistress is not, after all, a promising background to redemption through love, but this redemption Mulvaney, for all his lack of perception, can understand and convey. Nor are the horrors of the Western Front, the gas-screens and the creaking of frozen corpses, and the deliberate suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, an obvious setting for the eternal happiness vouchsafed to John Godsoe and Bella; yet paradoxically enough it is this, and not the external horrors, that has shaken the narrator's soul to its foundations, and so at last come to light. In ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ the misconception is allowed to stand; it is left to the reader to correct it by his understanding of the whole story.

There is however one pointer. The song of the picnickers is usually taken as a savagely ironical contrast with the grim and horrifying reality which Pyecroft and Hooper have revealed and Pritchard has recognised. But a reader who has divined the significance of the story and so seen through the macabre exterior to the compensating core, the lovers' reunion and redemption, may see in the song, as in the impersonal valediction of a Greek chorus, a confirmation of his insight.

On a summer afternoon, when the honeysuckle blooms,
          And all Nature seems at rest,
Underneath the bower, ‘mid the perfume of the flower,
          Sat a maiden with the one she loves the best—

This is not just black irony, but an affirmation of the positive aspect of the story: a woman's love may have the power to destroy, but sometimes, by a mysterious dispensation, is permitted also to save.


  1. C. Axel Bodelsen, Aspects of Kipling's Art (1964), pp. 60, 67.

  2. J. M. S. Tompkins, The Art of Rudyard Kipling (1959) p. 90, n.1.

  3. Something of Myself (1957), p. 101.

  4. Cf. Bodelsen, p. 126.

  5. Bodelsen, p. 141.

  6. Bodelsen, p. 134.

  7. In the original, Westminster Magazine version, his wife ‘dies in ‘er bed’. Bodelsen explains that ‘childbed’ and other references to sex in the story were expunged by the editor as unsuitable for family reading. This is possible, but I doubt if it could be done without the knowledge of the author, distinguished as he now was, and the phrase is unlikely therefore to be of great significance.

  8. The Westminster Magazine version, ‘They are the very thing itself’, is not significantly different.

  9. It has occurred to me that Mrs. Bathurst is herself the ‘legally wedded wife’, that she was not in fact widowed, but deserted by Vickery, and that the ‘fifteen-year-old daughter’ is the niece, Ada. But the ignorance of Pyecroft and Pritchard is then as inexplicable as Vickery's knowledge of how she died.

  10. I owe this point to my wife. It is ‘at the end of the line’ that the lovers are condemned to look for their partners in ‘Uncovenanted Mercies’.

  11. The end of the siding perhaps stands for the end of the line. Strictly speaking there is no teak in Africa, but there are hardwood forests in the area. The point is partly that tall trees tend to attract lightning, partly that such forests are suitably mysterious. Hooper says that the line runs straight through the forest for 72 miles, and adds (without explanation) that trains are constantly derailed there.

  12. Tompkins, p. 242.

  13. For the belief in Greek and Roman myth cf. the references in C. Collard, The Supplices of Euripides (1975), p. 341, and J. Diggle, Euripides Phaethon (1970), p. 179, esp. J. G. Frazer, Apollodorus (Loeb, 1921), i. 375ff. n. 3, and W. Burkert on ‘enēlysion’ in Glotta 39 (1961), pp. 208-13. The evidence for African belief is quoted by Frazer (loc. cit. and The Golden Bough, vi. 177, n. 1) from Colonel Maclean, Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs, pp. 82-84 (Cape Town, 1866).

  14. Cf. Frazer, Apollodorus loc. cit.

  15. Bodelsen takes these lines to refer to love, but Kipling knew Horace well, and the reference to Odes 1.35.5-12 is unmistakable. 1.34.12ff would have been even closer (Cf. Something of Myself, pp. 32-35: the Cleopatra Ode is 1:37, not 3:27 as Kipling remembers it.)

  16. Since F. Dornseiff first applied the term ‘priamel’ (Latin praeambulum) to the rhetorical pattern ‘not A, not B, not C … but N,’ and the like (Pindars Stil [1921], pp. 97-8), it has been generally current in the criticism of ancient poetry, though not to that of modern literature.

  17. Bodelsen, p. 128.

  18. The Waste Land may be an exception, but Eliot did at least supply notes, whether seriously intended or not.

Principal Works

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In Black and White 1888

The Phantom 'Rickshaw, and Other Tales 1888

Plain Tales from the Hills 1888

Soldiers Three 1888

The Story of the Gadsbys 1888

Under the Deodars 1888

Wee Willie Winkie, and Other Child Stories 1888

The Courting of Dinah Shadd, and Other Stories 1890

Life's Handicap 1891

Many Inventions 1893

The Jungle Book (short stories and poetry) 1894

The Second Jungle Book (short stories and poetry) 1895

The Day's Work 1898

Stalky & Co. 1899

Just So Stories for Little Children (short stories and poetry) 1902

Traffics and Discoveries (short stories and poetry) 1904

Puck of Pook's Hill (short stories and poetry) 1906

Abaft the Funnel 1909

Actions and Reactions (short stories and poetry) 1909

Rewards and Fairies (short stories and poetry) 1910

A Diversity of Creatures 1917

Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls (short stories and poetry) 1923

Debits and Credits (short stories and poetry) 1926

Thy Servant a Dog 1930

Limits and Renewals (short stories and poetry) 1932

Complete Works in Prose and Verse. 35 vols. (short stories, poetry, novels, essays, sketches, speeches, and unfinished autobiography) 1937-39

Rudyard Kipling: Selected Stories (edited and introduced by Sandra Kemp) 1987

Their Lawful Occasions 1987

John Brunner Presents Kipling's Fantasy: Stories 1992

John Brunner Presents Kipling's Science Fiction: Stories 1992

Collected Stories (edited by John Brunner) 1994

The Man Who Would Be King, and Other Stories 1994

The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling 1994

The Works of Rudyard Kipling 1995

Schoolboy Lyrics (poetry) 1881

Departmental Ditties, and Other Verses (poetry) 1886

The Light That Failed (novel) 1890

Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses (poetry) 1892

The Naulahka: A Story of West and East [with Wolcott Balestier] (novel) 1892

The Seven Seas (poetry) 1896

Captains Courageous (novel) 1897

From Sea to Sea. Letters of Travel. 2 vols. (sketches) 1899

Kim (novel) 1901

The Five Nations (poetry) 1903

Songs from Books (poetry) 1903

The Years Between (poetry) 1919

Letters of Travel, 1892-1913 (sketches) 1920

A Book of Words (speeches) 1928

Souvenirs of France (essays) 1933

Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown (unfinished autobiography) 1937

Kipling's India: Uncollected Sketches, 1884-1888 (edited by Thomas Pinney; sketches) 1985

Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling 1879-1889: Unpublished, Uncollected, and Rarely Collected Poems (edited by Andrew Rutherford; poetry) 1986

Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings (edited by Thomas Pinney; autobiography) 1990

Writings of Literature by Rudyard Kipling (edited by Kemp and Lisa Lewis; criticism) 1995

Writings on Writing (edited by Kemp and Lewis; criticism) 1996

Zohreh T. Sullivan (review date 1989)

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SOURCE: Sullivan, Zohreh T. Review of The Day's Work,The Jungle Book,The Second Jungle Book,Kim,Life's Handicap,‘The Man Who Would be King’ and Other Stories,Plain Tales From the Hills,Stalky & Co., and Rudyard Kipling: Selected Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. Modern Language Review 84, no. 4 (October 1989): 951-53.

[In the following review of nine Kipling books that were reprinted in 1987, Sullivan explicates the reasons for Kipling's success and universal appeal.]

Now out of copyright, Kipling's works are finally accessible to the common reader for whom he wrote, and to a more specialized audience that might not remember why high praise was once accorded to the ‘hooligan’ Kipling by such unlikely bedfellows as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Randall Jarrell, and Jorge Luis Borges. In 1907, James Joyce wrote to his brother: ‘If I knew Ireland as well as R. K. seems to know India, I fancy I could write something good.’ These volumes give an ample sense of the complexity of the young Kipling's understanding of a very special India, one not exactly scrupulous in its attention to truthful revelation, but rather an India created out of the anxieties of Imperial fantasy and imagination.

In the fifty years since his death, Kipling's work has become increasingly difficult to come by in modern editions. Teaching Kipling in college was therefore particularly problematic. Irving Howe's most welcome Portable Kipling (New York, 1982) still needed to be supplemented with stencilled stories and could not possibly do justice to the man who also wrote ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’, ‘Beyond the Pale’, ‘To Be Filed for Reference’, ‘Thrown Away’, ‘The Bridge Builders’, ‘The Dream of Duncan Parrenness’, and ‘The Brushwood Boy’. Kipling wrote in so many voices about so many subjects that any collection must necessarily omit favourites. Sandra Kemp reminds us that ‘the subjects of his stories find an idiom and a voice in the literary canon for the first time: Indian natives; the British professional classes (soldiers, sailors, aviators and engineers); social misfits and outcasts (male and female), and children’.

Except for Stalky & Co, complete for the first time, all eight volumes in The World's Classics series are connected to Kipling's experience in India. Each has a general preface by Andrew Rutherford, a critical introduction by another well-known Kipling scholar, a select bibliography, a chronology of Kipling's life and works, and useful explanatory notes. The Everyman Classic volume is a selection of sixteen stories chosen from eleven volumes, accompanied by a chronology, end notes, and a provocative introduction that focuses on the many inarticulate creatures for whom Kipling provided a voice, and on the distinctive characteristics of Kipling's evasive and allusive style that combines ‘secrecy and explanation’, scepticism and belief.

Andrew Rutherford's general preface reminds us that Kipling was, for at least thirty years, the most popular English writer in the English-speaking world, and the last whose appeal defied boundaries of class, caste, and culture. For the common reader, he was an ‘epic poet’, giving ‘expression to a whole phase of national experience’, ‘a spokesman for his age, with its sense of imperial destiny, its fascinated contemplation of the unfamiliar world of soldiering, its confidence in engineering and technology, its respect for craftsmanship, and its dedication to Carlyle's gospel of work’. Kipling's Indian stories question that aspect of English Imperialism whose foundation was the notion of ‘character’—something ephemeral which disintegrates in the heat of drugs, duty, loneliness, and passion. His stories, like those of his contemporary Joseph Conrad, are about the defences and the lies that sustain the Imperial enterprise abroad. Kipling's ubiquitous narrator, like Marlow, recognizes the fragility of the line between sanity, civilization, and ‘the horror’, and his Kurtz is his story-telling double who goes recklessly into the abyss, there to meet ghosts, insanity, and death.

All the introductory essays, as appropriate for paperbacks designed for general circulation, are balanced and illuminating readings that place the stories in the context of Kipling's life and artistic development, summarize their content, highlight themes, and remind us of the main threads of Kipling criticism. Rutherford's preface focuses on Kipling as an ‘innovator and a virtuoso in the art of the short story’, extending the range of English literature in form and content, expressing his multiplicity in his ‘anthropological’ interest in the many voices of India and England, from the most trivial and cynical of Plain Tales from the Hills to the ‘stoical nobility of the later stories’. Isabel Quigly draws attention to the complex ways in which the Stalky stories reflect the psychology of colonial education. Louis Cornell's splendid introduction discusses the seventeen stories in his collection as an anatomy of Kipling's struggle with literary and personal survival in India, a struggle which, like those of his protagonists, was a ‘lonely battle in a moral universe that allows for little or no complexity of feeling’. W. W. Robson reminds us of main threads in approaches to The Jungle Books, acknowledging their political implications but preferring to read them in terms of Kipling's ‘Law’ of rationality, restraint, responsibility to duty and work. That law—man-made and necessarily fragile—is Kipling's only defence against a hostile and fundamentally chaotic, savage world from which he is essentially alienated. It is that pathological sense of alienation that requires the repeated building of bulkheads ‘twixt despair and the edge of nothing’, writes Alan Sandison, in the most loving and eloquent of essays on Kim. He is, I think, the first critic to write convincingly of the unconscious influence of Kipling's father and uncles (Edward Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter) and to read Kim as pastoral composition, a series of narrative or parable pictures, dependent for its meaning and impact on ‘pictorial narrative structure rather than a linear or discursive one’.

Readers of Kipling owe a considerable debt to Andrew Rutherford for his general editorship of The World's Classics Kipling, the high quality of the series, the elegance of its printing, its textual thoughtfulness and accuracy, and its modern critical apparatus.

John Murray (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: Murray, John. “The Law of The Jungle Books.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 1-14.

[In the following essay, Murray analyzes the concept of law in Kipling's The Jungle Books.]

There is broad critical agreement that the concept of law is vital and pervasive in Kipling's work, and the concept has been the subject of at least one book, Shamsul Islam's Kipling's “Law”. Islam devotes considerable space to a discussion of the law in The Jungle Books, asserting that “an exposition of the nature of the Law is one of Kipling's main aims in The Jungle Books in general and the Mowgli stories in particular” (122). He highlights their didactic purpose by stating that while they are “primarily children's books, [they] are secondarily educational manuals” and that Kipling is being “didactic as well as entertaining” (121). Bonamy Dobrée agrees with these sentiments, asserting that “what Kipling felt to be essential to the Law is made plain in The Jungle Books, where it … brings into play the virtues of loyalty, keeping your promises, courage, and respect for other people” and that the law in The Jungle Books “is intended to be far from what we often casually refer to as ‘jungle law’” (67). Ironically, in the jungle, where popular usage finds no law at all, Kipling finds a detailed and pervasive, but morally neutral, code “that has arranged for almost every accident that may befall the Jungle-people” and ensures the preservation of jungle society (“How Fear Came,” Second JB [The Second Jungle Book] 3). In the village, however, he finds the disorder and improvidence that lead to its eventual destruction.

The Mowgli stories contain more than forty direct references to law,1 and the first of the stories, “Mowgli's Brothers,” contains fifteen such references, repeatedly adverting to the “Law of the Jungle, which never orders anything without a reason” (5), and “lays down very clearly” the rights of individual wolves (10) and the procedures for solving disputes (12). Yet many critics writing in the second half of this century react to such an obviously important matter with unease, evasion, or dislike. Islam feels constrained to comment on the primitive social setting of the law to excuse the vengeful violence that Kipling's “educational manuals” contain; violent revenge, he says, “need not trouble the reader too much” (129). Elliot L. Gilbert tries to counter misgivings about the ethical nature of the law in his article “Three Criticism of The Jungle Books” by saying that the law in The Jungle Books is a “law of nature,” thereby removing all legal and ethical content from it (7). A “law of nature” is not a law in the usual sense but rather a proposition concerning the working of the universe: one cannot, for example, claim that the First Law of Thermodynamics is good or evil, desirable or otherwise, and one cannot disobey or alter it. (“Natural law,” by contrast, is law deduced from ideals of justice and human rights.)2 C. S. Lewis, who cannot “understand how a man of taste could doubt that Kipling is a very great artist,” can still “recoil” from Kipling's world because it is “unendurable—a heavy, glaring, suffocating monstrosity” (99). His reaction is partly caused by ethical considerations, and he puts his finger precisely on the reason for his reaction: much of the law is a code of group survival, and is “morally neutral—the obedient servant of valour and public spirit, but equally of cruelty, extortion, oppression, and dishonesty” (115-16).

This uneasy or hostile reaction of otherwise sympathetic critics stems from their assumption of a necessary connection between law and ethics. A crucial distinction may be made among all the different conceptions of law, however, and it hinges on a single issue: whether or not there is an ethical dimension to law. Proponents of the doctrine of natural law would say that there is. On the other hand, proponents of the “analytical positivism” associated with John Austin (1790-1859), and current in English jurisprudence at the time of the writing of The Jungle Books,3 would say that there is not—as would adherents of today's “critical legal studies” movement.4 In the light of legal theory, Dobrée's association of the law with virtue is not a necessary one, and Islam's hopeful assertion that the “end of both law and ethics is to make man good, teaching him to practise virtue and refrain from vice” (126) is both dubious and oversimple, though it is easy enough to see why both critics write as they do. Accepting Kipling's patently didactic purpose as being appropriate in books for children, they expect Kipling's law to embody ethics, and therefore have to assert that it does so despite its apparent ethical poverty. They also have to excuse the brutality and occasional arbitrariness in the application of the law.

Further, along with Lewis, whose objection to the moral neutrality of Kipling's law has already been noted, they are writing in the third quarter of the twentieth century, unavoidably aware of such instances of arbitrary but legal violence as the Holocaust and the Gulag Archipelago, and of “the testimony of those who have descended into Hell, and, like Ulysses or Dante, brought back a message for human beings. Only in this case Hell was not beneath or beyond the earth but on it; it was a Hell created on earth by men for other men” (Hart, “Positivism” 615-16). The Nuremberg and Eichmann trials brought into high relief the conflict between inviolable human rights, as propounded by theories of natural law, and the unlimited legality of the commands of a sovereign state, as propounded by theories of analytical positivism. Though both trials were conducted under positive law, both raised the question, “Is there a higher law which could render such acts [as the Holocaust] punishable whatever might be the decrees of a particular state to which the accused owed allegiance?” (Lloyd 88).5 To a degree, such an international statement of values as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought in 1948 to supply such a higher law, and though the “tendency of the present day is to formulate these values in specifically positive-law terms, the natural-law origin of this mode of approach still remains fairly apparent” (Lloyd 141). The experience of critics who lived through the Second World War and its aftermath may well place them in the position described by Lon L. Fuller: “[I]f you were raised with a generation that said ‘law is law’ and meant it, you may feel the only way you can escape one law is to set another off against it, and this perforce must be a ‘higher law’” (660).

Though Kipling was no legal theorist, he was a child of his time in his imperialism, in his trust in practical science, observation, and experience, and in his distrust of metaphysics. It is not surprising that his concept of law shows practicality and lacks idealism; it is even less surprising, given his imperialist attitudes, that a theory of law that Wolfgant Friedmann says “enabled the rising national State to assert its authority undisturbed by juristic doubts” (Legal Theory 378) should have appealed to him. When Kipling returned to India in 1882 he was entering a country whose rulers were retreating from an “earlier emphasis on moral force and the influence of the example of British character, to the less ambitious idea that India was held simply by military power” (Hutchins 186). He encountered what one of India's leading officials called, in a letter to The Times on March 1, 1883, “an absolute government, founded not on consent, but on conquest” (8). The writer of that letter, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, was a “highly respected commentator” (Wurgaft 71) whose influence upon the Indian Civil Service, especially upon its legal codes, was considerable:

He was its political philosopher and gave to its prejudices and emotions a reasoned and logical support. He showed how a man could consistently favour every aspect of a free society and yet deny the gift of political freedom itself. In this he was standing in the line of intellectual Liberals whose most distinguished representative had been John Austin, one of the fountain-heads of Stephen's philosophy of law.

[Stokes 305]

Stephen infused Austinian legal theory into the Indian Civil Service. “I had charge of the Code [of Criminal Procedure] of 1872, and carried it through the Legislative Council,” he wrote in the chapter on Indian criminal law in his History of the Criminal Law of England (3.345). Austin's opinion about “higher law” is unequivocal: “Now, to say that human laws which conflict with the Divine law are not binding, that is to say, are not laws, is to talk stark nonsense” (185). Further, says Austin, because the Roman notion of ius gentium is often associated with belief in a moral instinct or in innate practical principles, “it ought to be expelled, with the natural law of the moderns, from the sciences of jurisprudence and morality” (179). Stephen's description of Indian criminal law shows a similar distaste for “higher law”:

The Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the institutions which they regulate, are somewhat grim presents for one people to make to another, and are little calculated to excite affection; but they are eminently well calculated to protect peaceable men and to beat down wrongdoers, to extort respect, and to enforce obedience.

[History 3.345]

Critics who consciously or unconsciously believe in a necessary connection between law and morality balk at analytical positivism, and by extension at its literary embodiment in works like the Mowgli stories in The Jungle Books, all the more so because they are children's stories. Nevertheless, though Kipling was writing for children in The Jungle Books, and though one might therefore expect him to inculcate ethics rather than expediency, the exposition of the law in Kipling's Mowgli stories follows the notions of analytical positivism closely. An explanation of how this is so requires a brief summary of the main tenets of analytical positivism and natural law.

In the second edition of Legal Theory Friedmann conveniently and lucidly sums up Austin's positivism in a set of propositions, of which the most important are:

Positive law and ideal law (or ethics) must be kept strictly distinct. Law cannot be defined by reference to any ideal of justice.

All positive law is deduced from a clearly determinable lawgiver as sovereign. … [This] may be an individual or a body or aggregate of individuals.

The essence of all law is the command addressed by the sovereign to the subject, coupled with the threat of sanction if the command is disobeyed.

The sovereign is not himself bound by any legal limitations.


Against these propositions one may range those of natural law, which is inspired in its many forms by “two ideas, of a universal order governing all men, and of the inalienable rights of the individual” (Friedmann, Legal Theory 16). Using Friedmann's discussion of the French jurist François Gény (1861-1959), I have constructed a parallel set of propositions that clearly reveals the distinction between natural law theory and that of Austin:

Positive and ideal law cannot be separated. Law must ultimately be defined by reference to an ideal of justice.

Natural law is the basis of positive law and would include “the fundamental postulates of justice such as the sanctity of human life, the development of human faculties and … freedom of thought and inviolability of the person.”


The essence of all law is the application of the “immutable and universal factors” [222] of natural law in terms of positive law.

The sovereign is bound by legal limitations, and in the extreme case of “the oppression of despotic laws … natural law would legitimate rebellion.”


Application of these two sets of propositions to the Mowgli stories shows that Kipling assumes the analytical positivism of Austin, Stephen, and the Indian Civil Service, rather than natural law doctrine, as a basis of the Law of the Jungle.

In “How Fear Came” Kipling deduces the law “from a clearly determinable law-giver as sovereign” in the person of Tha, “the Lord of the Jungle” and “the First of the Elephants” (Second JB 20). The reason put forward for the imposition of law is not ethics but expediency. The establishment of a law that all must obey is required because the tiger's brutality and the ape's fecklessness have brought fear and shame to the jungle (20). The Mowgli stories also embody the Austinian proposition concerning the application of law, that the “essence of all law is a command addressed by the sovereign to the subject, coupled with the threat of sanction if the command is disobeyed.” Hathi, the descendant of Tha, is sovereign; even Shere Khan knows “what every one else knows—that when the last comes to the last, Hathi is Master of the Jungle” (15-16). In “How Fear Came” Hathi condemns Shere Khan's boast of killing man by choice, and, supported by his sons, orders the tiger away from the river, but he does not deny the legality of Shere Khan's actions (15).

Kipling follows Austin's contention that law and ethics should “be kept strictly distinct.” The rules of what Kipling calls law are not ethically based but are, rather, “positive laws” designed to ensure self-preservation or the preservation of society. In “The Law of the Jungle” verse at the end of “How Fear Came” (29-32) Kipling does not refer “to any ideal of justice” involved in obeying the law. Instead, he refers to the law in terms of self-interest and “the threat of sanction if the command is disobeyed”: “[T]he Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die” (line 2; Kipling's italics). In line after line, the verse inculcates utilitarian principles: cleanliness (5), adequacy of sleep (6), avoidance of danger from larger animals (9-10), avoidance of unnecessary conflict (11-12), limitation of internecine violence (13-14), construction of secure shelter (15-18), efficiency and avoidance of waste in hunting (19-21), avoidance of the retribution consequent upon killing man (22), sharing of food with other pack members, especially cubs and breeding females (23-32), and freedom of males to hunt solely for their own families (33-34). Apart from the injunctions to the young to be clean and polite, all of the remaining rules, including the prohibition against killing man, are designed to ensure that every member of the pack, strong or weak, has sufficient food to survive and does not run unnecessary risks of violence from within the pack, from other packs, or from “white men on elephants” (“Mowgli's Brothers,” JB [The Jungle Book] 5) who hunt down man-killers. Where there is no stated law, Kipling advocates Machiavellian guile and force: “Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw, / In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of the Head Wolf is Law” (“The Law of the Jungle” lines 35-36, Second JB 32). As a contrast to the law-abiding wolves, Kipling presents the monkeys as ineffectual, foolish outcasts because they do not submit their wills to law and to a leader in order to proceed toward goals in a disciplined fashion. He contrasts the effects of lawlessness and discipline. Lawlessness results in wolves “lame from traps … [limping] from shot-wounds … mangy from eating bad food” (“Tiger-Tiger!” JB 90-91). Discipline has the effect that “no stranger cared to break into the jungles … the young wolves grew fat and strong, and there were many cubs” (“Red Dog,” Second JB 223). None of these outcomes, desirable or otherwise, is an ethical matter.

For Kipling, law is a matter of group cohesion and self-preservation rather than ethics, as Noel Annan notes in his essay “Kipling's Place in the History of Ideas.” Nevertheless, Annan is as mistaken as Martin Seymour-Smith says he is (241) in trying to connect Kipling's concern for the survival of the group with the ideas of such social theorists as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Vilfredo Pareto. Rather, Kipling acquired that concern in India, which was, in effect, an occupied country ruled on the basis of the Austinian proposition that the “essence of all law is the command addressed by the sovereign to the subject, coupled with the threat of sanction if the command is disobeyed.” As Stephen argued in the 1883 letter to The Times already quoted:

[I]t is impossible to imagine any policy more fearfully dangerous and more certain, in the case of failure, to lead to results to which the Mutiny would be child's play than the policy of shifting the foundations on which the British Government of India rests. It is essentially an absolute Government, founded, not on consent, but on conquest, … and no anomaly can be more striking or so dangerous, as its administration by men, who being at the head of a Government founded upon conquest, implying at every point the superiority of the conquering race … and having no justification for its existence except that superiority, shrink from the open, uncompromising, straight-forward assertion of it.


Kipling has no qualms about such an assertion, and shares Jeremy Bentham's and Austin's liking for military efficiency: “The cohesion, discipline, and perfect subordination of a military body, which worked almost in silence with the minimum of discussion and crisp commands, appeared to such minds a thing of intellectual beauty” (Stokes 309). In “Servants of the Queen” Kipling celebrates the frightening power achieved by perfect obedience to the chain of command stretching from the animals used by the army to the empress (JB 208) and the effect of that power in maintaining the empire: “And for that reason … your Amir whom you do not obey must come here and take orders from our Viceroy” (JB 209).6 Kipling further stresses unquestioning obedience in “The Parade Song of the Camp Animals” at the end of the story; even the men who lead the animals “cannot tell why we or they / March and suffer day by day” (JB 212).

Further, Kipling's law ensures that power is passed on to a sovereign able to enforce “the threat of sanction if the command is disobeyed.” When “a leader of the pack has missed his kill, he is called the Dead Wolf as long as he lives, which is not long” (“Mowgli's Brothers,” JB 26), and a new leader must “[fight] his way to the leadership of the pack according to the Jungle Law” (“Red Dog,” Second JB 280).7 Kipling shares such social Darwinism with Stephen, who proclaimed in another letter to The Times on January 4, 1878:

I for one, feel no shame when I think of the great competitive examination which has lasted for just 100 years, and of which the first paper was set upon the field of Plassey, and the last (for the present) under the walls of Delhi and Lucknow.


For Kipling and Stephen, effective rule based upon obedience, not ethics, is of paramount importance.

Kipling places no limitations whatever upon obedience to the law: “the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!” (“The Law of the Jungle,” line 38, Second JB 32). Nor does he sanction rebellion against “the oppression of despotic laws.” He demands complete obedience of Mowgli with respect to human law when Mowgli leaves the jungle, even when such law is unfair or outdated:

Keep the Law the man pack make—
For thy blind old Baloo's sake!
Clean or tainted, hot or stale,
Hold it as it were the trail,
Through the day and through the night,
Questing neither left nor right.

[“The Outsong,” lines 3–8, Second JB 296]

As a man, Mowgli is not subject to the Law of the Jungle, even though he knows its code thoroughly. This consideration explains Bagheera's comment that “there is more in the jungle now than Jungle Law, Baloo” when Mowgli refuses to give a reason for all that he chooses to do in “Letting in the Jungle” (Second JB 67), and it also explains Mowgli's treatment of Hathi in that story. Because Hathi is sovereign in the jungle, Mowgli cannot force Hathi to help him in obliterating the village. Mowgli can, however, form an alliance with Hathi on the basis of shared hatred of men who have trapped and scarred Hathi and who use the ankus to “teach [elephants] Man's Law” (“The King's Ankus,” Second JB 166). Bagheera's “terror” and his exclamations to the effect that Mowgli is “Master of the jungle” (“Letting in the Jungle,” Second JB 95) are not expressions of approbation of an act sanctioned by ethics or by previous law. Rather, Mowgli has become a human pack-leader of exceptional power who, in “Red Dog,” uses his intelligence for unselfish ends to save the pack, but in “Letting in the Jungle” imposes his will upon the jungle animals through his human superiority and through an alliance with the sovereign of the jungle in order to exact personal revenge.

For a reader who subscribes to the theory of natural law, the case of revenge and exemplary destruction raises the matter of law and ethics inescapably. Kipling depicts Mowgli's revenge as a good thing; Mowgli enjoys having the “good conscience that comes from paying a just debt” (“Red Dog,” Second JB 221). Yet in his “rage and hate” (“Letting in the Jungle,” Second JB 95) Mowgli's indiscriminate destruction of the village lacks even the crude limitations of the lex talionis: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand … burn for burn” (Exodus 21:23-25). The victims of injustice are little better: Messua's husband intends to use English justice for revenge also, in “a lawsuit … as shall eat this village to the bone” (“Letting in the Jungle,” Second JB 83). In Austin's eyes both of these actions are legitimate, simply because Mowgli, Hathi, and the English are able to enforce obedience. Kipling clearly demonstrates that the ultimate sanction ensuring such obedience and causing Bagheera's fear is the deliberate, premeditated, disciplined use of force. The same state of affairs held good in British India, though at the time of the writing of The Jungle Books, when the vast bulk of Indian society accepted British rule, the smug Austinian view that Stephen expressed in 1883 was not far from the truth:

If it is asked how the system works in practice, I can only say that it enables a handful of foreigners (I am far from thinking that if they were more sympathetic they would be more efficient) to rule justly and firmly about 200,000,000 persons, of many races, languages, and creeds, and, in many parts of the country, bold, sturdy, and warlike.

[History 3.344]

In the face of mounting nationalist resistance, however, the nakedness of the organized force behind British rule, like that behind the power of Mowgli and Hathi, manifested itself in law in the Rowlatt Acts, and in action in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre led by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer in April 1919—action that would probably have been classed as a “war crime” after 1945.

Though the government of India vehemently dissociated itself from such a policy of intimidation, Dyer was expressing the general attitude of many of the civil and military in India. Dyer was removed from his command, but his actions (and presumably his motives) were supported by a large section of the British press as well as by members of parliament and others. A sum of £26,000 was subscribed as a testimonial for this gallant British soldier.

[Edwardes 202]

Ten pounds of that Morning Post fund came from Rudyard Kipling (Draper 238).

Gandhi's use of nonviolent noncooperation repeatedly contested the moral neutrality of analytical positivism and showed again and again the ultimate brutality behind colonial rule. “Letting in the Jungle,” more than any other story in The Jungle Books, depicts the organized force through which obedience is secured with a relish that readily explains C. S. Lewis's belief that Kipling could make the law the “servant … of cruelty [and] oppression.” In Austinian terms, however, Kipling is doing no more than telling the unvarnished truth about the nature of law.

Proponents of natural law cannot avoid the issue of the nonethical nature of Kipling's law by arguing that it is not to be applied outside the jungle, because such an argument denies the clearly didactic purpose of the Mowgli stories, especially the explicit parallel between undisciplined monkeys and undisciplined humans in “Kaa's Hunting.” As Mark Paffard points out, “there is an unmistakable similarity between the Bandar-Log … and the Yahoos of Gulliver's Travels. Both are species of monkeys, and both are portrayed as idle and senseless because they lack any organisation or any code of social conduct” (93). In addition, Mowgli's revenge applies outside the world of animals, and “The Outsong” at the end of The Second Jungle Book (296-99) enjoins upon Mowgli unswerving obedience to human law, no matter how defective or unpleasant.

Apart from the rules for self-preservation and the right of sovereigns, the law in the Mowgli stories contains only contracts: the curious, almost totemic injunction to Mowgli never to “kill … any cattle young or old” because of the “price of the bull's life” (“Mowgli's Brothers,” JB 26); the contract under which Mowgli is entered into the pack and released from it; the contract under which Mowgli pays for a knife found “round the neck of a man who had been killed by a wild boar” (“Red Dog,” Second JB 222) by killing the boar. Mowgli's undertaking to fight the dholes with the pack in “Red Dog,” however, is based on Mowgli's love for Akela and his wolf parents and siblings, and is a personal agreement. In fact, as Kaa points out, Mowgli's undertaking is imprudent: “And thou hast tied thyself into a death-knot for the sake of the memory of dead wolves?” (232). There is love in the jungle, but it is not part of the law, just as there was, among some members of the Indian Civil Service, a genuine regard for the people they ruled that could never outweigh the need to maintain a clear separation between governors and governed.

An understanding of the disparity between Austin's theory of law and that of natural law explains the problems of some modern critics in reconciling the nonethical nature of the law in the Mowgli stories with their didacticism. Kipling's law, despite what sympathetic readers of the third quarter of this century would like it to be, is “morally neutral” just as British legal thinking of his day was morally neutral. By contrast, the standpoint of many twentieth-century readers and critics is that of the famous jurist Lauterpacht: “We would rather err in pursuit of a good life for all than glory in the secure infallibility of moral indifference” (136). Our conscious or unconscious assumption of a connection between law and ethics explains modern critical response to Kipling's exposition of law, ranging from unfounded approbation in Dobrée, to excuse in Islam, to evasion in Gilbert, to condemnation in Lewis. Despite what such critics might wish, Kipling's law was never intended to make his readers good. Rather, it was intended to make them safe citizens at home and effective rulers in the colonies.


  1. The references in The Jungle Book are as follows: in “Mowgli's Brothers,” 4, 5, 10, 12 (twice), 13 (twice), 14 (twice), 17, 19, 21, 25, 26, 27; in “Kaa's Hunting,” 32 (twice), 33, 34, 36, 37, 51, 52, 63 (thrice); in “Tiger-Tiger!” 71. The references in The Second Jungle Book are as follows: “How Fear Came,” 3, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20 (twice); the whole of “The Law of the Jungle” (29-32); “Letting in the Jungle,” 67, 74 (twice), 82; “Red Dog,” 223 (twice); “The Spring Running,” 273 (twice), 292, 293; “The Outsong,” 296, 297.

  2. “Natural law” was adumbrated in classical Greece, developed in the ius gentium of Roman law, formed an essential part of the theological and philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas, and grew from the ideas of Hobbes and Locke into the declarations of rights and the constitutions promulgated during the American and French revolutions. Its most influential contemporary theorist is John Finnis (Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980).

  3. “Analytical positivism” stems from the legal theory developed from Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian philosophy by John Austin (1790-1859). Though his writings were much admired by the Benthamite circle, they had little influence in his lifetime. With the posthumous publication in 1863 of the whole of his work, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined and Lectures on Jurisprudence: Or, the Philosophy of Positive Law, “his ideas came to dominate English jurisprudence, which for long remained analytical in character” (Hart, “Austin” 472). His theory had a direct influence on the Indian Civil Service through James Fitzjames Stephen (Stokes 305), and is still influential in the work of H. L. A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin.

  4. The critical legal studies movement regards much legal theory as “the perennial effort to restate power and preconception as right” (Unger 674). “Its point of departure has been the thesis that law and legal doctrine reflect, confirm, and reshape the social divisions and hierarchies inherent in a type or stage of social organization such as ‘capitalism’” (Unger 563n).

  5. As Wolfgang Friedmann notes, the members of the Nuremberg Tribunal derived their jurisdiction from the Nuremberg Charter, “basing themselves on the binding force of the positive law imposed upon Germany by virtue of the Allied Military Government.” At the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, however, “there were indeed hints that individuals had legal duties higher than those of obedience to the positive law of their sovereign” (Law in a Changing Society, 41). Eichmann's trial was based upon a positive Israeli law passed retrospectively, “though many of its provisions, such as those dealing with ‘crimes against humanity,’ had a natural-law ring about them” (Lloyd 81).

  6. A similar description occurs in another story about the necessity for unquestioning obedience, “The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin,” in Plain Tales from the Hills (98).

  7. Kipling may possibly have had in mind the ritual killing of the priest of Nemi described in Frazer's The Golden Bough. As Nora Crook points out, Kipling met Frazer in 1921 when both men received honorary degrees from the Sorbonne, but Kipling may well have read Frazer long before. He “owned a volume of Frazer's Folklore in the Old Testament … and his annotated translation of Apollodorus (Bateman's). The ‘Neminaka cafe’ in ‘Dayspring Mishandled,’ which treats the literary world as a cut-throat priesthood, probably derives from Chapter 1 of The Golden Bough” (183n).

Works Cited

Annan, Noel. “Kipling's Place in the History of Ideas.” In Kipling's Mind and Art, ed. Andrew Rutherford. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1964. 97-125.

Austin, John. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined and The Uses of the Study of Jurisprudence, ed. H. L. A. Hart. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.

Crook, Nora. Kipling's Myths of Love and Death. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Dobrée, Bonamy. Rudyard Kipling: Realist and Fabulist. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Draper, Alfred. Amritsar: The Massacre That Ended the Raj. London: Cassell, 1981.

Edwardes, Michael. British India, 1772-1947: A Survey of the Nature and Effects of Alien Rule. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1967.

Friedmann, Wolfgang. Law in a Changing Society. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

———. Legal Theory. 2nd ed. London: Stevens and Sons, 1949.

Fuller, Lon L. “Fidelity to Law—A Reply to Professor Hart.” Harvard Law Review 71.4 (1958): 630-72.

Gilbert, Elliot L. “Three Criticisms of The Jungle Books.The Kipling Journal 33 (December 1966): 6-10.

Hart, H. L. A. “John Austin.” In International Encylopaedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills. N.p.: Macmillan, 1968.

———. “Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals.” Harvard Law Review 71.4 (1958): 593-629.

Hutchins, Francis G. The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Islam, Shamsul. Kipling's “Law”: A Study of His Philosophy of Life. London: Macmillan, 1975.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. London: Macmillan, 1894.

———. Plain Tales from the Hills. London: Macmillan, 1903.

———. The Second Jungle Book. London: Macmillan, 1908, rpt. 1963.

Lauterpacht, H. “Kelsen's Pure Science of Law.” In Modern Theories of Law, preface by W. Ivor Jennings. London: Oxford University Press, 1933: 105-138.

Lewis, C. S. “Kipling's World.” In Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert. New York: New York University Press, 1965. 99-117.

Lloyd, Dennis. The Idea of Law. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

Paffard, Mark. Kipling's Indian Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1989.

Pound, Roscoe. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law. Rev. ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Rudyard Kipling. London: Queen Anne Press, 1989.

Stephen, James Fitzjames. A History of the Criminal Law of England. 3 vols. New York: Burt Franklin, 1883, rpt. 1973.

———. Letter. The Times. January 4, 1878: 3

———. Letter. The Times. March 1, 1883: 8.

Stokes, Eric. The English Utilitarians and India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. “The Critical Legal Studies Movement.” Harvard Law Review 96.3 (1983): 561-675.

Wurgaft, Lewis D. The Imperial Imagination: Magic and Myth in Kipling's India. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.

Further Reading

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Binyon, T. J. “Kipling, The Blush-Making Prophet.” Times Literary Supplement (5 June 1987): 608-09.

Provides a brief overview of Kipling's life and career.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Rudyard Kipling. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 159 p.

Collection of critical essays on Kipling's work.

Bratton, J. S. “Race, Dominion and Power.” Times Educational Supplement (20 February 1987): 25.

Mixed reviews of recent reissues of Kipling's short fiction.

Engen, Rodney. “Forever Children.” Times Educational Supplement (24 December 1993): 20.

Provides a mixed assessment of the illustrated versions of The Jungle Book and The Complete Just So Stories.

Kerr, Douglas. “Three Ways of Going Wrong: Kipling, Conrad, Coetzee.” Modern Language Review 95, no. 1 (January 2000): 18-27.

Explores Kipling's treatment of authority and nonconformity in his colonial stories.

Paffard, Mark. “Early Stages.” In Kipling's Indian Fiction, pp. 31-55. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Traces Kipling's early development as a short story writer in Anglo-India.

Perrin, Noel. “Kipling, Now and Then.” American Scholar 67, no. 3 (summer 1998): 136-40.

Reflects upon the personal impact of Kipling's short stories and praises his contribution to literature.

Additional coverage of Kipling's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 32; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 4; British Writers, Vol. 6; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 39, 65; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1890-1914; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 105, 120; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 33; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 19, 34, 141, 156; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, and Poets; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Ed. 1; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 3; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 8; Something About the Author, Vol. 100; Supernatural Fiction WritersTwentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 8, 17; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; World Literature Criticism; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 2.

U. C. Knoepflmacher (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: Knoepflmacher, U. C. “Female Power and Male Self-Assertion: Kipling and the Maternal.” Children's Literature 20 (1992): 15-35.

[In the following essay, Knoepflmacher links aspects of Kipling's life and his treatment of feminine power in short fiction, particularly through the story “Baa Baa, Black Sheep.”]

My first child and daughter was born in three foot of snow on the night of December 29th 1892. Her Mother's birthday being the 31st and mine the 30th of the same month, we congratulated her on her sense of the fitness of things, and she throve in her trunk-tray in the sunshine on the little plank verandah.

—Kipling, Something of Myself

Whether addressed to adults or children, Kipling's writings are preoccupied with female power—a power he persistently associates with a mother or a mother surrogate. The bluster and bravado of the barracks on which Kipling had built his early reputation owe much to a male assertiveness through which the young writer handled his uneasy relation to the feminine. That relation, however, underwent a significant change as soon as Kipling began to confront his childhood both in stories written for an adult audience such as the intensely emotional “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” and in the tales for children he began to compose during “the early days of his married life in Vermont, that halcyon time when Josephine was the summit of his delight—a young baby that was his own” (Wilson 128). Effie, his Best Beloved, reconciled Kipling to those two other beings he had once loved best, the mother by whom he had felt betrayed and the little boy whose sense of omnipotence had been severely bruised by that maternal betrayal.

Even in those fictions Kipling published prior to his becoming a family man, the emphasis on male bonding all too often conceals a boy's ambivalent perception of a matriarch's power. This ambivalence did not go unnoticed by some of Kipling's shrewder contemporaries. In a famous 1904 cartoon by Max Beerbohm, a hirsute Rudyard Kipling locks arms with “Britannia, 'is gurl,” while tooting a tiny bugle. They have exchanged headgear. She is wearing his bowler, while he has donned her helmet. The caricature's target seems fairly obvious. As in Beerbohm's 1912 story entitled “P.C., X, 36,” an excessive male assertiveness is mercilessly undercut. The strident imperialist; the ventriloquist able to give voice to the codes of masculinity bonding soldiers, seamen, and schoolboys; the misogynist who has a gruff speaker proclaim that a woman is only a woman but that a good cigar is a Smoke—these and other Kipling stereotypes are ostensibly being deflated.

And yet, as always, Beerbohm astutely catches something subtler. The Kipling narrator in “P.C., X, 36” becomes deeply hurt when the police constable whose masculinity he so admires brusquely tells him that it is time for him to be in bed since “Yer Ma'll be lookin' out for yer” (A Christmas Garland 11). The cartoon likewise treats Kipling as a mama's boy. The stately Britannia is twice as tall as the little reveler who has appropriated her helmet. This raucous bugler may regard the Pre-Raphaelite, Burne-Jones beauty who towers over him as “'is gurl.” Yet it is obvious that the grown woman who glances away from him with such a vacant and superior expression has been quite reluctantly drawn into the frenzied game of a child-man. And, as the interlocked arms strongly suggest, his power—or, rather, his pretense of power—depends on this grave matriarch's might.

Beerbohm's refusal to be taken in by such masculine posturings is even more strongly expressed in his sardonic “Kipling's Entire,” a 1903 review of the dramatization by “George Fleming” (a female playwright called Julia Constance Fletcher) of The Light That Failed (1890), Kipling's first and last novel written for adults. As uninterested in Fletcher's play as in a decade of major children's books by Kipling, Beerbohm prefers to go back to the novel itself in order to expose the adolescent fantasies of an author he deems to be “permanently and joyously obsessed” with soldiers (246). Kipling's notions “of manhood, manliness, man” strike Beerbohm as being curiously “feminine,” more feminine, in fact, than those of the woman who converted the novel into a play. Male writers who are secure in their masculine identity, Beerbohm suggests, can take the “virility” of their heroes for granted. But only “effeminate men” are overly eager in trying to avoid “a sudden soprano note in the bass” they try to sound (246). Reversing Henry James's dictum that George Sand may have impersonated a man but was “not a gentleman,” Beerbohm contends that it might conversely be said “that Mr. Kipling, as revealed to us in his fiction, is no lady,” though he is “not the less essentially feminine for that” (247).1

The cynical—and often downright misogynist—fictions the young Kipling wrote for adult readers differ markedly in their orientation toward female nurturance and female power from his stories for—and about—children. That difference can already be glimpsed if one contrasts two of the “adult” productions written in 1888, “The Man Who Would Be King” and “The Story of the Gadsbys,” to “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” also written in 1888 and the tale in which Kipling at last confronted the childhood trauma of parental desertion. All three fictions dramatize the damage inflicted by female figures on a male's aspirations toward power.

In “The Man Who Would Be King,” Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan agree not to look at “any Woman black, white, or brown” (56); and, indeed, and Dravot heeded his companion's injunction to “leave the women alone,” he would have retained his kingship and have continued to be worshiped as “God or Devil” (83, 88). Instead, by choosing a wife, “a Queen to breed a King's son for the King” (84), Dravot precipitates his downfall. Bitten in the neck by the young woman who, “white as death,” causes his hand to be “red with blood” (89), Dravot is crucified by the natives who lose faith in his omnipotence. The male bond that existed between him and Peachy is reduced to the “dried, withered head,” still bearded and crowned, but eyeless, defaced, and “battered,” that the crazed Carnehan carries in his horsehair bag (96).

The symbiotic relation between two males is similarly broken in “The Story of the Gadsbys.” But whereas the marriage between Dravot and the “strapping wench” whose bite proves so deadly is never consummated, the longer work sets out to document its misogynist epigraph, “That a young man married is a young man marred!” (“Gadsby” [“The Story of the Gadsbys”] 220). Mothers are now targeted as destroyers. The novella begins by mocking “Poor Dear Mamma,” the matron who soon engineers Captain Gadsby's marriage to her daughter Minnie, and it ends by mocking Minnie herself, in her own role as a domineering young mother. The infant boy she calls the “Butcha” becomes her instrument in her campaign to get Gadsby to break his bonds to the regiment and his lingering attachment to his brother-soldier, Captain Mafflin. The gruff soldier who had pleaded with Gadsby “to send the Wife Home … and come to Kashmir with me” (278) is as soundly defeated as Peachy Carnehan was in “The Man Who Would Be King.” “Mrs. G.” delivers her coup de grace when she encourages her baby to smash Captain Mafflin's watch. The male camaraderie which Beerbohm ridicules in his attack on Kipling's soldiers, “with their self-conscious blurtings of oaths and slang, their cheap cynicism about the female sex” (“Kipling's Entire” 247), is again in evidence. But it is the female who carries the day when Mrs. G. tells her baby that the dial and hands of Mafflin's broken watch have been “werry, werry feeble” (Gadsby [The Story of the Gadsbys] 283)—too feeble, clearly, to withstand her temporal power. Domesticity has triumphed over what Beerbohm derisively calls “manlydom” (which, for him, is something more artificial and contrived than mere “manliness”).

Having portrayed the young woman who refuses to “breed” a son for Dravot and the young mother whose baby son helps her to assert her superiority over adult males, Kipling was at last ready to adopt, in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” the point of view of a boy in the most personal of his tales of male disempowerment. Significantly enough, Punch, the story's boy protagonist, and the adult narrator who supervises his disenchantment are far more complex than their counterparts in “The Man Who Would Be King” or “The Story of the Gadsbys.” And equally significant is the rich ambivalence that now marks Kipling's portrait of the “real, live, lovely Mamma” who returns to rescue the boy Punch, just as Alice Kipling returned to rescue her Ruddy in actual life.

“Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” the story which critic-biographers from Edmund Wilson in 1941 to Angus Wilson in 1977 have rightly regarded as a turning point in Kipling's career as a writer, prepared him both for The Light That Failed (1890) and the children's stories he began to write in 1893. The tale's immense emotional force and its correspondence with Rudyard's and his sister Trix's accounts of their childhood deprivations certainly bear out Angus Wilson's contention that it remains unique among Kipling's fictions in its “closeness to biographical fact,” or, as Wilson wisely qualifies his statement, “to biographical fact as he still remembered it as he came to write Something of Myself at the end of his life” (18). Still, Wilson misses, I think, the importance for Kipling's artistic development of the role played by the mother, whose absence leads Punch to hone his skills as a “little liar” (“Baa Baa, Black Sheep” 360). At the story's end, both Punch and his “Mother, dear” assume that their earlier symbiosis can be resumed “as if she had never gone” (368). Yet, as the narrator suggests in no uncertain terms, they are mistaken. Though not as severely ruptured, the bond between mother and son can no more remain intact than that which existed between Peachy and Dravot or between Mafflin and Gadsby. Integral yet displaced, adored yet resented, the mother cannot be fully reunited with one whose child's wits survived and developed without her supervision. Nor, as Kipling began to understand at this point in his career, could male bonding fully serve him as an emotionally satisfying replacement for that lost primal fusion. Instead, as his stories for children would show, the mother's power had to be adopted and incorporated by the grown-up male writer who learned how to reactivate his surviving child's wits.

The first thing to be noted about “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” is that the figure of Punch and Judy's Mamma is far more prominent than that of their father. She not only returns at the end of the story to take charge of her deserted children, but also acts as an interpreter-writer whose decisiveness and self-assurance counterpoint the implied author's ironic mode of indirection and understatement. Her final letter to the husband she addresses as “dear boy” exudes confidence, energy, and wit: although she looks forward to her mate's own return to the “home” country, she assures him that she has, in effect, already taken full charge. The family's future life “under one roof” again seems certain to the mother. The repair of the broken unit, she is convinced, will merely crown her ongoing efforts: “I shall win Punch to me before long.” The mother thus feels perfectly “content.” If her children will again come to know her, their former trust in her can be recaptured. She is sure that the “small deceptions” and “falsehood” that Punch adopted as his prime defense against betrayal and estrangement can soon fade away (367).

Yet if the mother's confidence still needs to be tested by Punch—only to be subverted by the narrator in the story's concluding paragraph—it is also true that the primacy she chooses to adopt seems rather belated. From the very start of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” father and mother alike have, after all, been replaced by surrogates. And, what is more, the roles played by these surrogates have markedly differed for each parent. The father's two substitutes, the two Indian manservants and Uncle Harry, are associated with storytelling, as the father himself is. Later in the story, he complements Uncle Harry's nostalgic ballad about the battle of Navarino by sending his boy a gift “of ‘Grimm's Fairy Tales’ and a Hans Christian Andersen” (341). In actual life, little Rudyard was regaled with quite different fare: not just “Papa” but both parents are credited in Something of Myself with sending him “priceless volumes” which included a “bound copy of Aunt Judy's Magazine of the early 'seventies, in which appeared Mrs. Ewing's Six to Sixteen.” The story of a girl transplanted from India to Yorkshire had, according to Kipling, a greater impact on his imagination than any other children's book: “I owe more in circuitous ways to that tale than I can tell. I knew it, as I know it still, almost by heart” (7).

The men in the story blend with each other: Meeta, the big Surti boy, acts as a substitute for a Papa who has not “come in” the nursery, as expected, to talk to Punch (324); later, just as the absent father will only send his child a parcel of books, so can the dying Uncle Harry at best pass on the battle song that Punch soon know “through all its seventeen verses” (349). As mere transmitters of the tales of others, the male figures seem more passive than the women who shape Punch's character. The young mother who reappears to reclaim her children is the rival of the withered “Antirosa” (as Punch first thinks he is to call her). Yet beneath their opposition lie disturbing analogues. Both women, after all, clearly prefer little Judy over the difficult and obdurate boy whom his biological mother still “cannot quite understand” in her letter to her husband (367). And, as the story's opening makes clear, the child's Indian ayah proves to be more maternal than either Mamma or Aunty Rosa. In The Jungle Books the love that both Mother Wolf and Messua display for one who is not their own offspring helps to enhance the uniqueness of Mowgli. Similarly, in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” the ayah's mother-love for Punch only reinforces his early sense of supremacy.

The ayah wants Punch to go to sleep, like the dozing Judy. But the boy refuses to be lulled without the compensation of a soothing fiction:

“No,” said Punch. “Punch-baba wants the story about the Ranee that turned into a tiger. Meeta must tell it, and the hamal shall hide behind the door and make tiger-noises at the proper time.”


The little sahib has his way. Male voices are required to impersonate the ranee who will become a fierce tiger. Meeta tells an oft-told tale; when the hamal makes “the tiger-noises in twenty different keys” the reassurance seems complete (324). The voice of the metamorphosed ranee appears to reconcile the opposites Kipling's fictions will try to tame: human and animal; male and female; adult and child; the power briefly wielded by an imperious little master who does not yet understand his limits and the games devised for him by complacent, because loving, subordinates. Like Bagheera in The Jungle Books or like Queen Balkis in the Just So Stories [Just So Stories for Little Children], these subordinates manage to teach one who would be king how best to exercise the imagination that must compensate him for his later loss of power.

By orchestrating the storytelling in the nursery, little Punch can revel in the illusion of his total control. Yet the reader who glimpses more than the child is made uneasy, sensing that the tale being acted out may well carry some undisclosed bearing on Punch's future. Hints abound. When the ayah sighs “softly,” the narrator's voice intervenes only to explain that “the boy of the household was very dear to her heart” (324). When Punch wonders why Papa has not come, the ayah presents information that also remains half-glossed: “Punch-baba is going away. … In another week there will be no Punch-baba to pull my hair anymore” (324). Her self-pity seems to authenticate her love. But the little tyrant stays unshaken. He confidently assures her and Meeta that all of his retainers are bound to accompany him on a journey about which his parents have kept him uninformed. Lulled by the ayah's “interminable canticle,” Punch falls asleep at last, secure, unaware that the oneness that makes him feel so potent and self-sufficient is about to be terminated (325). The actual words chanted by the ayah are inconsequential. It is the sound of her canticle which matters. Yet out of this unintelligible, reassuring “genotext,” as Julia Kristeva would call it, Punch and the narrator, and Kipling behind them both, will have to carve out explanatory narratives, “phenotexts.”

The scene is set for the entrance of Punch and Judy's actual parents. The allotted week has elapsed, and Papa and Mamma bend over the cots in the nursery late at night before the day of departure, on which the children will finally be told that Meeta and the ayah cannot accompany them on the journey across the ocean. In a story like “Hansel and Gretel” (which Punch will presumably read at the house of the witchlike Aunty Rosa), the abandonment of children by their parents is justified by poverty and hunger. Here, too, economic considerations are raised. Papa uneasily refers to the “moderate” price of the lodgings where he and his wife will leave Punch and Judy; but his rationalizations cannot overcome his obvious misgivings about the impending act of desertion. We expect Mamma to give vent to emotions even more powerful than those that the ayah was compelled to mask in front of Punch. Her children are asleep; she senses her husband's agitation. At first glance, her pangs seem to resemble the ayah's: “‘The worst of it is that the children will grow up away from me,’ thought Mamma, but she did not say it aloud” (326). Is there a slight tinge of selfishness in her melancholy? Is she concerned about her own deprivation as much as that which her children might suffer away from home? She has already relied on a surrogate to do her mothering in the past; small wonder that Punch should soon view the new surrogate to whom the children will be entrusted as simply “a new white ayah” (331).

Perhaps even more noteworthy is the mother's silence. Her reservation cannot be heard by her husband. Only the narrator is privy to it. And indeed, unexpectedly, a wary narratorial “I” emerges out of nowhere to link the ayah (whom Punch himself had earlier heard sighing “softly”) to a mother who now may—or just as possibly may not—be crying “softly” to herself: “[Both parents] were standing over the cots in the nursery late at night, and I think that Mamma was crying softly” (326; emphasis added). The very “obliqueness” that Elliot Gilbert regards as the hallmark of Kipling's art of survival begins to shape this tale of a boy's psychological survival. Henry James, who welcomed the young Kipling as a fellow craftsman, might well have appreciated the artful placing of that conditional “I think.”

But if the depth of the mother's sadness is only slightly undermined by the tentativeness of the narrator's “I think,” her preference of Judy over Punch reverses the ayah's own priorities, as we soon discover: “After Papa had gone away, she knelt down by Judy's cot” (326). Just as she had screened her silent thoughts from her husband so does the mother wait for him to leave the nursery before signifying her preference for “my Ju.” Her action links the two excluded males, son and father, anticipating the later links between them and between Punch and Uncle Harry. But the mother's private ritual is observed by another witness besides the narrator, the ayah, and that observer's point of view is now appropriated by the narrator himself:

The ayah saw her and put up a prayer that the Memsahib might never find the love of her children taken away from her and given to a stranger.


There is no threat, obviously, that Punch will give his love to a tormentor like Aunty Rosa. Still, the ayah's fear that a stranger might disrupt the bonds that bind a mother to her child is nonetheless justified. For Punch, having learned to distrust and fear the hated Aunty Rosa, cannot but help identify this maternal replacement with the returning parent who wants to reclaim him as her own “darling boy” (364). She may be highly seductive, “young, frivolously young, and beautiful, with delicately flushed cheeks, eyes that shone like stars, and a voice that needed no appeal of outstretched arms to draw little ones to her” (364). But six years have elapsed, and Punch is no longer little. Only his smaller sister responds instinctively to those outstretched arms: “Judy ran straight to her, but Black Sheep hesitated” (364).

Judy's identification with her mother has remained intact, for the little girl was allowed “straight” access to Aunty Rosa's “heart” (336). But “the extra boy about the house” could only count on Uncle Harry for identification and support (336). Kipling deliberately places the children's joint mourning for their lost mother at the end of the first section of his story in direct apposition to the lonely Punch's horror on hearing the piercing scream “Uncle Harry is dead!” at the end of the second segment (335, 350). Renamed “Black Sheep” by Aunty Rosa, told “that he ought to be beaten by a man” (363) for sins her whippings cannot correct, Punch is at last given a reprieve by still another male figure, a visiting doctor from India who detects his near-blindness. In Something of Myself, significantly enough, there is the added diagnosis of some “sort of nervous break-down” (17); what is more, the diagnostician is an emissary from Rudyard's “beloved Aunt” Georgiana Burne-Jones, a kindly feminine presence who is never introduced in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” even though she is credited in the autobiography as having provided, “for a month each year,” a refuge from “the Woman” that became the “paradise which I verily believe saved me” (11).

Upon his mother's return, Punch remains understandably wary about the “beautiful woman” who treats him—the spurned miscreant and devil-child—“as though he were a small God” (“Baa Baa, Black Sheep” 366). In the last of the Jungle Book stories, “The Spring Running,” Messua sinks to her feet before the naked adolescent who stands at the threshold of her cottage: “It is a godling of the woods! Ahai!” The narrator confirms her sense of awe: the “strong, tall, and beautiful” male, he assures us, “might easily have been mistaken for some wild god of a jungle legend” (316). In Kipling's single “adult” Mowgli story, “In the Rukh,” written before the Jungle Book tales for children began to appear,2 Mowgli seems even more overtly identified with a deity like Krishna; the German Muller (presumably named after Max Muller, the authority on comparative religion) awkwardly cites Swinburne to convey his own awe at finding a reincarnated divinity in a rain forest that “is older dan der gods” (216). But in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” Punch cannot tap the sense of omnipotence that he has lost in India upon his separation from the worshipful ayah. Muller regards Mowgli as the product of a throwback, “an anachronism, for he is before der Iron Age, and der Stone Age” (216). To regain the primitive symbiosis that strikes the displaced Punch as being just as anachronistic, the twelve-year-old tries to infantilize himself. He regresses into an earlier mode of behavior by soiling himself, as a small child would.

Punch's defiant act of regression allows him to test his mother's tolerance. If his Mother is indeed the “sister, comforter, and friend” she professes to be, she ought not to be angry at his reversion, but will instead herself revert to the language of his Indian childhood by lightheartedly calling him a “little pagal.” He strides through the ditch, deliberately “mires himself to the knees,” and shouts: “Mother, dear, … I'm just as dirty as I can pos-sib-ly be!” As Punch proudly confirms to his little sister, Mamma has passed his test:

“Then change your clothes as quickly as you pos-sib-ly can!” Mother's clear voice rings out from the house. “And don't be a little pagal!”

“There! 'Told you so,” says Punch. “It's all different now, and we are just as much mother's as if she had never gone.”


Yet if Punch is as much Mother's as ever, how much is that “much”? The satisfied perspective of an adolescent who wants to reassume his place as a child is immediately corrected by an adult narrator who insists on the permanence of marks that no boyish bravado can erase.

The narrator's qualification of Punch's point of view introduces a sobering perspective similar to that which Kipling was to adopt, two years later, in The Light That Failed:

Not altogether, O Punch, for when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion, and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge; though it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was.


In The Light That Failed, where this note of bitterness is extended, childhood merely becomes a prolegomenon for the later crippling of a failed artist and soldier. The blinded Dick Heldar cannot survive in an adult world where he must forsake his artistic ambitions and act out, instead, a suicidal fantasy. The myopic Punch, however, is at least given the opportunity to survive. And, what is more, he may even have a chance to become someone like Kipling. The overconfident child-voice and the narrator's more guarded utterance in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” would, after all, eventually be blended in those stories for children that came to rely on a subtle traffic between wishfulness and disenchantment.

“Baa Baa, Black Sheep” thus led Kipling to both The Light That Failed and his subsequent fictions for children. In dramatizing the damage caused by a warfare between masculine and feminine elements, Kipling's novel ostensibly returns to the quasi-adolescent bonds between the soldier-brothers of the earlier stories. Destroyed by the combined efforts of Maisie, Bessie, and the Red-Haired Girl, the maimed Heldar, prematurely gray and with the tired “face of an old man” (329), must gratefully expire in the arms of his male friend Torpenhow. But in charting Dick Heldar's thwarted movement from childhood attachments to adult relationships, the novel continues to pursue the close examination of a boy's psychology first begun in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” and later expanded in the Mowgli stories and Kim.

In The Light That Failed Kipling accentuates the negative aspects of a boy's development. Indeed, Dick's repeatedly unsuccessful confrontations with female power make him a far more pathetic figure than Punch, whose name is that of the long-nosed puppet noted for his sadistic wife-beating and aggressive “breaches of decorum” (Cruikshank 24). Although Kipling's Punch is himself beaten as severely as his puppet namesake, he also retains the pulcinello's angry energy. His aggressiveness and resourcefulness contrast with the passivity of his little sister Judy (who, though seemingly exempt from the anger directed at those who prefer her to Punch—Mother and Aunty Rosa—nonetheless bears the name of the traditional victim of the Punch and Judy shows). By way of contrast, the very beginning of The Light That Failed stresses Dick's subordination to the imperious little girl who nearly blinds him by shooting a pistol in his face. The fearless fellow orphan who is Dick's “companion in bondage” (4) to Mrs. Jennett (the Aunty Rosa figure now “incorrectly supposed to stand in place of a mother” [2] to both children) is by far the sturdier of the two. Whereas Dick deflects his need for nurturance on Maisie, she transfers her own need for a mother to the male goat she has endowed with the maternal name “Amomma.” The goat easily survives swallowing “two loaded pin-fire cartridges” (7), but Dick cannot as easily digest female aggression, either as a boy or as a man.

The Light That Failed might well have been entitled “The Growth That Failed.” For Dick Heldar remains an arrested adolescent, incapable of growing beyond the level at which Kipling will leave future boy heroes such as Mowgli or Kim, incapable even of Punch's tenuous reconciliation with the “sister, comforter, and friend” he needs to find in his mother. Yet despite its negativity and self-pity, the novel Kipling chose to dedicate to his mother also seems to display his understanding that creativity—his own as much as that of his artist hero—requires a reinstatement of powers first activated in a child's relation to its primary parent. In his important revaluation of the “thematics and poetics” of The Light That Failed, Robert Caserio shows how the novel subordinates a boyish ambition to “master the world” to an acceptance of the vulnerability and failure deeply feared by the male who wants to cling to his desire for domination (212, 208). Caserio thus considers Maisie's female friend, the nameless Impressionist who destroys her hurtful sketch of Dick “both to save him pain and to surrender her own defensive aggression,” not just as Heldar's antagonist, but rather also as an artist figure who anticipates a role Kipling himself now knows he must adopt (208).

The hint of a possible synthesis between a childish desire for omnipotence and an adult acceptance of limits was already anticipated in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” itself, where the chanting ayah indulged Punch's wishful belief in his power while trying to prepare him for his impending loss and alienation. Even the returning mother is, paradoxically enough, allowed to provide a bridge between innocence and experience. Her resolute voice provides an alternative to the final utterances of both Punch and the narrator by combining the cheerful faith of the one with the realism of the other. In mimicking the boy's speech with her own “pos-sib-ly,” the mother turns into a game what could potentially have been construed as a defiance to her authority. But by also demanding an immediate change of clothes, she can at the same time insist on his need to submit to her superior awareness.

A similar combination of playfulness with authority would soon animate Kipling's stories for children, especially the Just So Stories he first told to tiny Effie. There, Kipling's joyous, even raucous, participation in children's games remains inseparable from a parental/authorial stance that gently affirms its superior knowledge. As the creator of stories that use repetition to satisfy the child's hunger to have them “told just so,” Kipling resembles the mother who fulfills Punch's boastful “'Told you so” to Judy. The preamble to his first trio of “Just So Stories” in 1897 suggests that Kipling had come to treat the child's participation in bedtime stories with the same mixture of respect and authority as the ayah who had deferred to Punch's need in his own suspended condition between contrary states: “You could alter and change [afternoon stories] as much as you pleased; but in the evening there were stories meant to put Effie to sleep, and you were not allowed to alter those by one single little word. They had to be told just so; or Effie would wake up and put back the missing sentence. So at last they came to be like charms, all three of them,—the whale tale, the camel tale, and the rhinoceros tale” (“The ‘Just-So’ Stories” 89).

Just as Meeta's tale about the ranee who became a tiger appeals to a much younger Punch because of its familiarity, so does the mother's last speech in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” reconfirm and revalidate an older child's memories. Her willing reversion to a word like pagal helps, in fact, to reintroduce the lost Indian household world of Meeta and the ayah that the aged Kipling still gratefully remembered in the opening pages of Something of Myself. At the same time, however, the mother demands an adaptation to the changed circumstances brought about by the separation her child has undergone. Mere regression is not possible for its own sake. New clothes are required to replace those soiled in the muddy ditch—clothes appropriate for Punch's older self. Limits and regulations must be observed, lest a too anarchic Punch—or a Mowgli or Beetle or defiant Elephant's Child—be seduced into thinking that he can behave like the Bandar-log or a Wild Thing. Despite his suppressed anger at the mother for the damage done by her desertion, Kipling prefers to accentuate the positive. He thus endows her, albeit tentatively, with the restorative powers he will himself adopt as a parent and writer.3 His art must be placed in service of the Queen.

The insights gained in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” and The Light That Failed were therefore best carried out in works in which child protagonists, whether boys like Mowgli and Kim or girls like Taffy, who is credited with inventing the alphabet in the Just So Stories, are simultaneously treated as highly resourceful and yet highly vulnerable. Mowgli can act out a child reader's boldest fantasies of imperial domination; at the same time, however, this confident master planner, who can enlist the might of Hathi and the cool intelligence of Kaa in coordinating strategic maneuvers that would do credit to a Napoleon, must come to accept that a man-cub has no place in the elementary world of the jungle. Conversely, Taffimai or Taffy, the little daughter and “Best Beloved” of a primitive Neolithic man, is at once an abject failure (since her first pictograph communicates a message totally contrary to the one she had wanted to convey) and a budding genius whose “great invention” will someday be perfected as an art called “writing” (The Jungle Books and Just So Stories 384).

It seems hardly arbitrary that Mowgli, abandoned by his actual woodcutter parents (as Hansel and Gretel were in the Grimm fairy tale), should be compensated for that severance by a proliferation of parental surrogates and by two adopted mothers, Raksha (the Demon) and the wealthy Messua, all of whom jealously vie over the boy. Nor is it arbitrary that Taffy's first letter, though misread by its recipient, should demand that her mother replace the broken weapon that her father is so assiduously trying to repair. From Kipling's first published children's story, “The Potted Princess,” which appeared in St. Nicholas magazine in January 1893, less than a month after the birth of his own Best Beloved, Josephine, to Rewards and Fairies (1910), the writer who never forgot his boyhood deprivations also made sure to remember—and inscribe—the continuing feminine attachments on which his creativity depended.

It seems significant that only a few weeks after the birth of his “first child and daughter,” Kipling should have published in St. Nicholas magazine an Indian children's story which is immediately presented as “the true tale that was told to Punch and Judy, his sister, by their nurse, in the city of Bombay,” as they wait “for their mother to come back from her evening drive” (“The Potted Princess” 164). The mother's absence of six painful years in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” has been compressed into a short evening drive. And yet Kipling's first story for children is in many ways a sequel to the earlier story about the child he had once been. When, at the end of “The Potted Princess,” Mamma returns, the children try to repeat the ayah's story for her benefit, while she is hurriedly changing her clothes to dress for dinner.

But Punch and Judy are not as skilled storytellers as the ayah. Even without a knowledge of the plot of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” an adult reader of “The Potted Princess” can detect meanings that neither the child auditors in the tale nor the child readers of St. Nicholas magazine could fathom. The ayah's story is clearly intended as a compensatory fiction. It is designed to offset Punch's exaggerated sense both of his vulnerability and of his importance. When the ayah tries to soothe an angry pink crane by chanting a Hindustani song about another, thorn-pricked crane whose “life went away tullaka-katullaka—drop by drop,” Punch chases the bird, pricks himself, and promptly acquires “two tiny pink scratches” he grandiosely identifies with his own waning life blood: “‘Ohoo!’ said Punch, looking at both his fat little legs together, ‘Perhaps I shall die!’” (164, 165). The boy's intimations of mortality are short-lived, but his pain has caused Judy to cry. To soothe her and to give the boy a stricter sense of limitations, the ayah immediately plunges into a tale never before heard by the children: “And the Rajah had a daughter …” (165).

The writer who had so recently acquired a daughter has the ayah tell a story that is deliberately antifantastic. Although the tale is set in a magical era when sorcerers could turn “men into tigers and elephants” (165), the princess whom a prince must release turns out to have been shut up in a “grain-jar” that proves to be utterly ordinary. As the narrative unfolds, Punch becomes its sole auditor, since Judy, waiting for her mother, has lost interest in the story. Just as the ayah tricks Punch into assuming that the jar will have “to be opened by magic,” so do the rajah's sorcerers in the story trick all the princess's suitors but one into believing that, to offset some powerful spell, they will have to consult “the magicians in their fathers' courts, and holy men in caves” (166). By engaging in “magic charm-work which cannot last,” these suitors become “all wearied out”; but the one prince of “low birth” whose father “married the daughter of a potter” and who has always remained “the son of his mother” requires no such elaborate schooling (167, 166). Instructed by “his mother, the Ranee,” this commonsensical young man succeeds where all others have failed:

‘At the very last, … the Potter-Prince came into the plain alone, without even one little talking beast or wise bird, and all the people made jokes at him. But he walked to the grain-jar and cried, ‘A pot is a pot, and I am the son of a potter!’ and he put his two hands upon the grain-jar's cover and he lifted it up, and the Princess came out! Then the people said, ‘This is very great magic indeed’; and they began to chase the holy men and the talking beasts up and down, meaning to kill them. But the Rajah's magicians said: ‘This is no magic at all, for we did not put any charm upon the jar. It was a common grain-jar; and it is a common grain-jar such as they buy in the bazar; and a child might have lifted the cover one year ago, or on any day since that day. …’”


When the ayah ends her tale as abruptly as she had plunged into it, Punch seems taken aback by the anticlimactic rebuff of his expectations. He wants to cling to the magical thinking of the child. The potter-prince who lifted the jar's lid is insufficiently heroic to suit the boy:

There was a long silence at the end of the tale.

“But the charms were very strong,” said Punch, doubtfully.

“They were only words, and how could they touch the pot? Could words turn you into a tiger, Punch baba?”

“No. I am Punch.”

“Even so,” said the ayah. “If the pot had been charmed, a charm would have opened it. But it was a common, bazar pot. What did it know of charms? It opened to a hand on the cover.”

“Oh!” said Punch; and then he began to laugh, and Judy followed his example. “Now I quite understand. I will tell it to mamma.”


Yet Punch's incomplete mastery of the ayah's cautionary tale becomes evident when he tries to relay her narrative to his mother. As Punch, with Judy's assistance, tries to re-create the tale, the children only succeed in befuddling their listener: “as they began in the middle and put the beginning first, and then began at the end and put the middle last, she became a little confused” (169). Eager to dramatize what he has been unable to present verbally, Punch reaches for an “eau-de-cologne bottle that he was strictly forbidden to touch,” and, in his excitement, spills its contents “down the front of his dress, shouting, ‘A pot is a pot, and I am the son of a potter!’” (169). Once again, it would seem, the boy who tries to impress his mother will be forced to change his clothes.

The Punch of “The Potted Princess” is the same naive pagal of the opening of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep.” But Kipling has by now changed his own clothes. By having the ayah show Punch that a story about female imprisonment has a considerable bearing on the identity of a boy still wearing a “dress” like his sister Judy, Kipling can bypass his earlier emphasis on “manlydom” and recover a femininity he now sees as crucial to his creativity. The potter-prince's mother, the low-born ranee who is nothing but the ayah's self-personation, has prepared her boy for a task that hardly proves to be epic. There is no need for male acts of prowess or male incantations or charms; instead, what is called for is the kind of realism that had become the mark of the literature for girls which Kipling found in the much-prized “bound copy of Aunt Judy's Magazine” he saved until the end of his life and in the women writers he evokes so fondly in Something About Myself as having had such an impact on his young mind: Mrs. Ewing's “history of real people and real things” that he knew “almost by heart,” “Mrs. Gatty's Parables of Nature which I imitated,” as well as “those good spirits” whose works he avidly devoured but whom he never was “lucky enough” to meet personally, Jean Ingelow and Christina Rossetti (7, 33, 22).

In the ayah's story, a mother's son releases and gains for himself the femininity his stereotypical male rivals were unable to free. And Punch, who comes to recognize, however vaguely, that pleasure and value may reside in stories that limit attainment to “common” skills, has himself been released from an excessive self-projection as an all-powerful male. Just as the son of John Lockwood Kipling, the designer who worked in a Staffordshire pottery when he first met Alice Lockwood in the hamlet of Rudyard, may well have aggrandized himself as a boy by fantasizing that he was the child of more exalted parents, so would the fictional Punch clearly have preferred to be the recipient of a “strong magic” that might have encouraged him “to go out and kill giants and dragons, and cut off their heads” (“The Potted Princess” 166). Yet he is willing to see himself as an ordinary potter-prince in a story which shows him that the ordinary can, under proper circumstances, prove extraordinary in its own right. The ayah has, after all, made sure not to injure Punch's sense of self-importance.4 She spares him the embarrassment of correcting some of his misconceptions.5 Nonetheless, it seems significant that this masculine little boy should find himself relaying the story told by one adult woman to another adult woman; moreover, as intermediary between ayah and mother, he also accepts his younger sister as conarrator, though Judy has grasped far less of the story's import than he did and even lacks his own minimal skills as a storyteller.

Words, Punch admits at this stage of his early life, cannot convert him—or a ranee—into a tiger. Words even fail him when he tries to transform the ayah's story into a narrative of his own. Still, he has enjoyed his nurse's liberating joke so exceedingly that, in his excitement, the boy still in pinafores spills his mother's perfume not on her but on himself. “The Potted Princess” depicts a baptism of sorts. The feminine “essence,” for which Beerbohm so cruelly mocked Kipling, now bathes a very different writer. Kipling was ready to go beyond his misogynist and antimatriarchal fictions for adults in the restorative children's stories that tumbled from his brain after the composition of “The Potted Princess.”

In the first of the stories that “had to be told just so” for Effie, the “single, solitary shipwrecked mariner,” who proves as practical as the potter-prince, is afloat on the wide sea because he “had his mother's leave to paddle or else he would never have done it, because he was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity” (“The ‘Just-So’ Stories” 91). As Kipling playfully suggests here, the sailor who prances and dances and bangs and clangs is not really a man at all but rather a resourceful little boy who can act as the grown-up author's link to his child auditor. His prowess is celebrated. It results, after all, in an evolutionary change by which whales “nowadays” are prevented from eating “men or boys or girls” (93). Still, this hero's mastery of the aggressive whale merely culminates with his return “home to his mother, who had given him leave to trail his toes in the water” (93).

Even after the death of his “American” daughter removed for Kipling the kind of creative interaction he dramatized in “How the Alphabet Was Made,” he was able to tap the creative power shared by Taffy and her “Daddy.” (When Taffy notes that “Mum shuts one's mouth up,” her father draws the carp mouth open: “That makes Ma-ma-ma!” [The Jungle Books and Just So Stories 392].) Whether Kipling's boy heroes are called Mowgli or Kim or Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, or even given the seeming adult stature of King Solomon (or, Suleiman-bin-Daoud, as Kipling prefers to call that wise and all-powerful magician), their resourcefulness inevitably is linked to female power. In this sense, the title of the story Kipling placed last in his first Jungle Book seems apt: humans and animals remain coequal “Servants of the Queen.” Mowgli must obtain Messua's approval before he can approach “the girl in a white cloth” and say his last farewell to his jungle companions. Similarly, the fairies who want to leave England in “‘Dymchurch Flit’” must rely on the permission of the Widow Whitgift to depart: “She was all their dependence. 'Thout her Leave an' Good-will they could not pass; for she was the Mother” (Puck of Pook's Hill 191).

Kipling, too, depended on maternal goodwill to sanction the exile he came to accept. In “The Enemies to Each Other,” the retelling of Paradise Lost that he placed at the beginning of his 1924 volume of Debits and Credits, Lady Eve compounds the mistakes that led to the expulsion from Eden. Asked by the peacock “which is greater, the mother or the child,” she replies, “Of a surety, the mother” (19), and, emboldened, tears down the mirror-altar in which Adam had sought to worship himself. When Adam asks “my Co-equal” why she has stripped him of his self-respect, Eve replies: “Because it has been revealed that in Me is all excellence and increase, splendour, terror and power. Bow down and worship” (20). Only laughter and the acceptance of gender strife finally can cause both partners to face the limitations of their existence. Still, Eve is reluctant to give up a sense of her innate superiority to Adam. Although she allows that she is “no goddess in any sort, but the mate of this mere Man whom, in spite of all, I love,” she cannot forbear to regale the peacock “with tales of the stupidity and childishness of our pure Forefather” (22). Eve's, however, is a story for grown-ups. And even we can only tell one tale at a time.


  1. In his recent biography of Kipling, Martin Seymour-Smith wonders: “How are we to explain the antipathy of Max Beerbohm?” Yet in confronting his own question (strangely situated in a discussion of Stalky, which he, but not Beerbohm, excoriates as “one of the bad books” [273]), Seymour-Smith comes up with no answers. Instead, he prefers to attack the “Kiplingites” for ignoring Beerbohm's persistent criticism of Kipling in no less than nine caricatures, “P.C., X, 36,” and two essays. Seymour-Smith, who maintains that Kipling suppressed not only all “homosexual tendencies in himself” but also “any tenderness or ‘femininity’” (103), seems uninterested in all of the children's books except for Stalky and, to a lesser extent, Kim, which he reads as a “safe” indulgence on Kipling's part “of paedophilic emotions” (303). His inattention to the Just So Stories or even The Jungle Books is deplorable, since a closer look at them would have greatly complicated his stance toward Kipling's suppressed femininity. Given his own thesis, Seymour-Smith might have easily answered his question about Beerbohm by analyzing the caption of Beerbohm's cartoon, “De Arte Poetica. J.B. to R.K.,” in which John Bull, who misreads Shakespeare and Tennyson as masculine writers, praises Kipling for being more “wholesome” than Byron or Shelley. As McElderry implies, Beerbohm could not forgive Kipling for supplying “manly vigor” as the “proper antidote” to a Wildean aestheticism to which both men had been temperamentally attracted but which Kipling, unlike Beerbohm, felt compelled to deny (134).

  2. “Toomai of the Elephants,” which appeared in the December 1893 issue of St. Nicholas, preceded the publication, also in St. Nicholas, of “Tiger-Tiger!” and “Mowgli and His Brothers.”

  3. Randall Jarrell's remarks about Kipling's inability to include his parents in his revenge fantasies are extremely astute: “From the father's bas-reliefs for Kim to the mother's ‘There's no Mother in Poetry, my dear,’ when the son got angry at her criticism of his poems—from beginning to end they are bewitching; you cannot read about them without wanting to live with them; they were the best of parents. It is this that made Kipling what he was: if they had been the worst of parents, even fairly bad parents, even ordinary parents, it would all have made sense, Kipling himself could have made sense out of it. As it was, his world had been torn in two and he himself torn in two; for under the part of him that extenuated everything, blamed for nothing, there was certainly a part that extenuated nothing, blamed for everything—a part whose existence he never admitted, most especially not to himself” (341).

  4. The ayah informs Punch that there “was a new star” on the night of his birth. But her confirmation of the boy's sense of being special also carries an ominous counterweight: “I saw it. A great star with a fiery tail all across the sky. Punch will travel far” (165). Does Kipling mean to set this story around the same time in which the opening of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” takes place? The allusion to a comet, the traditional harbinger of disaster, would suggest that once again the ayah knows about the changes that will come about after Punch's travel “far” beyond India.

  5. When she tells Punch that the “prince of low birth was so lowly that the little boys of the city driving the cattle to pasture threw mud at him,” her listener fails to grasp the degradation: “‘Ah!’ said Punch, ‘mud is nice. Did they hit him?’” (166). The ayah avoids an answer by introducing the prince's mother, the ranee, in the unqueenly activity of “gathering sticks to cook bread” (167). The cross-reference to “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” where Punch mires himself in mud to forget his own degradation, seems intentional.

Works Cited

Beerbohm, Max. A Christmas Garland. London: William Heinemann, 1922.

———. “Kipling's Entire.” In Around Theatres. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1953.

Carrington, C. E. The Life of Rudyard Kipling. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1955.

Caserio, Robert L. “Kipling in the Light of Failure.” Grand Street 5 (1986): 179-212.

Cruikshank, George. Punch and Judy, with Twenty-Four Illustrations. London: George Bell and Sons, 1881.

Jarrell, Randall. “On Preparing to Read Kipling.” In Kipling, Auden and Co.: Essays and Reviews (1935-1964). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980.

Kipling, Rudyard. “Baa Baa, Black Sheep.” Vol. 6 of The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.

———. “The Enemies to Each Other.” Vol. 31 of The Writings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926.

———. “In the Rukh.” In All the Mowgli Stories. London: Macmillan, 1964.

———. The Jungle Books and Just So Stories. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

———. “The ‘Just-So’ Stories.” St. Nicholas 25 (December 1897): 89-93.

———. The Light That Failed. Vol. 9 of The Writings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.

———. “The Man Who Would Be King.” In The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Stories. Vol. 5 of The Writings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.

———. “The Potted Princess.” St. Nicholas 20 (January 1893): 164-69.

———. Puck of Pook's Hill, ed. Sarah Wintle. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987.

———. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. London: Macmillan, 1937.

———. The Story of the Gadsbys. Vol. 6 of The Writings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Intro. Leon S. Roudiez; trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

McElderry, Jr., Bruce R. Max Beerbohm. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Rudyard Kipling. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Wilson, Angus. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works. New York: Viking Press, 1978.

D. H. Stewart (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: Stewart, D. H. “Stalky and the Language of Education.” Children's Literature 20 (1992): 36-51.

[In the following essay, Stewart asserts that Stalky & Co. “can be read as a celebration of language, boys' language—how they sift and assimilate both their cultural heritage and their immediate experiences through it, and how this prepares them to confront the challenges of adulthood.”]

When he wrote Stalky & Co. (1899),1 Rudyard Kipling had become a master stylist. The book retains its appeal nearly a century later but no longer as a manual for training administrators of the British Empire, which is how many early critics interpreted it. Rather, it can be read as a celebration of language, boys' language—how they sift and assimilate both their cultural heritage and their immediate experiences through it, and how this prepares them to confront the challenges of adulthood. The book is about education, and a reader's experience with its language constitutes the very process of education as Kipling envisions it.

Stalky & Co. tells the story of three English schoolboys in about 1880. The school, the United Services College at Westward Ho! was a corporation established in 1874 by military officers who could not afford distinguished schools but who wanted their sons well enough educated to pass entrance exams into military academies. Operated “on the cheap” (Smith 8), the school occupied a row of connected buildings facing the Atlantic in North Devon. Kipling immortalized those “twelve bleak houses by the shore” where the boys endured plenty of raw weather and never much food (Something 46).

Because the three boys (Stalky, M'Turk, and Beetle) and all other characters are modeled on real people, the book is often treated solely as a roman à clef. Indeed, the three (L. C. Dunsterville, G. C. Beresford, and Kipling himself) later wrote autobiographical accounts augmenting or revising their fictional selves. But exclusively biographical readings seem inadequate. Kipling's imagination ran with a free rein once he escaped the bonds of journalism during his “seven years' hard” in India (Something 56). Moreover, he developed a “poetic” process of composition that emphasized the sound and rhythm of language. This polyglossic (and polysonic) style coupled with his high-speed imagination radically transformed events and people, blurring fact and fantasy. The distance between fictive language and “reality” became Shakespearean, which explains why a gap opens between form and content and tempts critics to treat him sometimes as a photographic realist and sometimes as a verbal magician.

Few critics undervalue Kipling's skill with language.2 It is his morality or ideology that antagonizes. But if one approaches his style first in terms of recent “orality-literacy” theory, then a special claim can be made for Stalky & Co.'s value to teachers and students. Walter J. Ong, one of the best known advocates of this theory, calls attention to the primacy of orality (“written words are residue,” Orality 11), dramatizes its evolving relationship with the “technologies” of writing, printing, and electronic texts, and warns against the “impoverishment” resulting from our “addiction” to unreflective visualization in literary criticism (Interfaces 103). The theory is especially applicable to Stalky & Co., which re-creates the old oral-rhetorical tradition that survived in English schools. It illustrates the study of Latin as a “puberty initiation rite” reserved for boys (Ong, Presence 251, Rhetoric 120-24). The book is a virtual case study of oral and literate “language acquisition,” exhibiting the full range of competencies that empower skillful users. In “The Last Term,” Beetle's “shouting and declaiming against the long-ridged seas” like Demosthenes concentrates in a momentary image the book's “acoustic” appeal.

Further, a second claim for the book's value can be made based on the relationship between language and morality or ideology that Kipling may have discovered in Friedrich Froebel's theory that genuine knowledge derives from “mind-world-language,” which is threefold, yet in itself one.

In “The Propagation of Knowledge,” Beetle was reading about mad Elizabethan beggars in Isaac D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature (1791-1823):

Then, at the foot of a left-hand page, leaped out on him a verse—of incommunicable splendour, opening doors into inexplicable worlds—from a song which Tom-a-Bedlams were supposed to sing. It ran:

With a heart of furious fancies
          Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
          To the wilderness I wander.
With a knight of ghosts and shadows
          I summoned am to tourney,
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end—
          Methinks it is no journey.

He sat, mouthing and staring before him. …


Our term for this experience is “the shock of recognition,” but we understand “shock” as an internalized, cerebral experience because our reading is almost exclusively visual and passive. Kipling adds a physical, oral dimension. The song “leaped out on him,” and he “mouthed” it.

Throughout his work, Kipling foregrounds the oral-aural power of language as if to demonstrate the thesis from orality-literacy theory that ears are more sensitive than eyes.3 In “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I,” the boys sing a music-hall song, “Arrah, Pasty, mind the baby!” In “Slaves of the Lamp, Part II,” Stalky, now an officer fighting in northwest India, plays the song on a bugle to guide a fellow officer's attack. The sound of word games in school echoes in deadlier imperial games, where words are used mainly to give orders.

Kipling saturates Stalky & Co. with sound. The boys convert most texts they read into living language. In “The United Idolaters,” Uncle Remus sets the boys shouting and dancing:

Ti-yi! Tungalee!
I eat um pea! I pick um pea!
Ingle-go-jang, my joy, my joy!

The chants seemed to answer the ends of their being. … They all sang them the whole way up the corrider. … The book was amazing, and full of quotations that one could hurl like javelins.


The war games in “The Satisfactions of a Gentleman” occur amid a mad jumble of phrases from the Bible, Horace, and Captain Marryat's Peter Simple. The boys mangle French by compounding it with English: “Tweakons” means “let us tweak.” “Je cat, tu cat, il cat. Nous cattons!” (“Cat” means vomit in boys' argot.) In “In Ambush,” the boys, dancing like dervishes, intone “the primitive man's song of triumph, ‘Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu! I gloat! Hear me!’” In “An Unsavoury Interlude,” this becomes “Je vais gloater tout le blessed afternoon.”

“In Ambush,” the lead story in the 1899 edition of Stalky [Stalky & Co.], contains almost audibly explosive language. The three boys trespass on Colonel Dabney's land when his gamekeeper fires a shotgun at a fox, narrowly missing the boys. Instead of slinking back to the college, M'Turk marches up to Colonel Dabney to report the keeper's outrage. (Shooting a fox is a cardinal sin among gentry.) Querulous old Dabney at first belabors the boy for trespassing and asks, “Do you know who I am?” Righteously indignant, M'Turk relapses into Irish dialect: “No, sorr, nor do I care if ye belonged to the Castle [Dublin Castle] itself. Answer me now as one gentleman to another. Do ye shoot foxes or do ye not?”

Kipling underlines the sound of this by noting that M'Turk had been “kicked out of his Irish dialect” at school. Then he elaborates:

Forgotten—forgotten was the College and the decency due to elders! M'Turk was treading again the barren purple mountains of the rainy West coast, where in his holidays he was viceroy of four thousand acres, only son of a three-hundred-year-old house. … It was the landed man speaking to his equal—deep calling to deep—and the old gentleman acknowledged the cry.


The passage is remarkable for several reasons. Language here has the force of gesture. It is reminiscent of Odysseus' meeting with Nausicaä and her people. Naked and alone, Odysseus has only his language for protection against capture and enslavement, his upper-class Greek that validates his identity and position. Here a boy speaking the right dialect (it is gentry Irish, not shanty Irish) breaks across the barriers of age and locale (Dabney speaks gentry Devon, not the “potwalloper Devon” that Kipling records affectionately elsewhere). But Kipling carries us beyond class-specific language with the biblical allusion—“deep calling to deep” (Psalms 42:7). This is David in prayer, a glancing allusion too portentous for the context if we take it literally, but deftly resonant for dramatizing orality's impact.

Kipling deploys language harmonically, so that informed hearers pick up counterpoints behind the surface melody. For example, “The Propagation of Knowledge” recounts students' cramming for a literature exam. It is so densely packed with allusions to major and minor writers that only literary specialists can now hear the harmonies that Kipling devises.4 At the same time, it demonstrates the vitality of the literary heritage as students reconstitute it in living language. For example, when Stalky reads the steward's speech from King Lear (II,ii), he drops “d” from “and” and all his terminal g's. One must read aloud to savor the passage.

Most readers of Kipling register the high volume of his prose. He is “noisy.” In a letter to his aunt (Mrs. Alfred Baldwin—September 13, 1909), he wrote, “In your own drawing room your own piano is all right—for an audience in a larger room it must be a concert grand, tuned to concert pitch. And yet the notes you play are the same.”5 The public performer dominates, but Kipling's versatility opens a wide array of moods and melodies, from strident to tender.

Stridency is the most obvious in Stalky. The distinctive “key” of Mr. King (the boys' Latin teacher) is sarcasm and invective. As the boys construe Horace, King interrupts: “Idiot! … May I ask if [the passage] conveys any meaning whatever to your so-called mind?” Today we frown on sarcasm from teachers, but in his autobiography Kipling claimed that

one learns more from a good scholar in a rage than from a score of lucid and laborious drudges. … I think this “approach” [sarcasm] is now discouraged for fear of hurting the souls of youth, but in essence it is no more than rattling tins or firing squibs under a colt's nose. I remember nothing save satisfaction or envy when C——[William Crofts, the model for King] broke his precious ointments over my head.

[Something 51]

Beetle mimics King perfectly in “An Unsavory Interlude.”

Less prominent, but nonetheless present, are the modulated notes to communicate gentler moods. In “A Little Prep.,” the headmaster reads to the boys an account of an alumnus' gallant rescue in battle of a schoolmate who dies, and one boy says in a hushed voice, “That's nine of us, isn't it, in the last three years?” Later the hero recounts his exploits to the awestruck boys, and Stalky questions him in a “voice tuned to a wholly foreign reverence.” The muted sentences derive their power by contrast with the customary racket of boy talk.

In addition to “voicing” texts and making language audibly active, Kipling introduces a kind of theory about the importance of orality in education. In “Regulus,” Mr. King recites Virgil: “For … forty minutes, with never a glance at the book, King paid out the glorious hexameters (and King could read Latin as though it were alive).”6 His purpose is to instill “balance, proportion, perspective—life.” “Character—proportion—background,” he says, “that is the essence of the Humanities.” He tries to counteract the science teacher's “modern system of inculcating unrelated facts about chlorine, for instance, all of which may be proved fallacies by the time the boys grow up.” The science teacher answers with a question: “Is it any worse than your Chinese reiteration of uncomprehended syllables in a dead tongue?”

In the end King wins the argument when a particularly studious boy, a goody-goody, goes berserk in a fight and earns high marks for courage. He gains the sobriquet “Regulus,” a valorous Roman martyred for republican virtue. King insists that Latin has given the boy backbone. At least a little of King's message “sticks among the barbarians” to influence their actions.

We know that Kipling approved of King's use of Latin “for a discourse on manners, morals, and respect for authority” because he repeated King's ideas in 1912 when he spoke at Wellington College. Granting that boys remember only a few old Latin tags and quotations after seven years of study, he insists that they

give one the very essence of what a man ought to try to do. Others … let you understand, once and for all, the things that a man should not do—under any circumstances. There are others—bits of odes from Horace, they happen to be in my case—that make one realize in later life as no other words in any other tongue can, the brotherhood of mankind in time of sorrow or affliction.7

Latin tags fixed themselves in memory because teachers “performed” them aloud and boys repeated them aloud. By contrast, boys learned chemistry by making “stinks” in the laboratory. The Latin classroom remained the same in Kipling's school as it was a thousand years earlier, a place of oral recitation. As a result, not only “exalted sentiments” but some of the language itself “stuck” among the barbarous boys. In “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman,” Kipling records a hilariously garbled Latin telegram that a former student manages to construe correctly.

Kipling's passion for language in Stalky seems to have begun with his discovery that words were like javelins in the hands of skillful users. However daunting the boyish jargon, the dialects, and allusions may be for today's readers, we may still share the joy of language unleashed. We may “mouth” some lines, amazed at “opening doors into inexplicable worlds.” We may conclude that Kipling enhances reading ability and language facility by challenging readers with lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical surprises and by quickening the aural response to texts as a supplement to chronic visualization, so that (as he said), words somehow become “alive and walk up and down in the hearts of all hearers.”8

Three of Kipling's remarks about Stalky may help remove obstacles that critics hostile to his ethos have created. At the end of his career he wrote that the book “is still read and I maintain it is a truly valuable collection of tracts” (Something 113). In the face of countless denunciations of the book (Quigly catalogs them in her edition, xiii), Kipling's insistence on its value prompts one to reexamine it carefully. Responding to early protests against Stalky, Kipling made several surprising, perhaps playful, claims. In 1899, he wrote Cormell Price, headmaster at USC, that Stalky “will cover (incidentally) the whole question of modern education” (Letters 2. 359). To another person, he wrote: “It's in the nature of a moral tract—only a perverse generation insists on calling it comic, and a boy's book, and a lot of other things which it isn't. It's all cribbed from Froebel, with a few slight alterations to disperse plagiarism. …”9

If we can take the reference to Froebel seriously, it places Stalky & Co. in a new light. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) was the champion of the kindergarten movement in Germany, and Elizabeth Peabody (Nathaniel Hawthorne's sister-in-law) popularized it in America. The first sentence of Froebel's The Education of Man is “In all things there lives and reigns an eternal law,” and the book is full of ideas that might have attracted Kipling. Many self-willed, “bad” children turn out to have “the liveliest, most eager, strongest desire for spontaneous goodness” (6-7). Often educators themselves (“men of mischief”) make boys bad by misinterpreting high-spirited behavior as malicious (124). The ideal school serves as an “intelligent consciousness” that “hovers over and between the outer world and the young scholar.” It “mediates” between the two, “imparting to them language and mutual understanding” (138-39).

Most importantly for this essay, Froebel claims that

the mind and the outer world (first as nature), and language which unites the two, are the poles of boy-life, as they also were the poles of mankind as a whole in the first stage of approaching maturity (as the sacred books show). Mind-world-language [are] three fold, yet in itself one, knowledge.


According to Juliet Dusinberre (15-19), Froebel reinstated the body as the center of experience and linked it organically with mental development; hence his insistence on manual training. Babies are animals en route to full humanity. Important corollaries derive from this: First, the child must evolve “naturally,” without undue adult constraint, to avoid the perversions detailed by Rousseau, Wordsworth, and other Romantics; hence disobedience to parents is at times permissible. Second, the child prodigy, the genius, is linked both to childishness and insanity, that is, the retention of vital spontaneity within the usual automatism of adults. Third, the mother's role is exalted because moral ideals are born from maternal affection, not self-interest. (Kipling dramatizes this corollary in “The Brushwood Boy” (1895), which precedes Stalky.) Thus Froebel is a touchstone for the “cult of childhood” that blossomed in the 1890s and culminated in Barrie's Peter Pan.

No doubt Kipling sympathized with many of Froebel's notions. After all, he was a boyish prodigy familiar with unstable mental states.10 His letters to his children evidence concern for their physical and mental development equally (O Beloved Kids). In his tales for little children, it is language that links the child and the world, and language is the basis and medium of education.

Finally, he may have found a literary application of Froebel's bracketing of the physical and mental. Froebel's Mother-Play and Nursery Songs contained fifty engravings illustrating all trades and professions. Each picture includes symbolic hand gestures and a song. By touch, by sight, and by hearing, the child absorbs lessons. This ingenious array of sensory appeals reminds one of Kipling's Just So Stories [Just So Stories for Little Children] that he recited to his children and also illustrated. But Stalky & Co.'s appeal is exclusively oral-aural, like a mother's songs. Here Kipling devised a “phonotext” that frequently cancels print's visuality, invites the reader back to “voicing,” and thus restores the power inherent in sounded words (Ong, Presence 111-13). He does this by saturating his text with aphorisms, clichés, and formulaic expressions, the hallmarks of orality, borrowed directly or imitated from biblical, classical, or folk repositories, even from “the great holiday world” of music-hall gags: for example, “Satan rebuking sin with a vengeance”; “a Daniel come to judgement”; “the bleatin' of the kid excites the tiger”; “I can connive at immorality, but I cannot stand impudence”; “he came, he sniffed, he said things.”

The link between harsh school life and the oral, parodic-literary nature of school language, used in tandem with, or as an alternate to, physical aggression, lies in the purpose for which the boys are being educated—a purpose with which Kipling aligns himself at the end of the book.

Now, if we combine the “Froebel clue” with Kipling's unusually hyperbolic and polemical style in Stalky & Co., we may reach conclusions at variance from much critical opinion. Let us consider three “objectionable” passages.

(1) All editions of Stalky end with “Slaves of the Lamp, Part II.” Ex-students reunite ten years after graduation. Coarsened by their experience as imperial governors (one shivers with ague, another's “face was like white glass”), they behave like boys and tell the story of an absent comrade (Stalky) who won a skirmish in northwest India by duplicating a trick played on a schoolmaster (“Slaves of the Lamp, Part I”). The story ends with Kipling's boast: “Just imagine Stalky let loose on the south side of Europe with a sufficiency of Sikhs and a reasonable prospect of loot.” When he claims responsibility for creating Stalky by contriving the school trick years before, an old schoolmate asks, “What's that got to do with it?”

“Everything,” said I.

“Prove it,” said the Infant.

And I have.


Kipling credits his own stories for creating a generation of imperial buccaneers.

Stalky's model did indeed render distinguished military service and deserves praise. We, however, read Kipling after the Boer War, the battles of Loos, the Somme, and Gallipoli, and the Amritsar Massacre, when other Stalkies behaved with disastrous stupidity. We suspect that time trapped Kipling. Having mocked Dear Ferrar's Eric and other “pure-minded boys” for their priggishness, he substituted Stalky and other clever-minded boys whom we mock. The Erics of the world may be nuisances, but the Stalkies risk people's lives. We may wish to believe that Stalky's prank in “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I,” vandalizing a schoolmaster's quarters, anticipates Graham Greene's “The Destructors” or William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Indeed, the blatant “I” in the last sentence of “Slaves, Part II” is so obtrusive that it seems to nullify the book's pretentions to fiction and reduce it to propaganda.

(2) The titular hero of “Regulus” is a teacher's pet named Winton. He is a good student, a polite boy who apologizes at once for any infraction. Teachers like him because he is unlike the “Army brats,” the bullies, who populate the USC. But his nickname is Pater, and other boys tease him about his “caree-ah.” He is earnest. But when boys press him too far, language fails him. He explodes, goes “berserk,” physically attacking a schoolmate and the boys who try to stop him. To mitigate punishment, a teacher pleads his case with the headmaster: it was the lad's first offense. The headmaster counters with, “Could you have damned him more completely? … Winton's only fault is a certain costive and unaccommodating virtue.” Later the chaplain observes that he will “never be anything more than a Colonel of Engineers” rather than a gallant leader.

The story cuts two ways, exposing both goody-goody students and goody-goody teachers. Like Mr. Brownell in “The United Idolaters,” academicians take pride in themselves as social and moral activists—for which Kipling makes them uncomfortable. They dislike reminders of their pomposity, low social station, and venality. Reverend John says, “Ours is a dwarfing life—a belittling life, my brethren. God help all schoolmasters!” Both he and the headmaster admit that “we must all bow down, more or less, in the House of Rimmon.” But before we object too strenuously, we should remember Kipling's tribute to teachers in the book's prefatory poem, “Let us now praise famous men.”

(3) In “The Moral Reformers,” the Reverend John Gillet, calling Number Five study his “Tenth Legion” (Caesar's favorite), encourages the boys to punish two senior students who habitually bully a youngster named Clewer. Number Five subjects the miscreants to the entire repertoire of schoolboy “tortures” (Letters 2. 352-53). They inflict pain, not injury (except to senior pride). They exact contrition as well as confession because their message is, Repent and sin no more. Punishment matches crime.

Kipling's description of the punishment provokes indignation because the boys relish the process of reducing bullies to abjection. Executioners are not supposed to enjoy their work; but the boys, especially Beetle, become intoxicated by the retribution they inflict and the pain they cause. “The bleatin' of the kid excites the tiger.” Certainly there is nothing pleasant about torturing two louts until they weep and plead for mercy. The hurt and humiliation are too painful to be funny.

“The Moral Reformers” may have offended more readers than any story in the book. It “proves” that the three boys are “little beasts,” “small fiends in human likeness,” “mucky little sadists, as critics have called them.” It infuriated Edmund Wilson so that he called the book Kipling's worst, “crude in writing, trashy in feeling, implausible in a series of contrivances that resemble moving picture ‘gags’” (23). Andrew Rutherford, a sympathetic critic, concluded that “a sophisticated Philistinism, a deliberate brutality of speech, is one of the most unpleasant features of Stalky & Co.” (183). The story so upset H. G. Wells that he denounced Stalky as “the key to the ugliest, most retrogressive, and finally fatal idea of modern imperialism; the idea of a tacit conspiracy between law and illegal violence” (307; Wells's italics).

If we cannot stomach a nonjudgmental account of education for empire, we must always remind ourselves that Kipling's tales are also sheer adventures in language. The exuberance of child talk bubbles over, so that our initial pleasure in reading comes from recalling our own thrill at language acquisition, verbal play. Almost nothing in the Stalky tales actually happened or could have happened in reality. Kipling exaggerated his three heroes' adventures beyond what memory and reason dictate. Poetical and rhetorical license supplement each other and yield an experience that is almost autonomous. Our delight is similar to that provided by Lewis Carroll. The boys' and the narrator's verbal audacity starts and holds the reader's imagination, carrying him through a series of incredible pranks. The language is so convincing that the events it narrates seem credible, “realistic,” which of course they are not.

But Kipling writes prose, not jabberwocky; his language is referential as well as autonomous. It provides vicarious experience and instills moral values. Here something peculiar happens. By his own embodiment of Froebel's theory, and by ignoring or nullifying Victorian ideals that animated children's stories, Kipling sets the reader adrift. If we try to locate ourselves in the fictive world of Stalky & Co. by using Victorian standards (or modern “progressive” standards, for that matter), we remain lost—titillated perhaps by Kipling's stylistic virtuosity but suspicious that our experience is somehow spurious, even immoral.11

One way to chart our whereabouts is to stay attuned to the tone of Kipling's volatile prose. He revised texts by performing them aloud, a practice that exaggerates tone. But tone is hard to communicate to readers unaccustomed to hearing texts or to readers belonging to “response communities” different from those that the author presupposes. Both Kipling's narrator and his characters can move with little warning from, for example, neutral description to braggadocio to sarcasm. Mr. King is a master at sarcasm and irony, but when the boys mimic his ironies (“the crass and materialised ignorance of the unscholarly middle classes”), a doubling occurs that forces the reader to listen carefully for the object of Kipling's satire.

Once he passed beyond his early infatuation with postromantic writers, Kipling seems to have been equally at home among preromantics. He called John Donne “Browning's great-great grandfather” and described himself as Robert Ferguson preceding some yet-to-be-discovered Burns (Letters 2. 115, 279). His mature style (or styles) always skips back beyond the lush sonority and “fragrance” of the nineteenth century to sparer models of the eighteenth that were still heavily influenced by school Latin. No doubt the telegraphic language of high-speed presses, of machinery generally, magnifies his stylistic novelty and enables him to respond enthusiastically when “all unseen, Romance brought up the nine-fifteen” (“The King”). But there is an older tradition at work in Kipling's style descending from Cicero, Horace, and Juvenal, reinforced by the scientific and Protestant plain style.

In Stalky, another way to chart our whereabouts is to follow Kipling's pointers to imperial, pagan Rome. Number Five study is the Tenth Legion. Winton becomes Regulus. Beetle defaces a complete set of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Old Latin tags turn up continually; but even without them, the oral process of transmitting the Latin heritage echoes in the masculine, polemical harshness of boy talk. “A little of it stuck among the barbarians” who, with the aid of it, become responsible procurators. Kipling, in his own style and that of the boys, blended common speech with classical rhetoric, a striking combination.

If we come to terms with Kipling's rough-and-tumble language, we may suspect that its alleged brutality misses the point. In “The Moral Reformers,” Reverend John claims that “most bullying is mere thoughtlessness.” M'Turk corrects him: “Bullies like bullyin'. They mean it. They think it up in lesson and practise it in the quarters.” The older boys who have tormented little Clewer are “flunk-outs” whose parents sent them to the USC in desperation to get them into an academy. They have “hammered [Clewer] till he's nearly an idiot.”

Bullying is reprehensible, and Kipling shows, quite plainly, the pleasure produced when it combines with self-righteousness. For all the rhetorical extravagance in the “torture” scene, the aim is not to encourage bullying but to stop it. This is Kipling's message to imperial governors.

Kipling's ideal school is one that leaves boys to themselves as they grope through frantic deliquencies toward adulthood. But his school presupposes an “intelligent consciousness,” embodied in the best teachers, that “hovers over” and “unites” the outer world with students' inner worlds. Language bridges and links them. It is a fierce language, capacious, contentious, but generous. It neutralizes hypocrisy without neutralizing values authenticated by two thousand years of Western history. One is not surprised that Kipling praised Horace and Juvenal for upholding republican virtues in decadent Rome. In them he may have heard Froebel's “eternal law.”12

In his introduction to an edition of Stalky & Co., Steven Marcus accepts the charge that Kipling's school prepared boys to become part of the governing caste of the British Empire, which included brutalizing them and girding them for “domination of the weak by the strong.”13 Conceding that this is “calculated to outrage the values that most educated persons today affirm,” he then notes that the book contains values “described by old, obsolete words like honor, truthfulness, loyalty, manliness, pride, straightforwardness, courage, self-sacrifice, and heroism” (7).

If they appear at all, such words are as embarrassing among the boys at Westward Ho! as they are among children today. However, in Stalky, according to Marcus, they signal virtues that exist as active and credible possibilities; whereas in our world, they are absent or corrupted. In Kipling, these unspoken virtues propel the boys (and the reader) into the agonia that occurs when young minds collide with the adult world. As Isabel Quigly notes, “Stalky & Co. is the only school story which shows school as a direct preparation for life” (xv).

Kipling achieved this by assigning vital roles to adults in every story and also by revitalizing language—from old Latin tags to earthy dialect and music-hall tunes. Hyperliterate that he was, he reactivated the “oral encyclopedia,” the storehouse of values that outlast ephemeral political and economic systems. Perhaps this explains how, in addition to imperial bluster, he reaffirmed “the brotherhood of mankind in time of sorrow or affliction.”

Defunct British imperialism seems to have transmitted through Kipling the legacy of values bequeathed by ruined Rome. Late-twentieth-century readers will determine whether these values outweigh imperialism's vices, whether traditional values of any kind can survive in a depleted, overcrowded world. Kipling had his doubts when he conceded that the generation for which he wrote “conked out” in the First World War. And yet the tough boy talk of Stalky & Co. goes on calling to us, like the songs of mad Elizabethan beggars, inviting us to recall times when grander and less sentimental aims than ours governed behavior. Perhaps the offending “I” in the book's last sentence, with its candid affirmation of a traditional rhetorical ethos, vindicates Kipling's implied claim: I tried to create a conscience for my race. At the very least, the “I” is both stalky and self-transcending.


  1. One should be aware that many editions of the book are unsatisfactory. The Stalky tales appeared initially in magazines between 1897 and 1929. Only nine of them were included in the first edition with the title Stalky & Co. (1899). The remaining five tales were added to The Complete Stalky & Co. in 1929. The best edition currently available is edited by Isabel Quigly. It is annotated and contains a valuable introduction.

  2. The most notable exception is Vernon Lee (Violet Paget), who analyzed three paragraphs of Kim and accused Kipling of “bad syntax, bad grammar, bad rhetoric.” No one seems to have noticed that her transcription of Kipling's text contains over a dozen misprints. In any case, she failed to realize that Kipling's texts are often visual signals for oral performance, not silent reading. If you “voice” them, flaws that Lee records vanish. (The Handling of Words and Other Studies in Literary Psychology [London: John Lane, 1923]). The Kipling essay appeared originally in 1910.

  3. “Sound situates man in the middle of actuality and in simultaneity, whereas vision situates man in front of things and in sequentiality” (Ong, Presence 128). “Sight isolates, sound incorporates” (Orality 72).

  4. Today readers will find the notes in the edition mentioned above indispensable. It is ironic that Kipling, often damned as an uneducated hooligan, is now celebrated for his almost Joycean allusiveness. For example, Nora Crook claims boldly that “Kipling wants to make readers of us all and to keep up literature, not to hoard his riches” (xv).

  5. Quoted by permission of the National Trust from the Kipling Papers, University of Sussex Library.

  6. It is worth reminding ourselves that since the decline of classical rhetoric, teachers of literature have grown increasingly text-bound. We pretend to be champions of culture, repositories of the finest utterances of humanity. But how many of us are trained to recite (from memory, dramatically) a thousand lines? Neither the certified teacher nor the Ph.D. is routinely tested as an oral performer; yet oral performance, as Kipling claimed, is the surest way to impress students with the values and beauty inherent in grand language. He wrote that gramophone records of good teachers “on the brink of profanity, struggling with a Latin form, would be more helpful to education than bushels of printed books” (Something 52).

    Peter Green testified to the survival of Kipling's ideal up to the Second World War. He began his translation of Juvenal with an acknowledgment: “I first became acquainted with Juvenal through the good offices of Mr. A. L. Irvine, my old sixth-form master, who—with what I took at the time, wrongly, to be pure sadistic relish—set us to translate Satire X aloud, unseen, and afterwards made us learn long stretches of it by heart, together with parallel passages from Dr. Johnson's The Vanity of Human Wishes. But in fact, of course, this was by far the best introduction to a notoriously difficult poet that one could hope for. … This book is, in a sense, the belated fruit of a seed sown some twenty-five years ago, and I am happy to acknowledge my debt to an inspired and inspiring teacher” (7).

  7. “The Uses of Reading” (1912), Sussex Edition of The Complete Works, xxv, 85.

  8. “Literature” (1906), Ibid., xxv, 3.

  9. To “Dear Musician” (October 9, 1899), Livingston Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard. I have used A. W. Yeats's transcription. According to Thomas Pinney in a letter to me, the passage was inscribed on a flyleaf of Stalky & Co.

  10. Anthony Storr includes Kipling in his psychiatric study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors who illustrate “separation, isolation and the growth of imagination” (Chap. 8). Kipling deserved space in a recent study of manic-depressive creators: D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, The Key to Genius (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1988), but the seminal study for Kipling's generation was Cesare Lombroso's The Man of Genius (1891).

  11. Robin Gilmour concludes his sympathetic analysis of Stalky & Co. with praise for Kipling's subversion of Victorian sentimentality about children, but also with condemnation. “The optimistic Victorian moralism of ‘fair play’ expunged in Kipling's revision of the Hughes code is not replaced by anything of comparable largeness or decency, but by something narrower, more efficient, more ‘realistic’” (31). Quite the contrary, Kipling reopens the “spaciousness of old rhetoric” (Richard Weaver's phrase) that reanimates voices across two thousand years of Western history.

  12. Kipling's interest in education (as distinct from his writing for children) has received little attention, but Richard A. Maidment helps fill the gap. He describes the USC's exemplary curriculum and schedule (37, 191) and portrays Cormell Price as an educator in the spirit of Froebel (124-25).

    When it suited him, Kipling praised the USC as a military school. At Price's retirement (July 25, 1894), he claimed that the headmaster produced “men able to make and keep empires” (18). But the four more mature stories, composed years after the first edition of Stalky & Co., emphasize unmilitary values. Little wonder that Price himself labeled the first edition “an amusing travesty” (144).

  13. But Kipling explicitly rejected domination of the weak by the strong in the epilogue to Puck of Pook's Hill (1906): “Teach us the Strength that cannot seek, / By deed or thought, to hurt the weak.” These lines would seem to augment the claim in Stalky's poetic prologue, “Save he serve no man may rule.”

Works Cited

Crook, Nora. Kipling's Myths of Love and Death. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Alice to the Lighthouse: Children's Books and Radical Experiment in Art. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Froebel, Friedrich. The Education of Man. Trans. W. H. Hailman. New York: Appleton, 1887.

———. Mother-Play and Nursery Songs. Trans. Fanny E. Dwight and Josephine Jarvis. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1891.

Gilmour, Robin. “Stalky & Co.: Revising the Code.” In Kipling Considered, ed. Phillip Mallett. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Green, Peter, ed. The Sixteen Satires of Juvenal. Baltimore: Penguin, 1967.

Kipling, Rudyard. O Beloved Kids: Rudyard Kipling's Letters to His Children, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert. San Diego: Harcourt, 1983.

———. Something of Myself, ed. Robert Hampson. London: Penguin, 1988.

———. Stalky & Co., ed. Isabel Quigly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

———. The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990.

Maidment, Richard A. “Imagination and Reality in Rudyard Kipling's View of Education: A Literary Study.” M.A. thesis. University College at Swansea, Wales, 1981.

Marcus, Steven, ed. Stalky & Co. New York: Collier, 1962, Introduction rep. in Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert. New York: New York University Press, 1965.

Ong, Walter J. Interfaces of the Word. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.

———. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen, 1982.

———. The Presence of the Word. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971.

———. Rhetoric, Romance and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Quigly, Isabel, ed. Stalky & Co. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Rutherford, Andrew. “Officers and Gentlemen.” In Kipling's Mind and Art, ed. Andrew Rutherford. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Smith, Janet A. “Boy of Letters.” In The Age of Kipling: The Man, His Work and His World, ed. John Gross. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Storr, Anthony. Solitude: A Return to Self. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Weaver, Richard. The Ethics of Rhetoric. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1953.

Wells, H. G. “Kipling.” In Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ed. R. L. Green. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971.

Wilson, Edmund. “The Kipling That Nobody Read.” In Rutherford, 1964.

Carole Scott (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: Scott, Carole. “Kipling's Combat Zones: Training Grounds in the Mowgli Stories, Captains Courageous, and Stalky & Co.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 52-68.

[In the following essay, Scott analyzes the role of warfare and rules of conduct in three of Kipling's short fiction works: the Mowgli stories, Captains Courageous, and Stalky & Co.]

Kipling's obsession with the mastery of rules, laws, and codes of behavior dominates his work as it did his life. He wrote a charter for his children that identified in detail their “rights” to the Dudwell River near Bateman's; he created a Jungle society with a code “as perfect as time and custom can make it” (The Second Jungle Book 125); and he knew how to manipulate the rules to hasten his son's classification into active military service in World War I. Anyone at all familiar with Kipling's childhood will readily understand these concerns. The shock of being moved at the age of five from a pampered life with his family in India to the care of a harsh foster mother in Southsea, England, must have been traumatic enough. To be rescued after five long years from this “House of Desolation” only to be sent away again in less than a year to public school, a place of strict, often physical, discipline and institutionalized bullying, reinforced Kipling's sense that the world was a dangerous and uncertain place. These early experiences shaped his vision of the world and taught him how to survive: one must understand the system of order, master its code of rules, and apply them relentlessly.

Many writers, especially writers for children, have created unforgettable imaginary realms with their own sometimes fantastic rules; the entrances to such “otherworlds” are often surprising—a mirror, a wardrobe, a rabbit hole—dramatizing the borders of these magical realms and emphasizing their distinctness from the “real” world from which the children have come. It is not surprising, considering the drastic and painful changes to which little Rudyard had been subjected, that the grown Kipling would similarly plunge his young fictional protagonists into parallel worlds with new rules and new modes of survival, and that these otherworlds would be decidedly nonutopian. To Kipling, life was brutal, and his books for young people express this clearly, too clearly perhaps for modern tastes. For just as we find it hard to understand why a proud and loving father would push a seventeen-year-old into battle long before it was necessary, we wonder at his fascination with rules and laws, and why they are associated with such a high degree of violence. We are concerned that he expresses not only casual tolerance, but even encouragement, of behavior and attitudes that we consider unnecessarily brutal and cruel, even sadistic, especially in books for young people. Kipling exalts the harshest side of the manly code, especially the enthusiastic approval of physical punishment and violence and the stalwart indifference to pain, while encouraging the suppression of softer “feminine” feelings that he thought made men vulnerable. Published within a span of five years (1894-99), each of the three works I have selected for analysis, the Mowgli stories (which I shall be treating as one work), Captains Courageous, and Stalky & Co., features a testing ground for the protagonist, a combat zone with its own set of laws, code of behavior, mode of being, and appropriate style of language.

The sense that Kipling's harsh code goes too far is not just a modern reaction. Despite his many admirers, there has always been an undercurrent of criticism, even revulsion (particularly in the period between the two World Wars) against the sentiments he expresses.1 When Martin Seymour-Smith in 1989 describes Kipling's publicly expressed philosophy of life as “cheap, shoddy, unworthy and impractical” and his public utterances revealing of a man “grotesque, merciless and insensitive” (8), he follows in the tradition of Richard Buchanan who, in 1900, declared that Kipling was “on the side of all that is ignorant, selfish, base and brutal in the instincts of humanity” (25) and that “the vulgarity, the brutality, the savagery, reeks on every page” (31). Max Beerbohm's well-known caricatures of Kipling, which began in 1901 and continued for almost thirty years, express a similar opinion.

However, in spite of the criticism, there is no doubt that Kipling's exaltation of the ideals of warfare and its opportunities for manly conduct and heroism was widely shared in his time; it is not often that a new writer achieves popularity as fast as he did. Indeed, his successful expression of the exultant warrior mentality in his books for young people makes them of special cultural significance, for they helped to shape the minds of the young men who were later to die in the mud of Flanders fields. The books teach the ways to achieve success and self-esteem in later life, creating a picture of manliness, courage, and obedience to a clearly enunciated code of behavior from which one may not deviate for any reason. It is not surprising that the young men encouraged to display these traits would advance cheerfully to be mown down by the relentless German machine guns, and would even show their gallant sportsmanship by kicking footballs before them as they went, steadfastly “playing the game.” John Kipling naturally falls into this metaphor when he writes his father from the war zone, “Remember our C.O. was 7 months on a ‘Brigade’ staff & what he doesn't know about the game isn't worth knowing” (Gilbert 213).

The rules of war are very different from the rules of games, but Kipling and his contemporaries were not at all clear on this issue; tragically, it took the Great War and its spokesmen, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke, to change the popular vision of the time. For the metaphor of war as game, which Kipling endorsed but by no means invented, had been nurtured by such poets as John Masefield and Sir Henry John Newbolt, whose “Vitaï Lampada” (1898) became a public school favorite. Beginning with the image of a school cricket match, Newbolt's poem ends with the later depiction of the boys at war. I reproduce the first and last verses:

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote—
Play up! play up! and play the game!
The sand of the desert is sodden red—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke;
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honor a name;
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
Play up! play up! and play the game!

While it is true that moving onto the playing field or the battlefield involves entering into a distinct arena, where there are opposing teams and winners and losers, carrying the metaphor further is frightening. It is noteworthy that Newbolt's lifelong friend Douglas Haig was the general most responsible for the squandering of life, because he stubbornly persisted in relying on the soldiers' courage and fortitude instead of realizing that these qualities were meaningless in the face of the “stuttering rifles' rapid rattle.”

In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell discusses in detail the common attitude to war in the decades prior to 1914. He particularly notes the sense that when ordinary men moved into battle they took on the dimension of heroes, and points out how the elevated diction of warfare, very different from the language of everyday life, contributed to this perception. Thus the enemy is “the foe,” the dead on the battlefield are “the fallen,” to die is to “perish,” warfare is “strife,” and a soldier is a “warrior.” The vision that war is glorious and transforms its participants into figures of mythical proportion is aptly illustrated in the mid-century incident that led to Tennyson's “Charge of the Light Brigade.” “Someone had blundered,” the poem tells us; but the stupidity and bungling that sent close to six hundred men to their deaths for absolutely no purpose is passed over lightly. Instead, the poem focuses upon the glorious bravery of the men of the Light Brigade, and how valiantly and honorably (though futilely) they gave their lives, ennobled by their sacrifice and enshrined in the hearts of posterity for time immemorial. It was not surprising that young men reared on the glowing illusion that “laying down one's life” or “making the supreme sacrifice” for family and country was a beautiful and somehow sanctified act should flock to the recruiting stations at the declaration of war. Thomas Babington Macaulay's “Horatius,” written a few years before Tennyson's poem, put it well:

… how could man die better
                    than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
                    And the temples of his Gods.

No wars are pretty, but the gulf that lay between rhetoric and reality in the Great War was especially striking.

In this context, Kipling's fictional realms, the “otherworlds” he created as arenas of conflict or combat zones, are more understandable. They are definitely men's worlds; most of the players are male, and the few women we encounter are, like Harvey's mother or the fishermen's womenfolk in Captains Courageous, safe on land outside the field of combat. At home the women are soft, nurturing, and emotional. They fear, they weep, they suffer vicariously for their menfolk. Harvey's mother breaks down completely, incapable of any kind of action, when she thinks he is drowned; the passion with which Kipling describes how the entire railroad system conspires to speed her to her recovered son is sentimental to the point of excess. Messua, too, is pictured as vulnerable, suffering for her maternal love and kindness to Mowgli when the villagers stone her; incapable of self-preservation, she must depend on her adopted son for protection. The only self-sufficient female is Raksha, but of course she is a wolf! The men, on the other hand, display no such soft emotions; they are fierce, courageous, hard, even cruel; they exult in pain and they exult in winning. But to escape from the female world and female feelings, they must move over the boundary into another world.

In both the Mowgli stories and Captains Courageous we find the main character clearly crossing over from his ordinary world into a completely different one. Mowgli has somehow strayed from the sphere of humankind, and when he walks into Raksha's lair he has entered the Jungle world where animals talk and have created a social structure and history, and where he must learn to survive on their terms. Harvey tumbles from his old life in the luxury liner headlong into another realm. Saved from drowning in the ocean, he is literally reborn into the microcosm of the fishing boat named the We're Here, where he takes the place of a young man lost at sea just a few days before. He has shed his old identity as he has his wad of money, and must take on new habits, new behavior, and a new perspective on his place in society, playing the part of a man in a man's world, subject to the common code that ensures the survival of the floating community. In Stalky & Co., although we receive some description, especially regarding M'Turk, about the homes from which they have come, there is no account of the boys' arrival at the school. The boundary over which they have stepped is not dramatized, although it is clear that it exists, for their excursions into the surrounding countryside are carefully prescribed, and being out of bounds is punishable. The incident where the Head banishes himself from this sequestered world to preserve it from the danger of diphtheria outside emphasizes its separateness.

The Law of the Jungle in the Mowgli stories is described by Kipling as preeminent and “as old and as true as the sky” with a code that is absolute, seemingly immutable, and unquestionable. The reader is never told how or by whom it was established, or how it might be changed. Driven by a supposedly ageless and eternal vision imbued with a rational wisdom that accepts and incorporates the apparent vagaries of animal behavior and provides a clear pattern fair to each, the law defines each creature's hierarchy, its rights and obligations, and the rules of interaction with its own kind and with other species. Thus the tiger can claim one night of the year when he is entitled to kill Man; a mother wolf has the right to a portion of any wolf's kill for her litter; the jackal may run with the tiger and take what he leaves; and the elephant who lives a hundred years and more has the responsibility to proclaim the Water Truce. Only the Bandar-log, the Yahoos of the Jungle, are outside the law and are consequently viewed with contempt by all of the other animals. While time moves on and the players change, the principles and rules remain; the law has “arranged for almost every kind of accident that may befall the Jungle People, till now its code is as perfect as time and custom can make it” (125). Because it is clearly understandable and dependable, it governs even out-of-the-ordinary situations, like the time of drought, or Mowgli's kidnapping by the Bandar-log and his incarceration among the snakes of the ruined city, when the Master-words of the Jungle ensure safe passage.

The notion of the supremacy of the law, driven by a Darwinian belief in the perfectibility that “time and custom” will unquestionably bring about, suggests a supreme power whose vision is realized in this exact code. Whether this supreme power is divine, or a reflection of the Victorian imperialistic sense of responsibility for bringing light and civilization to benighted areas of the world, is not important here; in fact, the sense of mission characteristic of both is clearly expressed in Mowgli's need to “let in the Jungle” in an attempt to cleanse the nearby village where superstition and greed has led to behavior that violates the morals of the Jungle Law. Because he is so clever and learns the Jungle Law better than the animals, Mowgli becomes invincible. He achieves individual power by following the law and interpreting it with human intelligence, illustrating that the individual is the expression of this deeper power rather than a free agent who can operate outside it.

Those of us who were introduced to the Mowgli stories in childhood probably accept without question that the Jungle in this context is an appropriate source of values. We still delight in Mother Wolf's claiming of the naked man cub, protecting him against the villainous Shere Khan, and watching benignly as he suckles with her own brood. Like Mowgli we feel the joys of companionship with the other wolves and his sense of belonging as he learns to claim, “We be of one blood, ye and I”; and we know his loneliness when he is thrust out of this idyllic existence because of his growing manhood. We share his sense of increasing competence as he learns the rules and becomes Master of the Jungle, and his distaste for the moral turpitude of the village.

When we think a little more objectively, however, the notion of finding codes of behavior in the Jungle, a place usually used as a metaphor for savagery and lawlessness, seems contradictory and strange. And when we analyze these codes more carefully, we find that a great many of them regulate the ordered hierarchy of power, particularly power over killing and ownership of the kill. When you wish someone well you wish him “good hunting,” and Chil the Kite's function as the scavenger of the dead is cheerfully acknowledged: “almost everybody in the Jungle comes to [Chil] in the end” (238). Moments of great accomplishment are similarly violent: Mowgli laughs when he sets fire to Shere Khan's coat, and later, having killed him, dances in triumph upon his skin pegged out on the Council Rock. “Letting in the Jungle” features Mowgli's relentless revenge against humankind, and the story is followed by “Mowgli's Song Against People,” which celebrates the obliteration of a village. The nature of the language as well as the splendid rhythms of the death chants and songs gives a legendary quality to this long tale of hunting, killing, and revenge. The violence is continuous, but the everyday tone encourages us to accept it as the way things are, where winning means survival. “‘When tomorrow comes we will kill for tomorrow,’ said Mowgli, quoting a Jungle saying; and again ‘When I am dead it is time to sing the Death Song. Good Hunting Kaa!’” (229). There are really only two occasions where death seems frightening. The first is in “Kaa's Hunting,” where Kaa tells Mowgli “what follows is not well that thou shouldst see” (47) and we are left with the image of the mesmeric Dance of the Hunger of Kaa that will lead to the death of many of the Bandar-log, unable to resist in their hypnotized state; the second is in “The King's Ankus” where men kill not for food, but for greed. Somehow the killing on these two occasions seems unsporting and not played by the appropriate rules.

Like the Mowgli stories, Captains Courageous presents an autonomous world whose code of behavior is absolute, and where the stakes once again are life and death. Here it is not other people, or humanized animals, but the sea that is the threat. The never-ending fatal power of the ocean is poignantly acknowledged at the ship's homecoming and at the service where wives, sweethearts, and mothers suffer from the news of the latest losses at sea, and grieve for those who have died before.

Kipling has sought to create not a fantasy world, but one characterized by verisimilitude, having spent hours of careful research and interviews to represent an accurate picture of the fisherman's life. The strong sense of a natural law whose incontrovertible power and strength must be understood and whose rules followed faithfully and with insight is expressed just as strongly in Captains Courageous as it is in the Mowgli stories. As Mowgli seeks to emulate the superior senses of the animals, so Disko Troop, the “master artist who knew the Banks blindfold” (50), is recognized by the entire fleet for his amazing knowledge of the contours of the sea beneath him and for his almost uncanny gift for sensing “the roving cod in his own sea” (36); he steers his craft even in fog and darkness, “always with the fish, as a blindfolded chess-player moves on the unseen board” (77).

This oneness with his natural environment, together with his thoughtful control of his crew, gives Troop unchallenged power over both nature and human nature. But he has achieved this stature through mastery of the rules of the sea and the lore of those who sail upon it; he has learned not only the maritime geography, but the way of the currents, the wind, and weather; not only how to catch and preserve the fish, but the reasons why they will congregate in certain places; not only the rules that make a ship's crew work together—who is assigned which task, who takes precedence at mealtime, who stands which watch—but also the more delicate codes of behavior and of ethics that cause him to take on the tragic amnesiac Pratt and his guardian Salters, even though they are not outstanding fishermen. His boat is a minicosmos that includes representatives of various nationalities and religious beliefs, including the cook's unearthly magical rituals and second sight. The deep natural morality that inspires Troop's way of life and work is highlighted by the contrast of Uncle Abishai's boat: “foul, draggled and unkempt, … a blowzy, frowzy, bad old woman” (68) manned by a drunken crew who all go down with the boat in clear sight of the We're Here. In their drunkenness, their violations of the code of seamanlike behavior, and their prideful and foolish underestimation of the power of the sea, they have broken all the rules and they must pay with their lives.

Of the three books I am considering, Captains Courageous involves the least violence and cruelty. It is also, interestingly enough, the work in which the lawmaker, Disko Troop, is the most human. His rules are less ideal codes than practical behavior, and he is allowed to make mistakes; one of Dan's continuing sources of merriment is that his father is “mistook in his jedgment” regarding Harvey's true account of his father's wealth and position in society. Nonetheless Kipling seems to take a good deal of pleasure in detailing Harvey's physical trials: being worked to exhaustion, suffering painful “gurry sores” (the mark of a real fisherman); being knocked around generally if he doesn't move or learn fast enough. The seaman teaching Harvey “emphasized the difference between fore and aft by rubbing Harvey's nose along a few feet of the boom, and the lead of each rope was fixed in Harvey's mind by the end of the rope itself” (47). And the incident where Harvey and Dan accidentally catch the corpse of the dead sailor with “the head that had no face under its streaming hair” (121) does seem gratuitous. Kipling convinces us that Harvey ultimately enjoys what could be considered abusive treatment of a minor, and that the end result is a matured and enriched youth well on the way to the assumption of his manly responsibilities.

The approach is reminiscent of Lord Northcliffe's propaganda piece to families of men at the front entitled “What to Send ‘Your Soldier.’” A very acceptable gift, he says, is peppermint bulls' eyes:

The bulls' eyes ought to have plenty of peppermint in them, for it is the peppermint which keeps those who suck them warm on a cold night. It also has a digestive effect, though that is of small account at the front, where health is so good and indigestion hardly ever heard of. The open-air life, the regular and plenteous feeding, the exercise, and the freedom from care and responsibility, keep the soldiers extraordinarily fit and contented.

[Fussell 87]

The cold, wet, exhausted soldier eating his unheated canned rations, crouching at the bottom of a rat-infested trench with shells screaming overhead, the decaying dismembered bodies of his comrades around him, would have some difficulty recognizing Northcliffe's absurd description. Yet it is clear from the soldiers' letters home that a cheerful and willing response and sturdy inattention to physical comfort was the attitude that was expected of them. John Kipling, in his last letter home, writes, “We have to push through at all costs so we won't have much time in the trenches, which is great luck. Funny to think one will be in the thick of it tomorrow” [Gilbert 222].

In Stalky & Co. the codes are much more complex, and the kinds of behavior described present a challenging dynamic that mediates between a number of conflicting possibilities. In the world outside the school we have the accepted codes of the village, the farmers and shopkeepers who inhabit it, and representatives of the gentry. The boys bring some of these codes from home with them, as we see for example in the event where M'Turk and Colonel Dabney share outrage at the shooting of a fox. Within the school we find the rules of the masters such as King and Prout, with their sometimes narrow perspectives of what is acceptable; the ordinary boys with ordinary rules, limited and rudimentary in daring, imagination, and intelligence; and at another level the startling trio of Stalky, M'Turk, and Beetle, who play out with the Head a symbolic stichomythia of creative behavior, each interweaving with the others to form new variations on the accepted patterns.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the Head is the source of absolute order; for even the Three, though they can manipulate everyone else, bow to his authority. In fact, one of the especially significant events of the later part of the book is the discovery of the reason for the Head's punishing them in a manner and for an offense that they did not understand at the time. To maintain the fiction that he is infallible is so important that Abanazar covers up the true reason (the Head had to impress one of the trustees) and reinterprets the offense to the other two (the Head knew they had been dueling). It is apparently necessary that the boys' vision of the Head as a god-like figure be protected, for he is the only visible source of authority and of ultimate values in the book; human failings are not permitted him as they are to Disko Troop. As he tells Beetle, “There is a limit … beyond which it is never safe to pursue private vendettas, because … sooner or later one comes into collision with the higher authority” (141). When the Head ironically points out that the enforcing of limits involves some “flagrant injustice,” M'Turk refers to him as a “dearr man,” and Stalky laughs heartily at the thought. The boys must preserve the system of authority that they need, helping to construct and maintain it through their willing collusion.

The Jungle and the We're Here present worlds where the laws are clear, and the sense of order dependable. The characters know the rules and the dangers of flouting them, and though Mowgli must use his intelligence to interpret the Jungle Law as it should apply to the world of people, within the discrete boundaries in which the rules apply there is little need for any individual to redefine the codes of ethics and behavior.

In sharp contrast to the serenity born of the clear order in the Jungle and the We're Here,Stalky & Co. is permeated with a sense of uneasy rambunctiousness where the expected structural order is consistently sabotaged, and various codes of behavior vie with each other for supremacy. While it is true that the Head reigns supreme, like Disko Troop a natural leader and arbiter setting the ethical standards of which codes and rules are the ultimate expression, the other masters' authority is constantly challenged by Stalky, Beetle, and M'Turk, who usually emerge victorious. In addition, the hierarchical structure that the boys in general set up and defer to, the system of prefects whose seniority is usually respected, is also overturned by the three protagonists, who consider their judgments and intelligence vastly superior. The tension that Philip Mason notes between Kipling's love of rules and his respect for human potential is very evident here. Mason believes that in “all his life [Kipling] was to be divided between his instinct as an artist and his understanding of the administrator; between an emotional sympathy for the waif and the outlaw but a firm belief that, if chaos is to be kept at bay, men must be ruled by laws and the individual may have to suffer. He is usually on the side of the system but often against its manifestations; always on the side of the Head but often against the housemaster” (47).

In Stalky & Co. it is important to remember that the setting is the United Services College, which is preparing boys for a career in the military, as Stalky's ditty makes clear:

It's a way we have in the Army,
It's a way we have in the Navy,
It's a way we have in the Public Schools
                    Which nobody can deny!


The later part of the book does tell us about the boys' actions in battle, not at all like the Great War to come, but part of the preservation of the Empire against the tribesmen who stir up unrest. This war and the characters' actions are as outrageous as the school environment illustrated, and Kipling goes to some extremes to suggest the continuity between the two, for example the two chapters entitled “Slaves of the Lamp,” where the closing song of the boys' pantomime reappears in a military telegram, and Stalky is recognized in action by his singing “Arrah, Patsy, mind the baby.” Though this connection is common to all the books considered here (Mowgli takes his sense of values into the human world with him; Harvey's experience of men and boats serves him well in his father's shipping empire), the war stories told by Dick Four and Tertius fifteen years later reveal a Stalky little different from the schoolboy. War is almost as much of a game as the battles at school, replete with glee at outwitting the enemy, bravado which now shows as bravery, and cheek to higher authority.

There is no doubt at all that Kipling intends us to admire the boys-become-men, and especially Stalky, for their derring-do, their sense of adventure, their intelligence, their humor, their camaraderie, and their flouting of authority. He suggests that these qualities are what makes the Empire great and lauds their expression in military life. The fact that USC prepares boys for the military makes the school's sense of disorder and violence justifiable, and the friction a way to define a deeper kernel of truth. The code is based not on superficial rules but on a deeper understanding of manliness, which finds its ultimate expression in the final chapters where the boys' early training prepares them not only for honorable behavior, but for survival. Stalky can thus use a comrade's dead body to cover and keep hidden a passageway he does not want others to use, and he can carve a symbol on the chest of a man he has just killed to confound his enemies and put them at war with each other. The callousness at school toward physical punishment becomes, in this context, simply preparation for a life whose high point is the glorification of war and the fighting man. Once again, conquest is survival.

The contrast in the degree of physical punishment in the three books is of particular interest. Mowgli is treated with kindness and chastised only once, after he consorts with and is kidnapped by the Bandar-log; Bagheera provides “half-a-dozen love taps” which wouldn't have wakened a panther cub but which “for a seven-year-old boy amounted to as severe a beating as you could wish to avoid” (48). Similarly, in Captains Courageous Disko Troop strikes Harvey just one time, causing him to fall down onto the deck with a bloody nose. In both of these cases Kipling expects the reader to accept that the punishment is correct, deserved, and very efficacious. But in Stalky & Co. there is an endless ritual of beatings, lauded as a much better punishment than lines or other tiresome impositions. These are administered by the Head, and the boys are always both impressed by his actions and grateful for their punishment. In fact, in the most extreme case, after the Head is cheered by the entire school for his bravery in dealing with a diptheria case, his decision to beat every boy in the school for unruly behavior is met with “wonder and admiration. … Here was a man to be reverenced” (248). And partway through the beatings he is cheered again. A scene which is particularly revealing is the one in which the Head discusses limits while beating the boys. Kipling's representation of the process of punishment is quite evocative; afterward the boys run down to the lavatory and, while admitting they had suffered severe pain, laughingly compare welts with the aid of a mirror. One is reminded that flagellation is considered “le vice Anglais” and is apparently a standard feature of most British pornography.

It was a fair, sustained, equable stroke, with a little draw to it, but what they felt most was his unfairness in stopping to talk between executions. Thus:—“Among the—lower classes this would lay me open to a charge of—assault. You should be more grateful for your—privileges than you are. There is a limit—one finds it by experience, Beetle—beyond which it is never safe to pursue private vendettas, because—don't move—sooner or later one comes—into collision with the—higher authority, who has studied the animal. Et ego—M'Turk please—in Arcadia vixi.”


In addition to these beatings exerted by the Head, we find in “The Moral Reformers” (a rather distasteful chapter, at least to sensitive eyes), the Padre turning over a discipline problem to the Three, who subject two bullies to a well-documented and carefully detailed succession of painful bullying techniques—techniques that the bullies themselves had used on a young victim. This rough justice, though probably deserved and certainly effective, seems motivated by revenge as well as justice (Beetle had been bullied when young) and leaves rather a sour taste. It really isn't fun, though the Three seem to enjoy it. It seems that though Kipling apparently found Stalky exceedingly funny, the challenge to order required him to reinstate it in the book through constant violence; it appears that the threat to order provoked a deep anxiety that both humor and violence relieved.

It is very possible that the sharp and not altogether pleasant memories that inspired Kipling to write Stalky & Co. are expressed not only in the noticeable degree of hysteria that permeates the book, but also in the absence of a clear dividing line between the “Coll.” and the “real world,” and in the disordered hierarchy and unstable rules that operate in the school. It has become commonplace to look back upon Kipling's childhood experiences through the eyes of the boy in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” and perceive the agony of a child deserted by his parents and abused by his foster family. But anecdotes from the biographies also suggest that Rudyard was a pampered little boy, spoiled by the family's Indian servants and sorely in need of some discipline. Furthermore, two images of the child reveal a boy who, when he could not see well, took a stick and slashed what he thought was his grandmother to determine if the blurry image was indeed her, and who would come to lunch with his boots red with blood from the pig slaughtering that so fascinated him. There are also mixed messages about his time at school. Was he mistreated at United Services College, or did he simply object to the usual restraints and rough-and-tumble normal in a group of adolescent boys? Certainly he was perceived as being very physically mature for his age, and his demeanor at school was described as challenging and arrogant. In fact, he had discovered, shortly before writing Stalky & Co., that his schoolmasters had suspected him of homosexual behavior, a suspicion that made him extremely angry, for he considered such acts “beastliness.” The violence in the book may be expressing some of this anger.

Such anecdotes provide no firm base for an interpretation, but they do provide some additional perspective to the disconcerting violence that simmers so close to the surface of Stalky & Co., erupting not only in the canings, but in the killing and persecuting of animals, the smashing of furniture and windows, the shooting at other boys, and the near-burning of the dormitory. Revenge frequently inspires the violence, for example, the Three's killing a cat and placing it under the floorboards of King's house to decompose in retaliation for his suggestion that they smelled bad, or their smashing up King's study when they are evicted from their own. “Didn't I say I'd get even with him?” says Stalky (250); “Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu, I gloat! Hear me!” (54) cry the boys as they celebrate their revenge. The sense of sweet satisfaction celebrated in these and other incidents is more frighteningly evident in a later story, “Mary Postgate,” where the pleasure of the revenge Mary feels at the death of a German soldier is expressed as sensual ecstasy.

Where rules are broken, they must be mended, and this, it appears, can only be accomplished with violent action. The more uncertain the rules, the harsher the violence that is needed to reestablish the necessary order. While Kipling portrays the duel between order and disorder in social terms, clearly this must also be a metaphor for the surge of personal desires and inappropriate motivation, and the necessity to restrain or redirect them into acceptable channels. Kipling's writings suggest that he held within him serious unresolved conflicts that find expression in the obession with rules and with the violence necessary to keep order dominant. With equal violence, he disciplines and divides emotions and feelings appropriate for men from those fit only for women. This macho vision of masculinity is hard to sustain for someone like Kipling, whose ambivalence toward the first important woman in his life, who petted and then abandoned him, is depicted so well in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” where the young boy throws up his arm to defend himself against his mother's caress. By attempting to deny that part of his personality he identifies as “feminine,” Kipling is forced to exaggerate the “masculine” characteristics that become, as one would expect in this dichotomy, stereotypically expressed in the bravado, indifference to pain, and brutality of the manly code he proposed.

Kipling was clearly a sensitive man camouflaged by brave words and an assertive, even brash personality. His ongoing attempt to master and to hide his vulnerability, to guard the tender self within, reveals itself in the need to dedicate himself to something greater, a more powerful authority structure whose preservation, whatever the cost, must be ensured. Mowgli's commitment to the Law of the Jungle, Harvey's involvement in the survival of the We're Here, and Stalky and his friends' collusion in maintaining the authority of USC's headmaster all illustrate Kipling's belief in an ordered, all-male structure whose shaping power turns boys into men.

Many cultures celebrate rites of passage to dramatize that boys are now grown and ready to take their place in adult society. Frequently the rituals involve isolating the young men from the community and subjecting them to tests by which they must prove their worth, tests which in many cases challenge the youths' ability to endure pain, humiliation, and even physical mutilation in their quest for a new adult wisdom.2 By plunging his young protagonists into “otherworlds” with clearly delineated codes, rules, and powerful authority structures that hone the boys' potential into strength and self-reliance, Kipling creates his own ritualized arenas in which the boys can prove themselves. The willing, even joyful submission to pain is associated with the need to suppress aspects of the feminine, which Kipling depicts as soft, fragile, incompetent, and rendering the individual too vulnerable to survive in a demanding world. As the need to reject the female self becomes increasingly insistent, the ideal of self-sacrifice grows stronger, so that the giving and acceptance of pain becomes an exercise in power, acknowledging both the strength of the authority figure and the strength of the individual who, by enduring pain, shows himself worthy.

In real life, the self thus divided is in danger. Kipling's public self, the brash jingoist who continued to laud the increasingly anachronistic ideals of manhood and empire, appears to have flourished at the expense of a vulnerable private self that suffered not only from the early loss of his “best beloved” daughter, but from the death of his son in combat, sacrificed to the ideals and code that Kipling espoused. He spent his later years immured in the gloomy Bateman's, protected by his wife from the demands of a too-insistent world; access to his works after death was similarly controlled by his wife and later his daughter, who appear to have decided which of his unpublished writings were appropriate for release to the public.

In his fictional realms, however, Kipling's boys relish their tough, strict training in the combat zones he has created for them, and cheerfully endure and enjoy their preparation for a challenging world where their success seems assured. In each case the “otherworld” Kipling has delineated seems tailor-made as a training ground for the “real” world to which the boys must return; their mastery of the rules and codes, whether they be Jungle Law, sea lore, or military school regulations, promises them mastery not only of the self, achieved by a code-based self-discipline, but of the world in which they will take their rightful place.


  1. See, for example, Philip Mason's chapter “Admiration and Dislike” or Harold Orel's “Rudyard Kipling and the Establishment: A Humanistic Dilemma.”

  2. A contemporary example of such a rite is depicted in a September 1990 Los Angeles Times series featuring “Hell Week,” which young men in the Navy must endure if they are to become SEALs, members of the elite sea-air-land commando force that is sent on dangerous clandestine missions. “Why do they endure ‘Sucking Up Pain’ and Mind Games?” the subheading asks, as it describes a week which includes only three hours of sleep and constant physical abuse.

Works Cited

Buchanan, Robert. “The Voice of the Hooligan: A Discussion of Kiplingism.” In Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert. New York: New York University Press, 1965. 20-32.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Gilbert, Elliot L., ed. O Beloved Kids. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1984.

Kipling, Rudyard. Captains Courageous. Vol. 16 of The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling. 1941. New York: AMS Press, 1970.

———. The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book. London: Octopus Books, 1984.

———. Stalky & Co. Vol. 14 of The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling. 1941. New York: AMS Press, 1970.

Mason, Philip. Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

Orel, Harold. Critical Essays on Rudyard Kipling. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1989.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Rudyard Kipling. London: Macdonald and Co., 1989.

Juliet McMaster (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: McMaster, Juliet. “The Trinity Archetype in The Jungle Books and The Wizard of Oz.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 90-110.

[In the following essay, McMaster establishes parallels between the adaptation of the Christian Trinity archetype in Kipling's The Jungle Books and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.]

The magical and mystical significance of the number three is common to myth, religion, and children's literature. But though the cluster of three is important, it is also expected that the units within the cluster be subtly differentiated, and in some sense opposed and complementary. The most familiar constellation of this grouping and opposition is of course the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three in one. But the Trinity of Western culture is only one example of many such groupings in which the three elements are joined and opposed in a structure that is psychologically, morally, and artistically satisfying. Not surprisingly, the pattern occurs, with a parallel assignment of qualities to the three units, in a number of books written for children. My own concern is with the pattern as it is adapted in two works not far separated in time, but in space and culture further apart than two continents: Rudyard Kipling's two Jungle Books and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In each we find a trinity of companions for the protagonist, and in each the companions are differentiated and specialized in recognizably parallel ways.

The three persons of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, though indivisibly one, each specialize. God the Father, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, is creator and lawgiver, strong in justice and discipline. God the Son, the Christ of the New Testament, is the redeemer, saving man out of love and through sacrifice. God the Holy Spirit, always a more mysterious entity, seldom appears as a character, but is familiar in iconography as the bird that mediates between God and the Virgin in depictions of the Annunciation, and is invoked by Milton as the being who “Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss” (I. 21). The particular qualities assigned to these familiar dramatis personae are, respectively, omnipotence, benevolence, and omniscience; or, to use less Latinately theological terms: for God the Father, power; for God the Son, love; and for God the Holy Spirit, knowledge.

This alignment of the persons of the Trinity with power, love, and knowledge (though each may partake of the characteristics of the others) has been a well-established tradition in Christian theology since the time of Augustine (Whitla 46-51).1 And in the Renaissance these perfect attributes of the divinity were assigned (in an imperfect, human form) to man, made in God's image. In his devotional poem “The Litanie,” Donne addresses a stanza each to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then follows with a prayer to the Trinity:

As you distinguish'd undistinct
By power, love, knowledge bee,
Give mee a such selfe different instinct
Of these; let all mee elemented bee,
Of power, to love, to know, you unnumbred three.


Man's best self, like God's, comprises the elements of power, love, and knowledge.

In nineteenth-century England, these attributes of the deity and of man were given a more popular currency by the so-called Bridgewater Treatises. The Earl of Bridgewater, when he died in 1829, left a large bequest to the Royal Society for the publication of a series of works “On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.” These works were duly commissioned and published in the two decades following. The wide publicity of the Bridgewater Treatises is testified by the choice of Bridgewater's name by the phony “Duke” in Huckleberry Finn—where the “Bridgewater” of his claim swiftly degenerates into “Bilgewater” (Twain 100-01).

But the constellation of Power, Love (or Benevolence, or Goodness, as it is moralized), and Knowledge (or Wisdom) is of course not peculiar to Christianity. Its most familiar appearance in classical mythology is in the often-depicted episode of the Judgment of Paris, in which the young Paris has to judge between Hera the queen of heaven, Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty, and Athena the goddess of wisdom. Each offers Paris the bribe that is hers to give: again, Power, Love, and Knowledge. While “love” in the Christian tradition is caritas, love of humankind, in the classical tradition it is more apt to modulate toward sexual passion, and is often attached closely to beauty and the aesthetic sense. Paris's choice of Aphrodite, because of her offer of the most beautiful woman, leads to the Trojan War: the three attributes, when opposed to one another instead of balanced in a harmonious unity, may be dangerous. The archetype appears in the Hindu world picture too, in which Siva as Power, Vishnu as Love, and Brahma as Knowledge provide a parallel with the Christian Trinity and the classical myth of the Judgment of Paris.2 These three, then, Power, Love, and Knowledge, are apt to appear in relation to one another in Christian, classical, and even Eastern works.

They also are found in literature for children. And here the interplay of the three complementary qualities, achieved in the godhead and striven for by the human being, can provide a pattern that is both satisfyingly familiar and inventively varied.

In his sequence of stories about Mowgli in The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), Kipling makes creative use of this archetype. The narrative about the boy brought up by wolves in the jungle, torn between his inheritance as man and his nurture as wolf, makes its impact as a story about education and the growth of the self. It has strong mythological elements, as many commentators have noticed.3 Its powerful appeal for the adolescent arises from its vivid projection of a protagonist poised between two states: Mowgli is “two Mowglis” (I, “TT” [“Tiger! Tiger!”], 121),4 partaking of both animal and human identity, child and adult, outcast and leader; belonging in the jungle paradise, but irresistibly drawn to the dubious haunts of human civilization. The pathos of his condition, also powerfully attractive to the adolescent, is that he doesn't know what is happening to him. He finds himself weeping, and needs to be told what tears are (I, “MB” [“Mowgli's Brothers”], 40); smitten by a crisis of loneliness and sexual longing, “he looked himself over to be sure that he had not trod on a thorn” (II, “SR” [“The Spring Running”], 270).

In this complex “amphibian” existence (Knoepflmacher 521), Mowgli as infant, boy, and man struggles toward consciousness and understanding as toward physical maturity. He is provided with mentors, beings beyond himself who embody the qualities of knowledge, power, and love that he must acquire. It has been noticed, in fact, that “Mowgli is over-lavishly provided with tutors” (Stewart 117). But some, such as Father Wolf, simply teach him the skills of survival as a wolf (I, “MB,” 25), while Messua's instructions pertain to language skills among human beings. More essential to the growth of Mowgli's identity is what he learns from creatures who are neither wolf nor human: first his two sponsors at the looking-over at the Council Rock, Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther; and to these is added Kaa the python. It is these three mentors who are constructed as the power, love, and knowledge that must become Mowgli's if he is to mature and discover his self. The trio, like the Trinity, are separate and discrete, but also united and complementary. And these mythic roles, whether the reader recognizes them or not, have much to do with the trio's particular appeal as characters and their effectiveness in Mowgli's development.

In the first story, “Mowgli's Brothers,” while Kipling is still getting into his stride, he presents the young human child as eminently educable. He has intelligence, but little experience, and no motive for reflection. He has “nothing in the world to think of except things to eat” (I, 26). He is a tabula rasa, innocent and impressionable, and living safely in the protection of the wolf pack that has accepted him. “I have the Pack and I have thee,” he tells Bagheera, “… and Baloo … Why should I be afraid?” (I, 27). It is Bagheera who awakens him to knowledge of evil as well as good, and alerts him to his precarious status as a man among wolves.

“They hate thee because their eyes cannot meet thine—because thou art wise—because thou hast pulled out thorns from their feet—because thou art a man.”

“I did not know these things,” said Mowgli sullenly.

[I, 30]

But with the astute guidance of Bagheera he is able to hold his own at the Council Rock when the hostile wolves plan to hand him over to his enemy Shere Khan (the Satan of Mowgli's paradise).

It is in the next story, “Kaa's Hunting,” that Kipling presents the trio of mentors in their developed roles of Power, Love, and Knowledge. In fictional time this story is set between the beginning and the end of “Mowgli's Brothers,” when Mowgli is a young boy of seven (the age of rationality), on the threshold of self-awareness. He is also receiving his formal education in the Law of the Jungle. Mowgli is still conceited and unreflecting, but he is about to undergo a lesson and a test. The introductory poem stresses the education theme:

“There is none like to me!” says the Cub in the pride of his
          earliest kill;
But the Jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think
          and be still.

[I, 45]

And as we encounter Mowgli in the classroom scene that opens the story, he is showing off his newly acquired knowledge. Mowgli as human must learn more than any one species, for man's status in the evolutionary scheme does not allow him to specialize:

The big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil, for the young wolves will learn only as much of the Law of the Jungle as applies to their own pack and tribe, and run away as soon as they can repeat the Hunting Verse. … But Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a great deal more than this.

[I, 46]

“A Man-cub is a Man-cub, and he must learn all the Law of the Jungle,” Baloo explains (47). This is Kipling's version of T. H. White's fable of the embryos in The Sword in the Stone (1938), in which man achieves his special status in the universe by choosing not to have specialized equipment, such as horns or a thick hide (265-67). He is to dominate by virtue of his adaptability. This is one reason that Mowgli's most significant mentors are neither man nor wolf, but beasts of other species altogether. Mowgli's status in his world is to come from exceeding the limitations both of man and of wolf.

“Kaa's Hunting” is a satisfactory fable of education. The scene opens in a classroom, where Baloo the pedagogue has been teaching Mowgli the Law of the Jungle. Baloo in his partiality claims that Mowgli is “best and wisest and boldest of Man-cubs” (63) (the familiar configuration is already present), but the claim is premature. Mowgli resists the discipline of learning, and so he is appropriately kidnapped by the Bandar-log, the monkey people, who are parodies of the worst of the tribe of men. They claim to be “wise and strong and gentle” (70)—that is, to have knowledge, power, and love—but their claim is spurious; in fact they are ineducable, for “they have no Law. … They have no remembrance” (51-52). Mowgli, who has learned his lessons, is able to use what he has learned to bring his friends Baloo, Bagheera, and Kaa (the power, love, and knowledge that the monkeys will always lack) to his rescue. Once rescued, he again uses what he has learned to thank his rescuers and become reconciled with them. Mowgli's education in this early stage of his career will stand him in good stead in his future adventures and his future development. And his three protectors, with their quasi-allegorized roles, will continue to enable him to grow and learn.

Baloo's role in the trinity is like God's on Mount Sinai. One delivers the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone, and the other delivers the Law of the Jungle. In his role as teacher Baloo is comic, a “fubsy old pedagogue,” a “housemaster,” as he has been called (Mason 168; Wilson 127). But he is effective, and in “Kaa's Hunting” Mowgli's life depends on the effectiveness of his teaching. In the battle against the monkey horde Baloo relies on brute strength and power: “He threw himself squarely on his haunches … and then began to hit with a regular bat-bat-bat” (74). This suggests the physical aspect of his power. And it is notable that Baloo, like Yahweh, is strong on punishment. He physically disciplines Mowgli both before and after his abduction by the monkeys, and this corporal punishment is seen as just and necessary. But his power is more than strength, and at its best it has almost the force of creation. Like God separating the light from the dark and the waters from the land, Baloo with his law and his discipline imposes order on chaos. The Bandar-log are not only parodies of men: they are a force of chaos and disruption. They lack all distinction, discrimination, memory, and rules. One could as soon build a statue out of dry grains of sand as discern a meaningful social or moral structure to their existence. That is why they are seen as dangerous and despicable in the ordered world of Kipling's jungle. For Mowgli to revert to being one of the monkey-people would be to “reel back into the beast” indeed. (Other writers might present such a race as charming and engaging; and indeed, Disney did so in his animated version of The Jungle Book.)

Baloo as teacher deals in knowledge as well as power. In fact, his knowledge effectively is his power, the power to create and sustain a significant pattern for Mowgli's life in the jungle. He enables Mowgli to find a place among the other species, and to deserve it.

In the later tales, as Mowgli himself becomes strong and informed, Baloo is less prominent. But he is notably present in “How Fear Came,” the tale that presents the Genesis of the jungle. And though on this occasion Hathi the elephant rather than Baloo transmits the myth, Baloo knows it as he knows all the others. And he is present again at the final meeting at the Council Rock to complete the series symmetrically.

The complementary roles of Baloo and Bagheera in Mowgli's education are made clear by a representative exchange between them in “Kaa's Hunting”:

“A man-cub is a Man-cub, [says Baloo] and he must learn all the Law of the Jungle.”

“But think how small he is,” said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. “How can his little head carry all thy long talk?”

“Is there anything in the Jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets.”

“Softly! What dost thou know of softness, old Iron-feet?” Bagheera grunted. “His face is all bruised to-day by thy—softness. Ugh!”

“Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance,” Baloo answered very earnestly.

[I, 47–48]

It sounds like a dialogue of Justice and Mercy. The passage has some theological overtones, and not only in the formal and biblical rhetoric. Baloo's stern though loving ruling that the being who has transgressed must be punished, and Bagheera's eager defense, sound a little like the exchange between God and the Son over the fate of man in book 3 of Paradise Lost. And Baloo's austere “Is there anything in the Jungle too little to be killed?” is a nineteenth-century echo of the Puritan James Janeway's attitude to children: “They are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to Hell” (Darton 56). Bagheera's role here is as appeaser and apologist, tenderly making allowances for man's proneness to fall.

Bagheera performs a Christ-like role in more ways than one. Kipling's clearest signal of his function is in making him a panther, for the panther has been the symbol of Christ since medieval times. In the twelfth-century bestiary translated by T. H. White, the panther is described as “most beautiful and excessively kind. … The true Panther, Our Lord Jesus Christ, snatched us from the power of the dragon-devil” (White 14-15). Bagheera is the one who redeems Mowgli at the outset, who “buys” him into the pack at the price of a newly killed bull, when the naked child would otherwise have been handed over to Shere Khan, the satanic tiger. Bagheera doesn't himself turn scapegoat, but he provides one, so that Mowgli may be saved. And when Mowgli leaves the pack to return to humankind at the end, Bagheera buys him out again with another bull. He performs the due ritual at the Council Rock, the spiritual and administrative center of the wolves' society. Kipling's jungle, like Milton's heaven, observes the rigid economics of sacrifice, a life for a life.5

If Bagheera is a symbolic embodiment of Christian love, he is also, of course, much more. As Keats recalled in associating “Bacchus and his pards,” the leopard or panther is sacred to Dionysus. In keeping with the classical formulation of the parallel attributes, Bagheera has the beauty and the passion that are associated with Aphrodite's sphere. Except for his two mother surrogates, Raksha the wolf and Messua the woman, Mowgli's associates are all notably masculine.6 But Bagheera, with his sinuous movements and exotic beauty, provides a strong and almost feminine contrast to Baloo's straightforward, bachelorish masculinity. If in the Christian tradition the panther is a symbol of Christ, in the classical tradition following Aristotle, the panther is the type of the feminine (Aristotle 801a). Bagheera is expert at persuasion and accommodation. He is also beautiful. Though black, he has “the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. … He had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down” (I, “MB,” 20). He stands for the passional life, including not only sexual passion (in “The Spring Running” he goes courting) but a range of intense emotions that in the Christian scheme would be called sinful: anger, pride, and a fierce sense of honor. These, too, Mowgli learns and makes his own.

The triple association of power, love, and knowledge is completed by Kaa the python, whom Baloo and Bagheera recruit as the indispensable ally in their rescue of Mowgli. Though Baloo, as we have seen, supplies Mowgli with knowledge of the law, Kaa's brand of knowledge might more fitly be called wisdom. It exceeds the mental accumulation of data and laws and the intelligent application of them, and comprehends contradictions and ironies. (Baloo is never any good at irony, and characteristically speaks “earnestly.”) To the monkeys, Kaa is Fear (as Man is Fear in the animals' genesis myth in “How Fear Came”). Kaa opposes the monkeys, the forces of ignorance, not by strength, like Baloo, nor by passionate, ineffective devotion, like Bagheera, but by a hypnotic dance that establishes mastery over the minds of his victims. Like the Holy Spirit to humanity, Kaa moves in mysterious ways. Being footless and cold-blooded, he is alien and undefined to the quadruped mammals, who construct him as Other and find him threatening. “‘He knows more than we,’ said Bagheera, trembling,” when he sees Kaa execute his hypnotic dance (I, “KH” [“Kaa's Hunting”], 81).

Wisdom for Mowgli necessarily comprehends the knowledge of good and evil; and it is appropriate that Kaa the serpent should help to induct him into that knowledge (Wilson 126-27). In “The King's Ankus,” a story as mythically suggestive as Chaucer's “Pardoner's Tale” (on which it is based), Mowgli is clearly located in his jungle paradise when Kaa begins the process of initiating him into man's characteristic sin of avarice. In a glow of physical well-being, Mowgli is basking in the sense that all his essential desires are fulfilled: “What more can I wish? I have the Jungle, and the favour of the Jungle! Is there more anywhere between sunrise and sunset?” (II, 151-52).7 To test whether Mowgli indeed has no more to wish for, Kaa leads him to the treasure in the deserted city of Cold Lairs, which is guarded by another serpent (and one more learned in human cupidity). Mowgli is tempted by the beauty of the jeweled ankus that he takes from the hoard, but he himself does not fall. He only witnesses the deadly avarice of the men who find the bauble and kill each other for it. The fall of man on this occasion does not include the fall of Mowgli, whose nurture with animals has made him immune from this particular sin. (He is indifferent to money, and calls it “the stuff that passes from hand to hand and never grows warmer” [II, “LJ” [“Letting in the Jungle”], 81].) But his education has progressed in that he has learned more of the evil of his own kind. Bagheera drives the lesson home. When Mowgli tells him to bury the ankus, which as an elephant goad represents human cruelty as well as human avarice, Bagheera points out, “I tell thee it is not the fault of the blood-drinker [the ankus]. The trouble is with the men” (II, “KA” [“The King's Ankus”], 174). Mowgli has had an effective lesson in the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent's role in Genesis is here split into two: the white cobra performs Satan's role in tempting man to fall, while Kaa as a version of the Holy Spirit has advanced man's consciousness of good and evil, a consummation theologically accepted as the Fortunate Fall. Man's (and Mowgli's) consciousness of good and evil leads to wisdom, and is a necessary condition of his redemption.

Kaa's role as Knowledge becomes clearest of all in “Red Dog.” If “How Fear Came” and “The King's Ankus” are genesis myths, “Red Dog” is closer to being classical epic. Like the Iliad and the Aeneid, it shows the clash of two races, with heroic battles and fierce individual encounters; its rhetoric is formal and poetic, the dialogue decorative and ceremonious; and Kaa the python provides the epic “machinery.” Mowgli plays the role of the crafty Odysseus who defeats the enemy by employing a stratagem; and Kaa instructs him on the means to destroy the Red Dog as Athena prompted Odysseus's scheme of the Trojan horse.8 Mowgli, who has developed in humility since the days of “Kaa's Hunting,” comes explicitly to seek Kaa's advice. “I am not wise nor strong. Hast thou a better plan, Kaa?” (II, “RD” [“Red Dog”], 233). (In the same way the epic poet of Paradise Lost addresses his muse, the Holy Spirit: “Instruct me, for Thou know'st” [I, 19].) Kaa, thus consulted, settles down to remembrance of things past, recalling all that has happened in the two hundred years since he hatched from the egg; and comes up with a plan that will be a deliberate reenactment of an accidental occurrence of the past: “What will be is no more than a forgotten year striking backward,” he says (233). When Kaa has unfolded his plan, Mowgli makes his tribute: “Kaa, thou art, indeed, the wisest of all the Jungle” (238).

As Mowgli goes about enacting the scheme, we see him at the height of his development, and bringing to bear a lifetime of training among the animals and observation among men. The stratagem of luring the Red Dog among the bees and himself escaping to fight the survivors downriver calls on all his varied powers:

“Mowgli the Frog I have been,” said he to himself; “Mowgli the Wolf have I said that I am. Now Mowgli the Ape must I be before I am Mowgli the Buck. At the end I shall be Mowgli the Man.”


As he has learned to add Kaa's wisdom to Baloo's power and Bagheera's passion, so he has confirmed his mastery as man, the animal who is fully adaptable.

At the end of “The Spring Running,” the last of the Mowgli stories, Mowgli takes leave of his three mentors at the Council Rock. Kipling is winding up the different thematic and symbolic strands. Mowgli is still “two Mowglis,” wolf and human, and drawn in two directions:

“By night and by day I hear a double step upon my trail. When I turn my head it is as though one had hidden himself from me that instant. I go to look behind the trees and he is not there. I call and none cry again; but it is as though one listened and kept back the answer.”

[II, 291–92]

It has come to pass “that Mowgli should drive Mowgli back to the Man-Pack” (292). At the ritual leave-taking, Baloo, now very old, first takes the floor, reminding us of his role: “I taught thee the Law. It is for me to speak” (293). Mowgli's “wisdom and strength,” he says, have saved the wolf pack. Love he does not mention for the moment, for at this point only Kaa and Baloo, of the three, are present. Kaa too is there with his wisdom to impart: “‘Having cast the skin,’ said Kaa, ‘we may not creep into it afresh. It is the Law’” (293). It is the wisdom for all seasons, from Milton's “To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new” to Tennyson's

The old order changeth, yielding place to new, …
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

And at last Bagheera joins the scene, having been delayed by bringing the sacrificial bull that is to buy Mowgli out of the wolf pack again so that he may return to his own kind. He too provides a reminder of his role. His last words to Mowgli are “Remember, Bagheera loved thee” (294).

The last of the contents of The Second Jungle Book is “The Outsong,” “the song that Mowgli heard behind him in the Jungle” as he leaves it. Like Donne's “The Litanie,” it is divided into four parts, one for each person of the trinity, and a final part devoted to “The Three.” Baloo counsels “Keep the law,” and envisages the law as the Trail, a structured path through experience. Kaa presents a series of wise saws in oracular imagery, and instructs on language and appropriate silence. Bagheera recalls his own hard-won knowledge of men, and cautions Mowgli, “Feed them silence when they seek / Help of thine to hurt the weak.” The burden of the combined song of the three is to enjoin upon Mowgli “Wisdom, Strength and Courtesy.” The tripartite structure of “The Outsong” echoes in brief the developed roles of Mowgli's animal trinity.

The power that Baloo supplies Mowgli is less mere physical strength than that which derives from discipline and control, and a full knowledge and observance of appropriate law. The love of Bagheera bears some relation to the Christian caritas (Mowgli refuses to kill his own kind, and spares even the white cobra who had tried to kill him), but is also recognizable as the emotional intensity that makes him a memorable and sympathetic protagonist. The knowledge of Kaa completes him, and enables him to be the savior of the wolf pack before he leaves them. The interdependence of the three is poignantly demonstrated when Bagheera, usually proudly self-sufficient, first joins forces with Baloo in order to save Mowgli, and then is forced to call for help to Kaa in order to save himself. He uses the snakes' call, “We be of one blood, ye and I” (I,“KH,”74). The three characters and the qualities they represent are not discrete entities, but each partakes partially of the characteristics of the others: Baloo deals in power, law, order, and discipline; but he is also knowledgeable and loving. Bagheera provides a model of sacrifice and devotion; but he is also astute and physically powerful. Kaa is the wisest in the jungle, but he is also beautiful and affectionate like Bagheera, and strong like Baloo: “wise, old, strong, and most beautiful Kaa,” Mowgli calls him (II,“RD,”230). Together they form a trio for Mowgli's development of self, as the Trinity acts for the salvation of the Christian, or the three goddesses enlarge the world for Paris.

So far I have developed a set of correspondences that may be rendered diagrammatically thus:

Attributes The Christian Trinity Judgment of Paris Rewards Jungle Books
Power God the Father Hera (Juno) Power Baloo
Love Son Aphrodite (Venus) Love / Beauty Bagheera
Knowledge Holy Spirit Athena (Minerva) Wisdom Kaa

It is possible to find further parallels to the three attributes in various branches of traditional learning also.9 During the Renaissance the assumption that man was made in God's image was extended to physiology, and as a complement to the derived classical belief in the four humors there was a theory of three. Man's functions—as described, for instance, by Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy (I,i,2,3)—are the physical or appetitive, the passional, and the rational. Each of these modes of being has its “seat” in the human body. The seat of reason is the brain, the seat of passion is the heart, and the seat of the appetites is the liver.

When one contemplates these familiar organs in the context of children's literature, something chimes with a familiar ring. Who seeks a brain, who seeks a heart, and who seeks … ? Why, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion, of course, in The Wizard of Oz. Well, the Cowardly Lion seeks courage, let it be admitted, rather than a liver per se. But the two have been closely connected in the popular imagination as well as in the Renaissance mind, for a sturdy liver was believed to make for a courageous man, a sickly liver for a pusillanimous one. (The term “lily-livered” is still extant as an epithet for a coward.) To the above diagram on the variations on the Power/Love/Knowledge trinity, then, we may add two further columns:

Location in the Body The Wizard of Oz
Power Liver Cowardly Lion
Love (passion) Heart Tin Woodman
Knowledge (reason) Brain Scarecrow

Dorothy's three memorable companions—“her strangely assorted company,” as Baum called them (114)—have been a major element in the first success and continued popularity of The Wizard of Oz. The New York Times review of September 8, 1900, singled out the trio for special comment:

A Scarecrow stuffed with straw, a tin woodman, and a cowardly lion do not, at first blush, promise well as moving heroes in a tale when merely mentioned, but in actual practice they take on something of the living and breathing quality that is so gloriously exemplified in the “Story of the Three Bears,” that has become a classic.

[Hearn 35–36]

Their being a trio like the three bears, and not just assorted individuals, clearly has something to do with their particular appeal. It has been pointed out that between them, they represent animal, vegetable, and mineral (Hearn 148). Nearly all critical treatments of the work focus on Dorothy as protagonist and her three companions. As Edward W. Hudlin points out in a recent essay on the mythology of Oz, “The subplots concerning these characters develop the major mythic themes of the work” (453).

Baum himself seems to have been unconscious that the ongoing pattern of ideas that I have been discussing informs his work. He told an interviewer, “The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the cowardly Lion were real children of my brain, having no existence in fact or fiction until I placed them in the pages of my book” (Hearn 49). He refers to them as Dorothy's “unique companions”—a rather surprising choice of phrase when one considers how many analogues exist for this configuration of the familiar trilogy of Power, Love, and Knowledge. But his unconsciousness of the analogues suggests that we are dealing here not just with an articulated system of ideas, but with an archetype. This configuration of qualities seems to exist in the collective unconscious, and to be thrown up to the conscious level in the minds of various artists from different cultural backgrounds. Baum was far from being an orthodox Christian, but when he spoke of the creation of The Wizard of Oz he suggested that he had been moved by something like divine inspiration. According to the Reverend Mr. Ryland,

I once asked him how he came to write the first Oz book. “It was pure inspiration,” he said. “It came to me right out of the blue. I think that sometimes the Great Author has a message to get across and He has to use the instrument at hand. I happened to be that medium, and I believe the magic key was given me to open the doors to sympathy and understanding, joy, peace and happiness.”

[Hearn, 73]

Making allowances for wide divergence in tone and cultural background, one can still recognize some affinity between Baum, the humble medium through whom the Great Author delivers truths about the Lion, the Woodman, and the Scarecrow, and Milton, the epic poet who calls upon the Heavenly Muse to help him to dramatize the relations of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and so justify the ways of God to men.

Baum's use of these traditional and archetypal elements is unique, however. He has inventively varied their presentation, especially in inverting their authority. Kipling gives Baloo, Bagheera, and Kaa to Mowgli as mentors and authority figures, but Dorothy's companions follow her instead of leading her. They are, after all, in the allegorical structure presented, her own attributes. (In the same way Faithful and Hopeful in The Pilgrim's Progress, a strong influence in American as well as British literature for children, represent not only the faithful man and the hopeful man, but also Christian's own faith and hope.) Baum's pilgrimage is a democratized configuration, as is appropriate in an American tale. The Scarecrow, Woodman, and Lion, in their quests for brain, heart, and courage, are engagingly humble, for each thinks he most lacks what he most signally possesses. Dorothy uses her companions to achieve her own quest, while simultaneously furthering theirs.10 For Dorothy, getting home to Kansas is growing up and achieving her identity. She, like Mowgli, is using her knowledge, love, and power to develop her own selfhood.11

There are, of course, major differences between the two works, deriving from the differing worldview of their authors. Kipling is a British imperialist, and presents a boy protagonist; Baum is American, and chooses a girl protagonist. But to explore the considerable national and gender differences in the handling of the pattern is beyond the scope of this essay. For the moment my business is with the pattern they share.

The three companions represent not only Dorothy's knowledge, love, and power, but her desire to possess these attributes, and her own healthy self-doubt. A crucial issue is that of self-confidence. The Scarecrow is notably intelligent, but believes he is brainless. He needs the Wizard not to give him a brain, but to give him confidence in the intelligence he has already. The same applies to the Tin Woodman and his heart. “I have no heart, you know, so I am careful to help all those who may need a friend, even if it happens to be only a mouse” (92). Because he doubts his own compassion, he is especially tender. Consciousness is a major aspect of the Lion's predicament, too. “As long as I know myself to be a coward I shall be unhappy,” he says (67). The Wizard doesn't give him courage, but he supplies him with consciousness of his courage. As Mowgli was shown to be least wise when he showed off about his wisdom, Dorothy's wisdom, like the Scarecrow's, is most evident in her doubt that she has it.

Mowgli's acquaintance with Kaa, Knowledge, came last in the three encounters, when he was already acquainted with Baloo and Bagheera. But for Dorothy the Scarecrow comes first. Knowledge is her priority, as it is his. Like Socrates, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are most wise in believing they lack wisdom, and in seeking it.

“I don't know anything [says the Scarecrow]. You see, I am stuffed, so I have no brains at all. … I don't mind my legs and arms and body being stuffed, because I cannot get hurt. If anyone treads on my toes or sticks a pin into me, it doesn't matter, for I can't feel it. But I do not want people to call me a fool, and if my head stays stuffed with straw instead of with brains, as yours is, how am I ever to know anything?”

“I understand how you feel,” said the little girl.


He is the companion with whom Dorothy can identify most fully.

The Scarecrow is constructed as knowledge in various ways. The story he tells of his own creation by the farmer is a fable of representation, where that which is represented becomes immediately real, and consciousness follows. First the farmer makes his head, on which he paints an ear. As soon as the ear is painted, the Scarecrow can hear with it; and as soon as his eye is painted, he can see with it. The body comes last of all. So he witnesses his own creation, and is soon able to articulate it in speech too (43-44). We follow the dawning of his consciousness step by step as his body is created; and the body is subordinate to the consciousness.

The Holy Spirit is the least substantial of the persons of the Trinity; and the Scarecrow's identity is similarly hardly resident in his body. His body can be dismantled and scattered, as it is by the winged monkeys, and yet he doesn't die, and his identity remains intact: once he is reassembled, he is the same Scarecrow again.

The Tin Woodman seeks a heart that will give him the power to love. His role in the trinity is that of the Son. The creation myth that Baum provides for him—his gradual metamorphosis from flesh to tin—is one of suffering through loss. The wicked witch damages him for loving the Munchkin girl. Being made of tin, he loses and laments his love for her, but his loss of sexual love has the effect of increasing his compassion and tenderness for the rest of creation. Later he suffers and perishes for Dorothy's sake, being smashed on the rocks by the winged monkeys. But presently he is resurrected by the Winkie Tinsmiths, and thereafter he is empowered and made royal. He doesn't exactly sit “at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty,” but he does become king of the Winkies.12

“The Cowardly Lion,” says Edward Hudlin, “is the symbol of latent and overt power” (454). While the mythic pattern that he finds in The Wizard of Oz is different from the pattern I am exploring, Hudlin's independent identification of the Lion with Power helps to confirm my argument. The Lion is the “King of Beasts” from the outset (65), and he is also physically large and strong. He performs feats of strength and daring—such as leaping the chasm with a passenger on his back, and defeating the Kalidahs—and takes on the role of the strong member of the group. He also reinforces the lesson that power and strength alone are not sufficient for victory: he needs to be rescued from the field of poppies by the courtesy of the mice. Such incidents remind us of other such fables of the association of strength with sensitivity, such as the story of Androcles and the lion, and the lion killed by Samson: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

The three companions are made one (with each other as with Dorothy) in the series of episodes in which they have their separate interviews with the Wizard of Oz in his various manifestations. Perhaps by way of avoiding too predictable a scheme, and perhaps in order to show his characters' interdependency, Baum switches around the expected images. Oz appears as “an enormous Head, without body to support it or any arms or legs whatever” (120) not to the Scarecrow as we would expect (since he is in search of a brain), but to Dorothy. He appears as “a most lovely lady” (124) not to the Woodman, as we would expect (since he wants to love his Munchkin girl again), but to the Scarecrow. He appears as “a most terrible Beast” (128) not to the Lion, but to the Woodman. And to the Lion he appears as “a Ball of Fire,” although it is the Scarecrow who has identified a lighted match as the one thing he most fears. But perhaps these inept manifestations are simply one more sign that Oz is not a very good wizard.

Dorothy's three companions, then, like Mowgli's, are variations on a recurring archetype of the relation of Power, Love, and Knowledge, and cover, like his, the physical, emotional, and intellectual life. They provide both the satisfaction of a recognizable pattern and the pleasure of a new and original formulation of it. The girl's “strangely assorted company,” so strikingly bizarre and original, are yet recognizable as embodying the three attributes, and have kinship with configurations as ancient and respectable as the Christian Trinity and the judgment of Paris.

Archetypes recur. And by way of demonstrating the recurrence of this one it is worth tracing some of the variations on it in familiar works of literature. I present the following examples in no particular hierarchy, for myths are independent of categories of quality. And I apologize in advance for the rather breathless pace of the listing. My purpose here is to accumulate examples in order to demonstrate the universality of the pattern, rather than to compare and analyze.

Dumas's three musketeers provide a familiar and popular version of the Knowledge/Love/Power trio: D'Artagnan, his protagonist, has as his co-mates the intelligent and sensitive Athos, the passionately intriguing Aramis, and the massively powerful Porthos. For the disempowered woman the attributes can be in painful conflict: George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver, in The Mill on the Floss, is ultimately destroyed by the conflict between the three men in her life, who are embodiments of the familiar configuration: Philip Wakem lends her books and provides her aesthetic and intellectual awakening; Stephen Guest is the passionate lover; and her disciplinarian brother Tom sternly insists that she follow the rules laid down by her father. A recent version of the trio occurs in William Goldman's The Princess Bride, where the princess has three men as allies: Westley provides the intelligence (and at one point his body from the neck down is paralyzed, so that he is virtually a brain without a body); Inigo, a romantic Spaniard motivated by revenge and wielding a sword, is passion; and Fezzik, an amiable giant, all brawn and no brain, is power. The three act as a team, and complement each other's operations.

The pattern may be inverted when the attributes become the hero's antagonists rather than his allies. The most salient example is Milton's dark parody of the Trinity in Paradise Lost: Satan the father (“father of all lies” as well as of his daughter Sin and his son Death); Sin, who in keeping with Milton's misogyny is the Daughter rather than the Son, and a lascivious being who enters into incestuous sexual relations with both her father and her son; and Death, “The other shape, / If shape it might be calld that shape had none” (Milton, II. 666-67). (The “holy spirit” of the trinity is frequently ineffable or amorphous.) Dickens provides at least two diabolic trinities in which Power, Love, and Knowledge show their dark sides. The three villains in Oliver Twist are the violent Bill Sikes, who as housebreaker and murderer represents the inverse of God the creator and lawgiver; Oliver's half-brother Monks, who professes himself to be motivated by hatred rather than love; and Fagin the corrupter and informer, who knows everybody's secret. Bill Sikes says Fagin looks like “a ugly old ghost just rose from the grave” (136), an appropriate description for the evil shadow of the Holy Spirit (McMaster 263-77). Similarly, in Barnaby Rudge Dickens supplies an appropriate trio to lead the mob: for power the brutish Hugh, for love the hangman Dennis, and for knowledge the madman Barnaby. In Victory Conrad too presents an evil trio as the antagonists for his protagonist Heyst: Jones, Ricardo, and the Neanderthal Pedro represent, says Heyst, “evil intelligence, instinctive savagery, arm in arm; the brute force is at the back” (329).

One role of the critic is like that of Baloo the lawgiver: to perceive order and to transmit it, and so to enlarge consciousness. On the face of it, Kipling's Mowgli tales in the two Jungle Books, set in the Indian jungle and dealing with actual though anthropomorphized animals, are a world apart from Baum's whimsical fantasy that begins in Kansas but transmigrates to an invented land peopled by animated androids. But the two narratives have a common integrating principle: they both deal with the maturation of a young protagonist, and both provide for the protagonist a trio of companions who are there to supply wholeness through difference. By them the protagonist is empowered and put in contact with his or her own physical, emotional, and intellectual life. Mowgli learns from, and then masters, the parts of the integrated system represented by Baloo, Bagheera, and Kaa. Dorothy helps and is helped by her self-deprecating companions, the Lion, Tin Woodman, and Scarecrow, who enable her to complete her pilgrim's progress from Kansas to Oz and back. And both their stories belong in a family of narratives that are informed by the archetype of the Trinity as a representation of a harmonious relation between Power, Love, and Knowledge.


  1. William Whitla, in his study of the incarnation in Browning's poetry, traces the history of this idea more fully than I can here.

  2. For the addition of this Hindu schema (which may have had as much influence on Kipling in his presentation of the Indian jungle as the orthodox Western Trinity), I am indebted to Cynthia Leenerts of George Washington University.

  3. For instance, J. M. S. Tompkins: “The realm of wonder extends beyond the limits of myth” (69); Philip Mason: “The Mowgli stories … succeed because they give shape and form to archetypal fantasies about the self” (169); Robert F. Moss: “The Mowgli stories reach well beyond naturalism into fable and myth” (110).

  4. Quotations from Kipling are from The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book. For ease of reference, and so that quotations may be located in any edition, I use “I” and “II” for the two volumes, and abbreviated titles for the different stories: “Mowgli's Brothers,” MB; “Kaa's Hunting,” KH; “Tiger! Tiger!” TT; “How Fear Came,” HFC; “Letting in the Jungle,” LJ; “The King's Ankus,” KA; “Red Dog,” RD; “The Spring Running,” SR. I include the poems under the titles of the stories with which they are associated. I do not deal with “In the Rukh,” the story sometimes included with the Mowgli stories but written and published separately before them.

  5. Philip Mason points out that Kipling “absorbs from the Judaism of the Old Testament a sense of the sacredness of the law, of the necessity for atonement and restoring the balance, of the presence of a righteous anger at the heart of things” (311).

  6. Mason notes the almost exclusively masculine personnel in the series, and aligns it with “the world of the Club and the House of Commons” (167). Lionel Trilling has also pointed out the numerous parent surrogates for Mowgli, “the fathers far more numerous than the mothers” (86).

    Kipling's stories for children are, of course, not peculiar in containing a high proportion of males. The same can be said, for instance, of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908) and Tolkien's The Hobbit.

  7. See Constance Sheerer: “India, for Kipling, represented the Lost Paradise” (27).

  8. The memorable passage of decorative prose in “The King's Ankus,” describing the wrestling match between Mowgli and Kaa, is probably a reminiscence of the narrative about the Trojan horse in the Aeneid. “The beautiful, statue-like group” of boy and serpent (II, 150) recalls the Laocoön, one of the most famous of classical sculptures. Laocoön was the Trojan who advised against bringing the wooden horse into Troy, and was destroyed, along with his two sons, by two serpents sent by Minerva/Athena. See book 2 of Virgil's Aeneid.

  9. See, for instance, Ficino, the Neoplatonist reconciler of pagan philosophy with Christian thought: “No reasonable being doubts … that there are three kinds of life: the contemplative, the active, and the pleasurable (contemplativa, activa, voluptuosa). And three roads to felicity have been chosen by men: wisdom, power, and pleasure (sapientia, potentia, voluptas)” (Wind 82).

  10. According to Douglas J. McReynolds and Barbara J. Lips, Dorothy “makes men whole”: her three male companions find wholeness only in relation to her. “She makes caricatures into real ones, and does it without losing her own identity in theirs” (90). But these characters are also projections of her own qualities—of her desire for knowledge, wisdom, and power as well as her possession of them.

  11. Raylyn Moore also reads The Wizard of Oz allegorically: Dorothy's “story is seen to be an allegory of self-reliance, bolstered by the similar experiences of her companions, the Lion, Woodman, and Scarecrow” (135).

  12. Edward Hudlin considers the Scarecrow rather than the Woodman to be “the dying and resurrected Corn God … the Osiris to [Dorothy's] Isis” (453). Though I differ from him in this identification, we agree in assigning mythic significance to Dorothy's companions.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Physiognomonica, trans. T. Loveday and E. S. Forster. Vol. 6 of The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913.

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. Chicago: Reilly and Lee, 1956.

Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith. New York: Tudor Publishing, 1951.

Conrad, Joseph. Victory: An Island Tale. London: J. M. Dent, 1948.

Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. In the Oxford Illustrated Dickens. London: Oxford University Press, 1949.

Donne, John. The Poems of John Donne, ed. Herbert Grierson. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

Hearn, Michael Patrick, ed. The Annotated Wizard of Oz. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1973.

Hudlin, Edward W. “The Mythology of Oz: An Interpretation.” Papers on Language and Literature 25 (1989): 443-62.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. Library Edition. London: Macmillan, 1950.

———. The Second Jungle Book. Library Edition. London: Macmillan, 1950.

Knoepflmacher, U. C. “The Balancing of Child and Adult: An Approach to Victorian Fantasies for Children.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37 (1983): 497-530.

McMaster, Juliet. “Diabolic Trinity in Oliver Twist.Dalhousie Review 61 (1981): 263-77.

McReynolds, Douglas J., and Barbara J. Lips. “A Girl in the Game: The Wizard of Oz as Analogue for the Female Experience in America.” North Dakota Quarterly 54 (1986): 87-93.

Mason, Philip. Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. In The Poetical Works of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Moore, Raylyn. Wonderful Wizard Marvellous Land. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1974.

Moss, Robert F. Rudyard Kipling and the Fiction of Adolescence. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Sheerer, Constance. “The Lost Paradise of Rudyard Kipling.” Dalhousie Review 61 (1981): 27-37.

Stewart, J. I. M. Rudyard Kipling. London: Gollancz, 1966.

Tompkins, J. M. S. The Art of Rudyard Kipling. London: Methuen, 1959.

Trilling, Lionel. “Kipling.” In Kipling's Mind and Art, ed. Andrew Rutherford. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1964: 85-94.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ed. Sculley Bradley. New York: W. W. Norton, 1961.

White, T. H. The Sword in the Stone. London: Collins Lions, 1971.

———, trans. and ed. The Book of Beasts, Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century. London: Jonathan Cape, 1954.

Whitla, William. The Central Truth: The Incarnation in Robert Browning's Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963.

Wilson, Angus. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works. London: Secker and Warburg, 1977.

Wind, Edgar. Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance. London: Faber, 1968.

John McBratney (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: McBratney, John. “Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space in Kipling's Jungle Books.Victorian Studies 35, no. 3 (spring 1992): 277-93.

[In the following essay, McBratney considers Kipling's concept of cultural identity as it relates to juvenile characters in the author's short fiction.]

The romantic image of the child held a special value for Victorian readers. In an age in which individual energies were increasingly disciplined, routinized, and regulated within an industrialized society, that Wordsworthian “Seer blest,” whose joyful amplitude of being was set against the encroaching “Shades of the prison-house,” represented both the vestige and hope of individual powers unfettered by school, factory, church, or state.

This figure of the child was equally valued by a nation that, toward the end of the nineteenth century, was not simply industrial but self-consciously imperial—whose conception of itself was defined less by Little Englanders than by Charles Dilke's notion of a “Greater Britain.” This shift in national identity put citizens of the Empire in a state of contradiction. On the one hand, Dilke's phrase inspired a larger vision of the self, and on the veldt of South Africa and in the rugged hills of the Indian Northwest Frontier young Britons found vast spaces within which to realize a grander vision of themselves. On the other hand, in the scramble for Africa in the 1880s and 1890s Greater Britain found its expansion checked by rival European powers in many parts of the world. In a society that featured strong pressures and enticements to support an embattled Empire, Britons both home and abroad felt constrained to define their identity in narrow, nationally self-serving rather than large, international terms. This was especially true in the Empire itself, for in military cantonments, civil stations, and colonial settlements, Britons encountered social, professional, and political arrangements whose codes were often more severe and unbending than those they had left at home. These codes were especially inflexible in British India. As Francis G. Hutchins has pointed out, the English middle class in India often outdid their counterparts at home in their fidelity to English middle-class custom (108). The young heroes of juvenile adventure literature seemed to promise readers an escape from this contradiction. In the adventure fiction of Charles and Henry Kingsley, R. M. Ballantyne, G. A. Henty, W. H. G. Kingston, H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling, male readers young and old embraced the myth that one could grow up to be robustly free and yet remain resolutely manly, Christian, and British. This myth flourished even more strongly in the juvenile magazines and papers, like Boy's Own Paper and the later Boys of Our Empire, popular in the jingoistic Britain of the turn of the century (for discussion of this popular literature, see Dunae; James).

But relief from paradox was, in most of these fictions, only apparent. While the youthful protagonists of this genre sought self-aggrandizement in imperial theaters far from home, they also protected sedulously the image of themselves as young English gentlemen, guarding themselves against the possibility of “going native” or otherwise being “contaminated” by the Africans, Asians, Native Americans, or Pacific Islanders with whom they came in contact. In effect, they went abroad to assert an essentially home-grown identity. The ideology embodied in this literature, urging at once expansion and retraction of the self, made for odd effects of characterization, especially in the novels of Henty, whose heroes stand curiously wooden and impervious amid their exotic surroundings. Among the authors of this nineteenth-century genre, only Kipling tried, with any real sense of the possibilities at stake, to create a scope and variety of individual self-definition commensurate with the adventure story's largeness of geographical imagination. The narrative of The Jungle Book, part fantasy, part fable, and part adventure story, provides a powerful analogy for the British imperial subject caught between individual desire and social restraint. As we will see, Kipling's attempted broadening of the terms of imperial identity depends largely on a subtle handling of imperial space.

Juvenile fiction typically enacts a struggle between child and adult that begins in youthful unsettledness (anxiety, anger, or confusion) and ends in grown-up stability.1 But as Sarah Gilead has pointed out, children's fiction, and particularly children's fantasy literature, often violates this Bildungs pattern. The progressive movement from child to adult, configured formally in the movement from fantastic episode to realist frame is often undone in unexpected ways (277-78). In The Jungle Book, the education of Mowgli seems, at first, to offer a sure, though painful transformation of child into adult. But a closer look shows this change to be hedged. In the final framing story of the Mowgli series, “In the Rukh,” the hero seems to retain the ability, despite his choice of an adult identity as a servant of the British Raj, to regress to his earlier, jungle self. Although, as I will show, this ability rests on specious grounds, The Jungle Book as a whole clings to the possibility of having it both ways, of a wolf-child's growing to manhood without quite outgrowing his lupine identity. What allows Mowgli this double pleasure is the persistence of a “felicitous space” that emerges in the fantasy of childhood and survives the modulation from fantasy narrative to realist frame. I have taken this phrase from Gaston Bachelard, who uses it to describe those childhood images of enclosed space—houses, drawers, chests, wardrobes, nests, shells, corners, etc.—that arouse a sense of recollected delight, intimacy, and comfort in the adult writer and reader (xxxi-xxxii). Within this vestigial realm, Mowgli seems able to return to a selfhood of dual aspect the resists the narrowing definitions of a single, unitary adult identity.2

What is the nature of felicitous space in Kipling? How is identity shaped inside its boundaries? How does it permit the apparent persistence of the childish alongside the grown-up self? To the extent that the Raj contributes to the formation of this adult identity, what relationship obtains between felicitous space and British imperium?3 Given the tension between juvenile freedom and imperial duty, what finally is the nature of Mowgli's identity?


The answers to these questions require a close look at Kipling's conception of cultural identity in an imperial world, a conception that colored all his writings about India and, arguably, many of his later writings about England. Kipling's wrestlings with this issue were, in one sense, intensely personal. Born in Bombay to Anglo-Indian parents; sent to England at age six to endure the Evangelical hells of Southsea; hired at sixteen to work at the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette; after India resettled unhappily in London to launch a literary career; married to an American woman with whom he tried, with disastrous results, to put down roots in Vermont; resettled again in England only to move restlessly from house to house until he finally found a home at Bateman's in Sussex—Kipling spent much of his early and middle life trying to solve a conundrum of cultural affiliation unique in British life. Yet in another sense, his private quest for a secure sense of citizenship reflected a larger, public concern in turn-of-the-century Britain with the formation of an imperial culture, one that integrated a sense of Dilke's Greater Britain with a nationalist idea of Britain proper.

Kipling assumed a leading role in articulating the terms of this cultural project. In “Recessional” (1897), he adjured an arrogant, jingoistic England to recall the need for humility and contrition in maintaining her “Dominion over palm and pine.” Although the poem construes the European contest for empire as a fight among nations (“Judge of the Nations, spare us yet”), it offers, a few lines later, a parallel interpretation of the struggle as racial—between the English and the “lesser breeds without the Law” (Complete 327). Although Kipling was referring to the Germans with this phrase, in doing so he was invoking a kind of distinction that had a wide relevance among a people still clinging to evolutionist assumptions of racial supremacy. To Kipling, the Germans were only one of many lesser breeds grading down by discrete steps from the Anglo-Saxon at the top to the Australian aborigine at the bottom.

The racial theory that informed this distinction was that of racial typology. According to it, the world's population was divided into a finite number of racial types sharply distinguished from each other and existing in a condition of relative permanence despite intermixture (for discussion of the concept of racial type, see Biddis 11; Stepan 93-94; Stocking 48-49). Nineteenth-century physical anthropologists, who propounded the separate creation of different races (polygenesis), promoted the idea of racial typology most strenuously. But even those scientists who, in the wake of Darwin's Origin of Species, believed in a single origin for all humankind (monogenesis) advanced arguments about racial difference that betrayed affinities with polygenist notions of type (for discussion of the persistence of polygenist thinking among monogenists, see Stepan 83-110; Stocking 42-68). For them, the lower racial groups had diverged from the higher so long ago and had evolved so little since then as to constitute wholly different categories from the European (Biddis 17). A principle central to typological thought was that of “linkage”: the binding together, through hereditary transmission, of measurable physical attributes with less easily measured mental capacities (for commentary on linkage, see Biddis 11; Stepan 86). In the popular version of this principle, “blood,” or lineage, was the term by which this binding together was understood. Whether in its scientific or popular form, linkage asserted that races that were physically different were, by necessity, intellectually, morally, and spiritually dissimilar, too. Thus race, which was perceived initially as biological, came to have wide implications for the understanding of culture (Bolt 9). That races were biologically and culturally different came to suggest quite conveniently that some were better than others (Biddis 16). In the wake of the 1857-58 Indian Mutiny and the 1865 Jamaican Revolt, fears of racial strife made Britons even quicker to aver their superiority to the lesser breeds. The results of the Darwinian struggle for existence seemed to confirm, among scientific and lay thinkers alike, the existence of a racial pyramid—with the “dear” Anglo-Saxon race at the apex and the “cheaper” races descending to the base. So powerful was the argument of racial typologists that, among all the factors influencing human behavior, race came to be seen as dominant (Biddis 12). Sidonia in Disraeli's Tancred gave this racial determinism a ringing encapsulation: “‘All is race; there is no other truth’” (1: 191).

The official Anglo-Indian community to which Kipling belonged shared this preoccupation with race. At the turn of the century, the Anglo-Indian predilection for typing peoples by race culminated in the 1901 Indian Census under the direction of H. H. Risley. For this census the Government of India attempted an ethnographic mapping, in conjunction with the traditional demographic survey, of the peoples of India (Cohn 17). Risley was a firm proponent of typological theory, as his later The People of India made clear:

The modern science of ethnology endeavours to define and to classify the various physical types, with reference to their distinctive characteristics, in the hope that when sufficient data have been accumulated it may be possible in some measure to account for the types themselves, to determine the elements of which they are composed, and thus to establish their connexion with one or other of the great families of mankind.


Using various anthropometric measurements, Risley argued a clear link between physical type, race, and caste in India; indeed, he affirmed that in some cases he could ascertain a person's caste by certain anatomical indices, most notoriously the width of the subject's nose (Risley 29). What emerged under his guidance was a stratification of races, ranging from the Aryan at the top to the Dravidian at the bottom. In his grading of the races Risley was, in one sense, only corroborating Brahmin doctrine as old as the Vedas; but in a more important sense he was validating that doctrine as it had never been validated before, with the stamp of Western science (Risley 5). Anthropologists after Risley, who saw racial and caste status as much more ambiguous and flexible entities than he had, pointed up the epistemological, social, and political dangers of Risley's efforts to pigeonhole Indians by physical type (for criticisms of Risley's classification, see Béteille 38-42; Cohn 15, 21; Ghurye 281, 285). However, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many Anglo-Indian administrators adhered to Risley's brand of particularist and hierarchical racialism, insisting on clear distinctions between Indian racial types (Cohn 21). Naturally, they extended this way of thinking to British relations with Indians. If the gap between the Brahmin and the Dravidian was wide, then the distance dividing the Englishman from the Brahmin was equally great.

It was in the context of this ethnographic discourse that Kipling grappled with the idea of cultural identity in India. We might suspect that a man born in Bombay, whose first language was Hindustani, whose early companions were Indian servants, and who spent seven years of his early adulthood working as a journalist in India would question the truth of a discourse that made such hard-and-fast, invidious distinctions among races. Indeed, in many ways, both in his personal life and his work, Kipling quietly rebelled against the particularist and hierarchical premises of racial typology. Although many of his Indian works echo with irritating frequency the clichés of British racial ideology (e.g., the superiority of the “martial” Muslim to the “effeminate” Hindu), others reflect a more heterodox conception of race. Against the official attempt to draw lines between racial groups, these works feature the elision or transgression of racial boundaries. In this regard, his use of felicitous space is crucial. Within these spaces, the rigidities of typological theory are relaxed, and in the apparent absence of racial hierarchy, a limited egalitarianism flourishes. Kipling's memoir, Something of Myself, conveniently illuminates three crucial aspects of these spaces: their setting in a fictional landscape, the constitution of identity within their borders, and the nature of the law that secures their integrity.

An early scene from the memoir sheds light on the first aspect. In it Kipling recalls that after reading Robinson Crusoe as a boy he invented a game in which he “set up in business alone as a trader with savages”:

My apparatus was a coconut shell strung on a red cord, a tin trunk, and a piece of packing-case which kept off any other world. Thus fenced about, everything inside the fence was quite real, but mixed with the smell of damp cupboards. If the bit of board fell, I had to begin the magic all over again. I have learned since from children who play much alone that this rule of “beginning again in a pretend game” is not uncommon. The magic, you see, lies in the ring or fence that you take refuge in.


On one level, the ring that Kipling describes is the boundary that marks off all art from the world. However, on another, more important level, the child's fence is the prototype of all those frames that the adult used in his fiction to cordon off ideal realms from the real world. In some cases these frames are physical—for example, the barred gate separating Holden and Ameera's home from a world inimical to interracial love in “Without Benefit of Clergy.” In other cases the fences are abstract—the ethos that encloses the “Inner Ring” of spies in Kim (Lewis 115), for example, or the code of honor that separates the “two strong men” from lesser men in “The Ballad of East and West” (Complete 236). In every case, however, these enclaves permit within their borders the suspension of ordinary relations between persons of different “races.”

The nature of identity in these spaces is suggested by a second scene from Something of Myself. As a young boy, Kipling moved effortlessly within the Indian world of his parents' servants. As a special mark of this privilege, his bearer took him to Hindu temples from which adult Anglo-Indians were barred because of caste law (3). This ability to float between Anglo-Indian and Indian societies, without religious or social sanction, arose from the Anglo-Indian child's peculiar status in the Indian caste system. By birth, Rudyard was considered a mlech, or foreigner, who by definition existed in a condition of pollution outside the caste system. Yet the Anglo-Indian child was also, as his memoir puts it, “below the age of caste”—the age, that is, at which a person's caste status would have been formally confirmed.4 Thus, the child Rudyard was in effect uncasted, existing in a state of suspended caste identity that would be validated only later and that, in the meantime, allowed him free and unpenalized passage between Anglo-Indian and Indian realms. As we will see later, the distinction here between being outcasted (exiled from the caste system) and uncasted (free of the force of caste law) is crucial. The action of caste law having been postponed, a kind of Rousseauistic natural law obtained for the boy; under it, he was shorn of his normal caste status and allowed to accompany a Hindu as his virtual equal.

Throughout his career, Kipling was fascinated by the idea of castelessness. In Kim he gives the notion freest rein. The spy ring that Kim joins has as its shibboleth “‘There is no caste when men go to—look for tarkeean [curry]’” (300-01). And for Teshoo Lama, “‘To those who follow the Way there is neither black nor white, Hind nor Bhotiyal. We be all souls seeking escape’” (348). Other works also explore the idea of being beyond caste. In “The Ballad of East and West,” “there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, / When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!” (Complete 233). Brother Square-Toes finds, while living among the Indians, that “‘there wasn't much odds 'twix me and a young Seneca buck’” (“Brother” 193). And in the two Jungle Books, both Mowgli and Purun Bhagat are described as being without or beyond caste (Jungle [The Jungle Book] 305; “Miracle” 175). In Kipling such freedom from ethnic or social labels often requires a psychological return to childhood. Gobind, the bard in the Preface to In Black and White, finds the liberating power of story in its capacity to strip away the years: “‘God has made very many heads, but there is only one heart in all the world among your people or my people. They are children in the matter of tales’” (ix). When the middle-aged Kipling himself discovered a group of Serangs on a P& O boat bound for Egypt, he yearned for the delights of castelessness in childhood: “But for the passage of a few impertinent years, I should have gone without hesitation to share their rice. Serangs used to be very kind to little white children below the age of caste” (“Sea Travel” 243-44).

A third detail from Something of Myself hints at the law that permits free racial intercourse within these felicitous spaces. As a young journalist, Kipling joined the Freemasons as a member of “Lodge Hope and Perseverance 782 E.C.” in Lahore (51), an organization of which he remained a loyal member the rest of his life. The philosophy of Freemasonry, with its emphasis on human brotherhood regardless of race, creed, or nation, gave his hunger for intimacy beyond caste distinctions the justification of a strictly codified, quasi-religious law. The poem “The Mother-Lodge” presents in distilled form the tenets of this order. The Cockney speaker describes the activities of his Indian lodge, whose members include Anglo-Indians, Hindus, Muslims, and an Aden Jew. The refrain distinguishes the members' special relations inside from those outside the lodge:

Outside—“Sergeant! Sir! Salute! Salaam!”
Inside—“Brother,” an' it doesn't do no 'arm.
We met upon the Level an' we parted on the Square,
An' I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

(Complete 443)

Although it will become apparent later in the essay that this vision of fraternal equality is gravely flawed, for now it is enough to note how appealing the speaker finds this limited egalitarianism, this leveling of conventional rankings within a circumscribed space. Kipling valued the kind of cosmopolitan society depicted here: when he moved from Lahore to Allahabad to work for the Pioneer, he chose to enroll himself in the only lodge that included non-Europeans among its members (Wilson 314). In the depiction of felicitous spaces in much of his work, he was implicitly indebted to Freemasonry as a model and sanction for their egalitarian ethos.


A full catalogue of felicitous spaces in Kipling's oeuvre would be a long one. However, the combined landscapes of the two Jungle Books are more dotted with magical enclaves than any other piece of fictional geography in Kipling. In every instance, species who are normally antagonistic live in brotherhood with one another. The Mowgli series of the first Jungle Book is no exception. From his initial integration into the wolf pack in “Mowgli's Brothers” to his final enlistment in the British Raj in “In the Rukh,” the clearing of felicitous spaces ostensibly permits the hero to balance his allegiances to the normally rival human and bestial worlds.

“How Fear Came,” the third story in The Jungle Book, is the proper starting-point for any discussion of felicitous space, since here Kipling tells the story of the first such realm: Eden itself. According to Hathi the Elephant, the animals of the primordial forest “‘walked together’” under the Jungle Law, “‘having no fear of one another’” and knowing nothing of man (91). This perfect amity was destroyed, however, when the First of the Tigers, forgetting that he was protector of the jungle, killed first a deer and then a man. To restore order, the elephant Tha, the then Lord of the Jungle, introduced Fear into the world. Since the tiger had taught man to kill, from now on man would threaten all the animals of the jungle with death. On this cornerstone of fear, the Jungle Law, in many ways more just then human jurisprudence, was raised.

The tale has a crucial bearing on the relationship between felicitous space and Mowgli's identity. Under the original version of the Law, man was irrelevant to the jungle because there was no need for the terrible fear he aroused. But with the violation of jungle peace, the Law gave man a role in the jungle scheme of things, a role that proves ambiguous. Although he lives outside the jungle, he must nonetheless enter it at times to maintain peace. The Law provides for his occasional incursion to exact revenge for an animal's killing of a man or woman; however, it does not readily allow for the sustained presence of a human being. Yet that is precisely what Mowgli threatens when he crawls into Mother and Father Wolf's cave. As the innocuous toddler grows to manhood, he creates increasing conflict in the jungle community, dividing those who wish to include him in their ranks from those who want to expel him. This division creates, in turn, a schism within him between his lupine and human selves. Only by trying, paradoxically, to recreate the happy relations of the original Eden—in effect, returning to the time before the intervention of man—can Mowgli find peace with his jungle friends and within himself.

“Mowgli's Brothers,” the first of the Jungle Book tales, tells the story, from induction to exile, of Mowgli's life in the wolf-pack. It also defines the tension between the two sides of his identity and hints at a possible means of alleviating that strain. The boy enters the pack when he is abandoned by his parents, and like many orphans in Kipling (and in Victorian literature in general), he starts life with an advantage: the ability to fashion a self initially free of the constraints of his natural parents' “caste.” Other limitations are quickly imposed on his choice of identity, however, when the tiger Shere Khan challenges Mother and Father Wolf's adoption. This confrontation grows to involve the entire jungle community. In effect, the debate pits against each other two means of determining cultural identity: one based on ascription (or birth), the other on group affiliation. These two tests derive from different readings of the Jungle Law, a difference that points up a fundamental confusion.

Shere Khan and his supporters argue for ostracism because for them Mowgli, by “blood,” has no place in the jungle. Mother and Father Wolf, his teachers Baloo and Bagheera, and the wolf chief Akela contend, however, that since Mowgli has been inducted into the tribe by the proper ceremony, he is “‘[their] brother in all but blood’” (27). The disagreement revolves around the status of lineage. For one party that factor determines cultural identity absolutely; for the other it is subordinate to other criteria of cultural make-up. In the history of debate about race, the former position roughly corresponds to that held by late-nineteenth-century proponents of typology. The latter position, with its implicit recognition of Mowgli's capacity to move in two cultures, anticipates, in striking ways, the modern concept of “impression management,” by which a person can fashion different identities to fit into different cultural settings (Royce 211).

For a while, Mowgli's allies carry the day. During this time, the boy learns the intricate ways of jungle life under Baloo and Bagheera and befriends the creatures of the jungle. The tales that describe this period in his life—“Kaa's Hunting,” “How Fear Came,” and “The King's Ankus”—derive their quality of deep wonder from the felicity of Mowgli's relations with the animals, a harmony made possible by the uncasted hero's being neither clearly wolfish nor human. His name captures perfectly his ambiguous, amphibious selfhood at this time: “Mowgli” is Hindi for “frog” (McClure 61). By the end of the tale, however, some wolves think Mowgli has grown too old to maintain his dual identity, and grow more vehement for his expulsion. A bitter Mowgli in effect settles the debate by leaving the jungle. In doing so, he ironically endorses his enemies' viewpoint. By making his rivals quail before the Red Branch, he vindicates their belief in his foreignness: only a man could have resorted to the use of fire against the other creatures of the jungle. None other than his guardian, Bagheera the tiger, echoes his enemies' claim: “‘thou must go back to men at last,—to the men who are thy brothers’” (20).

Yet who are Mowgli's brothers? The human beings whose “blood” is his, but who have nonetheless abandoned him? Or the jungle companions who have sworn their fraternity? In spite of Bagheera's words, Mowgli's place in the world remains unclear. His enemies have made impossible his return to the bosom of the wolf-pack. However, his wolf brothers hold out the hope of a conditional return. They invite him to “‘Come to the foot of the hill when thou art a man, and we will talk to thee; and we will come into the crop-lands to play with thee by night’” (31). On one level, their envisioned play represents a regression to their childhood, when Mowgli and his brothers tumbled over each other heedless of the difference between skin and hide. On another level, it signifies a return to the days of the early Law, when jungle society was unriven by interspecies fear. On both levels, he is able to recuperate his previously ambiguous identity.

“Tiger, Tiger,” the story relating Mowgli's first encounter with human beings after his farewell to the wolf-pack, confirms his growing friendship with his wolf brothers. The inhabitants of the village into which the boy walks treat him with contempt and fear. Mowgli responds by turning to his jungle friends, enlisting their help to assassinate the tiger Shere Khan, who has threatened to kill him. After the killing, the villagers drive Mowgli from their midst despite the protests of his adoptive mother, Messua. Mowgli returns to the jungle to lay the tiger's hide on the Council Rock, but he knows he cannot remain with the wolf-pack. In the tail-verse “Mowgli's Song,” he laments his double alienation: as Mang the bat “flies between the beasts and the birds, so fly I between the village and the jungle.” “These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the spring. … I am two Mowglis …” (137).

Embittered, he departs to hunt in the jungle alone, but his four wolf brothers, in a crucial gesture, refuse to leave him. Mowgli agrees to their company, and together they compose a small, mobile, egalitarian elite. Mowgli's membership in the band yields him two things. First, he is allowed to be “two Mowglis” without the two fighting each other—in a sense, he trades the misery of the outcast for the pleasures of the uncasted. Second, he is given a home in the jungle with his wolf friends. This boon, however, has its limitations, for although Mowgli and his wolf brothers remain physically in the jungle, they constitute an anomaly within the wolf community, the majority of whom still consider him an enemy by blood. As the remaining Mowgli stories show, the need to attach this extraordinary circle to a larger social and political entity will become the wolf-boy's most serious task.

“Letting in the Jungle,” the next story in the Mowgli series, points in two different directions. On the one hand, it calls attention to the persistent conflict between Mowgli's two selves. On the other, it hints at that larger world with which Mowgli and his brothers could together affiliate themselves. Hunted now by the villagers, who also threaten to burn his adoptive human parents as witches, Mowgli enlists his entire band of jungle friends, including his wolf brothers, Bagheera, and Hathi the Elephant, to make war on the village. “‘It is not well that they should live here any more,’” he says, “‘I hate them!’” (173). His campaign ends in the total destruction of the village, as Hathi and his elephant children trample it flat.

Mowgli's words and deeds seem the most thorough-going rejection of humanity and the clearest endorsement of a continued life within the charmed circle of his jungle friends. Yet in crucial respects, his role in the war paradoxically underscores his status as a man antithetical to jungle ways. When Bagheera's glee at the prospect of human slaughter flares into grandiose visions of his power over the “‘the naked brown digger’” man (164), Mowgli checks him swiftly with a man's level stare. As Bagheera licks his foot, Mowgli whispers “‘Brother—Brother—Brother! … It is the fault of the night, and no fault of thine’” (165). Mowgli's condescension is obvious, as is the contradiction in his fraternal address. When he compels Hathi, the most powerful beast in the jungle, to serve in his campaign, he makes complete his supremacy over the jungle animals. Although he asks them to destroy a human habitation, he does so by unabashed exploitation of that human power over the bestial vouchsafed by Jungle Law. Mother Wolf reminds Mowgli, “‘Man goes to Man at the last’” (160).

With the ruination of the village, however, it remains unclear how Mowgli can rejoin his human companions. Indeed, the tension between his jungle and human affiliations has been screwed to its highest pitch yet. The key to resolving Mowgli's dilemma lies in Bagheera's enigmatic speech to Baloo about the newly assertive wolf-boy: “‘There is more in the Jungle now than Jungle Law’” (147). By his leadership, Mowgli has introduced a new element of rule, human rule, into the jungle. This is not simply the old fear of human beings, but a new respect for human leadership. Yet where does this rule originate? It cannot come from the villagers, since they, in their cruelty and injustice, effectively have no law. Nor can it derive from any other human community, since Mowgli has known no other since his orphanage. Indeed, the new authority he represents is proleptic; his impulse to decency and order, having outstripped his jungle training, awaits the confirmation of a more powerful, upright, but as yet unknown human law. Messua unwittingly reveals this higher law when she speaks of the English in Khanhiwara, who can offer her legal redress for her grievances. To Mowgli's qustion about the nature of this “‘Pack,’” she answers, “‘They be white, and it is said that they govern all the land, and do not suffer people to burn or beat each other without witnesses’” (160).5

The decisive importance of the British Raj in Mowgli's life will become obvious only in the last Mowgli tale, “In the Rukh.” Yet, taken together, Bagheera's words about Mowgli's emergent authority and Messua's speech about English law mark a significant shift in jungle life: they give the action of The Jungle Book a dimension of history that has been largely lacking until now. The time within which Mowgli moves in the early tales is clearly the timelessness of fable. Indeed, much of the charm of The Jungle Book derives from its evocation of a world outside of historical time. Bagheera's enigmatic assertion in “Letting in the Jungle,” however, suggests a shift from one dispensation to another and, with it, the entrance of history. Mowgli will have to clarify his relationship to the British with whom his future lies. In this process felicitous space will again be crucial in reconciling his rival allegiances to bestial and human cultures.


“In the Rukh,” the concluding tale of The Jungle Book, relates Mowgli's entry into adulthood as a servant of the British Raj.6 In the beginning of the story, Mowgli introduces himself to the English forester Gisborne as “‘a man without caste, and for matter of that, without a father’” (305). In the previous Mowgli tale, “The Spring Running,” the hero had formally departed the jungle, and in so doing, had cast off his bestial fathers in Kaa, Baloo, and Bagheera. He comes to Gisborne, then, to find a new father-figure, and by the end of “In the Rukh” he has found him in the British ranger. At the same time, he has also discovered his caste as a ranger and forest-guard working for the British Raj. With the discovery of his place in the world, his identity, formerly ambiguous, seems single and fixed: that of an Indian, susceptible to occasional wolfish tendencies, but safely employed by the British.

Despite his desire to become a servant of the Raj, however, Mowgli is unwilling to sacrifice his ties to the jungle. He keeps intact his dual affiliations—human and jungle—by separating his public from his private life. As a public servant, he works for a Raj headquartered in Gisborne's bungalow. But his domestic life, which includes his Indian wife and his four wolf brothers, unfolds on the edge of the rukh, “in a little semicircular glade walled partly by high grass and partly by trees” (333-34). One day Gisborne finds them there: “In the centre, upon a fallen trunk, his back to the watchers and his arm round the neck of [his wife] sat Mowgli, newly crowned with flowers, playing upon a rude bamboo flute, to whose music four huge wolves danced solemnly on their hind legs” (334). Gisborne refrains from trespassing on the glade, and Mowgli's little paradise remains inviolate. The Raj's German head forester, Muller, calls Mowgli an “‘Adam in der Garden’” who has found his “‘Eva’” (332). It seems that the Eden in “How Fear Came” has been reassembled on a higher level (a kind of Blakean “reorganized innocence”), with man and beast at peace with one another. There, beyond the confining pressures of the adult world, Mowgli seems able to slip back into a state of playful, primordial castelessness in which he is neither human nor bestial.

A closer look, however, reveals a snake in the new Eden. In staking off the glade for himself and his family, Mowgli has not really escaped the world of Gisborne and Muller. In fact, “newly crowned with flowers,” he has established a kingdom whose rule depends heavily on notions of imperial rule. Earlier he seemed to live in fraternal egalitarianism with his wolf brothers, yet their relationship here belies any notion of true equality. Indeed, Mowgli presents to his wolf companions a dual aspect: that of master and of brother. Mowgli's friends are what Chinua Achebe, quoting Albert Schweitzer, has called “junior brothers”—brethren in intimacy but juniors in rank (787). The potential for condescension in this brotherhood had been present from the start. Even as a child, the weakest of the wolf-pack, Mowgli could always outstare the jungle creatures. And as he grew older, the strain between the fraternal and magisterial impulses in him increased. The contradiction in Mowgli's relationship with his wolf brothers appears blatantly in his description of his early life to Gisborne: “‘So I learned to track and to hunt, sending and calling my brothers back and forth as a king calls his armies’” (337).

Kipling's version of brotherhood here is a late-Victorian revival of that social arrangement celebrated earlier by Carlyle and Ruskin: the close reciprocity of feudal patronage, in which the grateful fealty of the servant was matched by the master's warm noblesse oblige (Stokes, Political 26). In India, this conservative doctrine was embodied in the paternalists' school initiated by the British administrators Munro, Malcolm, Elphinstone, and Metcalfe in the early nineteenth century and revived by the Lawrence brothers in the Punjab of the 1840s. Combining a Romantic fondness for the peasant with a close knowledge of traditional Indian government, the paternalists sought to create an administration of benevolent, personal rule (Stokes, English 8-25, 243-45). Kipling admired the paternalist achievement, and if his Indian works are any indication, the young writer hoped for its resurrection as an alternative to the remote, coldly efficient Utilitarianism that dominated British government after the Indian Mutiny (Stokes, English 268-69).

“In the Rukh” shows the paternalist ideal to apply throughout the rukh, both outside and inside Mowgli's glade. Although the walled-off paradise seems to restore an Edenic castelessness where modern distinctions between man and beast are erased, it in fact imports into its midst a version of the authority it wishes to exclude. The glade's wall is permeable, and that permeability belies the clear distinction between inner and outer on which Kipling's conception of felicitous space depends. To use the terms of “The Mother-Lodge,” with the dissolution of the lodge walls, the Masonic vision of equality in brotherhood melts away.

We might be tempted to see in Mowgli's kingly position and Dionysian dress the accoutrements of divinity. As McClure puts it, “to be above yet to belong, to be obeyed as a god and loved as a brother, this is Kipling's dream for the imperial ruler, a dream that Mowgli achieves” (60). But godliness, the absolute freedom of the divine, is illusory, for Mowgli's paradise is not a creation independent of imperial politics but a coextensive product of it. As Foucault has pointed out, to speak of liberation from the claims of power, as if power relations could be transcended, is a misconception (156-59). Tactical reversals within these relations (subversions, insurgencies, destabilizations) may occur, and indeed this is what Mowgli's enclosure is meant to represent: a tiny realm of personal rule that seems to ward off the Raj's enveloping authority. But this resistance requires the Empire's tacit cooperation (Gisborne's polite non-intervention) and approval (Muller's wonder). Without the artifice of antithesis thus agreed upon, Mowgli's enclave would have little point or force. Mowgli and his family are not the only beneficiaries of this arrangement: from it the Raj, too, derives profit, for sites of resistance like Mowgli's help to mask the extent and power of its rule. (These felicitous spaces also provide comfort for imperialists: it is doubtful whether Kipling's public commitment to empire would have been so strong had not his private “Daemon” allowed him the respite of such Mowglis in the glade.)

Complicity in empire marks, more or less, all the Mowgli stories. Many readers of The Jungle Books have celebrated Kipling's power to expose the primitive otherness that lies beneath the surface of our civilization. J. M. S. Tompkins has spoken of the books' powerful evocation of “the wild and strange, the ancient and the far” (68). For J. I. M. Stewart, the series' appeal lies in Kipling's “power to bring, as from very far away, reports which validate themselves in the telling” (143-44). Daniel Karlin stresses the element of “dark inward play” and of “something other, something recalcitrantly estranged from human experience” (Introduction 8, 23). But it would be wrong to divorce this strangeness from the ordinariness of empire. Throughout the Mowgli series, Kipling hints at the presence of the British Raj. In the first tale, the real reason against man-killing is that it means, “sooner or later, the arrival of white men on elephants, with guns, and hundreds of brown men with gongs and rockets and torches” (5). And intermittently, in the other stories, the Raj announces its quiet yet mighty presence on the edges of the wild, fabulous jungle. Across this rukh the Empire has lightly stretched its grid of authority, and though the Law of the Jungle may seem far from the white man's law—older and more authentic—it is in fact bounded and permeated by the Raj.

That authority ultimately determines the lives of all who live under it, including Mowgli's. It regulates his relations with his jungle friends and finally governs the riddle of his identity. As much as we are meant to believe that he can withdraw into the glade to be a brother to his wolf friends, the Raj's insistence on hierarchy foils this dream. Likewise, as much as “In the Rukh” would have us believe that he can escape the straight-jacket of a unitary adult self-hood to enjoy the liberty of juvenile castelessness, imperial ideology, with its need for clear distinctions between colonizer and colonized, forbids such murkiness of identity. By the time that Mowgli has joined Gisborne, he has found both his father and his caste under that father's law. No longer “below the age of caste,” he can no longer enjoy the fruits of the non-specific, non-stratified subjectivity he enjoyed as a child. Shere Khan was thus both wrong and right about Mowgli's identity. His insistence on the primacy of lineage held little force when Mowgli was no more than a cub. But the factor of “blood,” that concept so fundamental to the discourse of racial typology, was always latent in the on-going definition of Mowgli's identity, ready to express itself when the Raj required its emphasis. Although “blood” in itself is not determinative, its value within an imperial framework, in which all adult members are required to serve the Raj according to their rank, does prove crucial. In this sense, imperial ideology gives the theory of racial types a particular applicability. As long as Mowgli is too young to serve the Empire, he may dwell in happy castelessness beyond racial distinctions. But once he becomes part of the Raj, he has to bow, regardless of where he stands, to the decisive, disambiguating force of race.

The deep joy in ambiguity of the early Jungle Book tales is undeniable, but it lies in a freedom from caste that disappears with adulthood. The figure of the Romantic child had its charm for Kipling, and in Mowgli he lent that image a unique magic by grounding its full and various being not simply in “primal sympathy” with Nature but in identification with a primordial castelessness. In light of the powerful prohibition against “going native” in most nineteenth-century adventure fiction, Mowgli's early integration of the “native” (i.e., lupine) into his human self represents a bold departure from the mainstream. But given the requirements of empire, the power of this uncasted figure to inform adult imperial identity is sharply limited. The delights of early felicitous space cannot be translated to those later reconstructions of it in Mowgli's adult life. If that early space seems to lie beyond Foucault's power relations, it is only because the action of those relations has been postponed. Only by a willful nostalgia for childhood, indulged in the face of imperial exigencies, could Kipling and his readers hold that, in the rukh's glade, Mowgli returns to the protean selfhood of his wolf-boy days. Mowgli manages to avoid the constriction of identity that afflicts so many young heroes of nineteenth-century adventure fiction, but only for so long. As Mother Wolf reminds us, “Man goes to Man at the last.”


  1. See Bettelheim 63; Coveney 277. For some readers, including Peter Coveney, much Victorian children's literature features a retreat from rather than an acceptance of adult identity (Bratton 147; Carpenter 16; Coveney 240). For a study of maturational patterns in Kipling's fictions of adolescence, see Moss.

  2. Readers have often noted Kipling's fascination with ambivalence, ambiguity, and other forms of doubleness, and recently, with the post-structuralist predilection for seizing on the self-reflexive and self-interrogative in literature, the Kipling of two, and sometimes more, sides of his head has drawn increasing attention. For more traditional treatments of ambiguity in Kipling, see among others Dobrée; Mason; Shahane; Wilson. More recent explorations of doubleness tend to focus on the vexed, multiple, proliferating, or indeterminate readings created by Kipling's complex narrative strategies. In this regard, see Crook; Hanson; Karlin, “Plain”; Kemp; Lodge. Most of these writers, early and late, find in Kipling's use of uncertainty profound consequences for the construction of identity.

  3. Several critics have noted that The Jungle Book is a primer, in thin disguise, for future imperial servants. John A. McClure and Mark Paffard offer the most recent and incisive accounts of the Mowgli series as a “fable of imperial education and rule” (McClure 59). I agree with much of what they have to say. However, my argument has less to do with the book's lessons than with its pedagogical settings—in particular, with the formal and ideological functions of felicitous space.

  4. Strangely, no Kipling scholar has ever bothered to gloss this important phrase. Anthropologists and other writers who have commented on the role of children in Indian life, however, shed some light. Although according to Hindu custom all children enter their parents' caste at birth (Mayer 340) and quickly become inculcated in caste matters (Mandelbaum 1: 120), caste identity does not seem deeply marked until later in life. The touching of children outside of one's caste, for instance, is the least polluting of actions among those that count as violations of caste law (Dumont 133).

  5. The importance of Messua here and Mother Wolf earlier suggests the need for an understanding of the maternal in The Jungle Book. The resonances of the phrase “The Mother-Lodge” would require us to widen our inquiry to include maternal influences on Kipling's general notion of felicitous realms.

  6. Some readers have objected to the inclusion of “In the Rukh” in The Jungle Book. Dennis Karlin, for one, frowns at the “creeping legitimization” of its place in the Mowgli series (Introduction 347). But “In the Rukh” has the important role of rounding off the Mowgli story. “The Outsong,” the tail-verse to “The Spring Running,” alludes to a life of “toil” to succeed Mowgli's time in the jungle (295). “In the Rukh” describes that future of work. Kipling may have revised the tale to fit in with the series (Stewart 140-41), he wrote a preface to it in 1896 that shows the close relationship between it and the foregoing tales (Karlin, Introduction 346-47), and he himself moved it from Many Inventions to The Jungle Book for the Outward Bound Edition (1897). The exclusion of “In the Rukh” from The Jungle Books of the Sussex Edition is, I think, unfortunate.

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Coveney, Peter. The Image of Childhood: The Individual and Society. A Study of the Theme in English Literature. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967.

Crook, Nora. Kipling's Myths of Love and Death. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

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Don Randall (essay date 1998)

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SOURCE: Randall, Don. “Post-Mutiny Allegories of Empire in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 41, no. 1 (spring 1998): 97-120.

[In the following essay, Randall underscores how British imperial history, particularly the history of mutinies, informs Kipling's short fiction.]

In Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 Patrick Brantlinger highlights the special status of the Indian Mutiny in the British empire's cultural legacy. Briefly documenting post-Mutiny literary production, he observes, “at least fifty [Mutiny novels] were written before 1900, and at least thirty more before World War II. There was also a deluge of eyewitness accounts, journal articles, histories, poems and plays dealing with the 1857-58 rebellion.” Brantlinger concurs with Hilda Gregg, who first affirmed, in 1897, the Mutiny's unparalleled capacity to capture and command the British imperial imagination. He also remarks that Gregg, more impressed with the quantity than the quality of Mutiny fictions, regretted that Rudyard Kipling (in 1897, a young writer at the zenith of celebrity) had not made his contribution. Duly attentive to the inflammatory xenophobia of much Mutiny-inspired writing,1 Brantlinger suggests, “Perhaps Kipling intuitively avoided a subject that so tempted other writers to bar the doors against imaginative sympathy” (199).

Unlike so many of his predecessors and contemporaries—Meadows Taylor, G. A. Henty, Flora Annie Steel, among others—Kipling never produced what one might properly call “a Mutiny tale.” Given, however, Kipling's status as the popularly acclaimed “bard” of the Indian empire, his silence upon the topic seems strange indeed. As Brantlinger asserts at the outset, “No episode of British imperial history raised public excitement to a higher pitch” (199). Making an abundantly documented case, he establishes the 1857 revolt as an emotionally charged, key referent of later-nineteenth-century imperial mythmaking and ideology. To accept, then, the main thrust of Brantlinger's argument is to recognize that the Mutiny constitutes, for Kipling, an unavoidable topic. The question is not if but rather where and how he addressed it.2

In this essay, I will strive to show how British imperial history and, most specifically, Mutiny history shape and inform Kipling's fictions and also how these fictions rework and reconfigure imperial history. As James Morris affirms in Heaven's Command, “the emotions of the Mutiny found their echoes all over the British Empire, permanently affecting its attitudes, and leaving scars and superstitions that were never quite healed or exorcised” (246). Kipling's engagement with the emotionally fraught issues of the Mutiny topic is, for the most part, oblique, allusive, and allegorical. Post-Mutiny allegories—that is, narrative sequences organized upon allusive evocations of Mutiny scenes, situations, and events—occur most notably in the Mowgli tales of The Jungle Books, the texts upon which my analysis will focus. Kipling's jungle saga, I will argue, presents an allegorical, empire-affirming restaging of the history of British India, a restaging that is ordered upon yet unsettled by its inscription of the Mutiny crisis.


To consider Kipling as a post-Mutiny imperial allegorist requires that one place Kipling's fictions in relation with Mutiny history and, more particularly, with the British story of that history. Following upon initiatives of Pierre Macherey's The Theory of Literary Production, Jenny Sharpe in Allegories of Empire proposes a critical orientation that strives to discover “the absent text of history in the margins of literature, as its unconscious or ‘unsaid’.” In Sharpe's view,

History, forming the conditions of existence of the literary imagination, places limits and restrictions on what can be represented at any one moment. Fiction is granted licence to imagine events as they might have happened or in a way that history has failed to record.


Taking, then, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 as the “absent text” of Kipling's jungle fictions, my analysis will strive to show how the history informs the fictions and how the fictions reconstrue and reshape the history.

“Popular cognizance of the modern history of the Indian subcontinent,” writes Eric Stokes, “is limited appropriately to three episodes dignified by the names of ‘Clive,’ ‘the Mutiny,’ and ‘Gandhi’. For these unerringly epitomize its three decisive historical phases—the colonial onset, the crisis of consolidation, and the colonial defeat and withdrawal” (1). Thus naming “the Mutiny” as the signal moment and organizing referent of a British imperial “crisis of consolidation,” Stokes also acknowledges the prevalent if potentially perturbatory influence of “popular cognizance” or “folk memory” upon the historical analysis and evaluation of “the Mutiny” (Stokes, 1). As he observes in the opening paragraphs of The Peasant Armed, the 1857 insurrection takes shape as “a period-piece” that “still holds Western attention because of the intimate, human scale on which the action was conducted”; it evokes “the picture-book world with which the later Victorian age peopled its imagination and named its streets and public houses” (1). The vividness and abundance of Mutiny lore poses an acute problem even for the assiduous historiographer: “That the past should remain charged with emotion is the precondition of the historian's activity, but such emotion almost imprisons him within the framework of its own lines of interpretation” (4).3

To confront the Mutiny as history is to recognize, first and foremost, that the uprisings of 1857-58 offered a deeply disruptive, multifaceted challenge to British claims to colonial authority, a complex, multiply articulated calling into question of the reign of “justice” and “efficiency.” Curiously, from the mid-nineteenth century through to the present day, the Indian rebellion has been insistently represented as “mutiny,” as a military revolt against a constituted and—tacitly, ostensibly—legitimate authority. Certainly, the Sepoys had rebelled against their British officers. Yet they were prompt in pursuing the capture of Delhi and in making their appeal to a higher authority, Bahadur Shah, nominally the “King of India.” Although the Shah's participation in the rebellion was both cautious and coerced, the inscription of his name and that of his capital upon rebel initiatives had considerable symbolic implications that the British could not ignore. Stokes sums up the case:

within the space of twenty-four hours, what began as merely the latest and ugliest of a long series of mutinous incidents in the Bengal army had swelled monstrously into full-scale political rebellion. Delhi, the capital of the ancien régime, had assumed the leadership of a movement to liberate India from the white man's yoke.


Thus, even the military insurrection rapidly acquired a more than military character. And, as Indian nationalist historian Sashi Bhusan Chaudhuri first emphasized, the overall development of the Indian rebellion consistently evidenced nonmilitary, populist and regional aspects, which are effectively effaced by the name of “Mutiny.” In his study, Stokes speaks of a “Mutiny Rebellion,” subdividing his topic into zones of military mutiny or of civil rebellion and submitting the revolt to a scrupulously regionalized analysis. He stresses, moreover, that, among nineteenth-century British interpreters, “The nature of the 1857 uprising aroused fierce controversy from the outset.” The name of “Mutiny” reflects a reassuring official perspective: “The official British explanation was that the Bengal Native Army alone had mutinied and that any civil disturbances were the natural by-products of the breakdown of law and order” (4). Other sources perceived, however, “a formidable civil rebellion” or even “a national insurrection” evidencing “premeditated design” and, for some, “a Mohomedan conspiracy” (5-7). Yet another interpretation, more securely grounded in historical data, propounded a “peasant revolt” energized by disruptive British interventions in preexisting local systems of property (9-12). This “predominantly economic interpretation,” Stokes observes, “is far from modern. Like most other theories of the revolt, it was one originally advanced by contemporaries.” It obtained, moreover, a significant degree of purchase in powerful circles, among post-Mutiny policy makers (11).

What British imperial interpretations grapple with—affirming or disavowing, to varying degrees and in different ways—is the possibility that the “Mutiny” constituted “a broad, popular uprising,” a generalized, if variously articulated, disaffection with and resistance to British rule—a view, as Stokes notes, that was not without its proponents in the post-Mutiny debate (13). During the 1857 revolt India asserted itself as a multifarious socio-cultural territory, which assembled various classes, castes, regional groups, and communities having various relationships with British colonial power. The insurrection, as history, therefore tended to resist British attempts to submit it to an all-encompassing interpretation, to generalize upon an event that appeared so spectacularly plural in its motives and its enactments. “In a real sense,” asserts Stokes, “the revolt was essentially the revolt of a peasant army breaking loose from its foreign masters” (14). As such, it certainly revealed the precariousness of British power, both militarily and politically. “For as in all fragile military despotisms,” Stokes astutely notes, “any mutiny of the army predicated political revolution” (15).

Still more curious, therefore, than its naming is the fact that this so-called “Mutiny” ultimately takes shape in the late Victorian popular imagination not so much as crisis but rather as triumph. First for journalists and subsequently for poets, novelists, historians, it becomes the object of an oft-repeated, obsessive return. As Brantlinger's richly detailed and evocative treatment reveals, in innumerable retellings the 1857 revolt finds the forms of the grand narrative, with its sites of tragedy (“the Well at Cawnpore”), its great actions (“the Relief of Lucknow”), its heroes and martyrs (Lawrence, Havelock), and its villains (Bahadur Shah, Nana Sahib). It becomes, to use the famous phrase of Anglo-Indian historian Charles Crosthwaite, “the epic of the race” (quoted in Morris, Heaven's Command, 243). The celebratory assertion of ultimate victory thus subsumes and elides the discourse of crisis. Transformed by its passage into popular discourse, the historical event is recuperated for imperial ideology and acquires, moreover, the status of folklore. The Indian Mutiny becomes, as both Stokes and Brantlinger suggest, a constitutive element of the British Empire's story of itself—the stuff imperial dreams are made on. Kipling, therefore, is able to rewrite the Mutiny story and, at the same time, the story of British India in allegorical form, as imperial fable. His allusive and evocative jungle fictions register imperial fear and desire, aspiration and doubt, drawing upon and contributing to a shared socio-genetic image repertoire that emerges in response to the Mutiny crisis.4

This essay, then, will not strive to contribute to historiography of the 1857 rebellion nor, certainly, attempt to claim for Kipling any status as a historiographer. It will, however, demonstrate that Kipling fictionally restages the Mutiny story and, in so doing, consorts with what Ranajit Guha calls “the prose of counter-insurgency,” that is, the British “historiography” that strives to assimilate Indian anticolonial insurrection “to the transcendental Destiny of the British Empire” (74). This writing of Indian history, like Kipling's rewriting of it, implicitly or explicitly “celebrate[s] a continuity—that of British power in India.” It “serve[s] admirably to register the [insurgent] event as a datum in the life-story of the Empire” (71). Kipling, as I will show, renders the imperial “life-story” affirmatively yet allegorically. In his tales of the feral boy who becomes, gradually but inevitably, the “Master of the Jungle,” Kipling produces a fictional “prose of counter-insurgency,” which attempts to resolve the enduring anxieties and tensions informing the history and discourse of British imperialism in India.

My analysis of the Mowgli saga seeks to demonstrate, first, that Mowgli's Bildung is an empire-affirming allegorization of the history of British India and, secondly, that this allegorization is organized upon and ultimately disrupted by the Mutiny moment. I begin by considering the triumphant representation of imperial consolidation in the tale of Mowgli's early manhood, “In the Rukh,” which stages Mowgli's enabling identification with the British empire and establishes his status as an imperial hero. Turning subsequently to the tales of boyhood, my argument identifies the adolescent Mowgli as an imperial proxy, as a protagonist who represents the British imperial mission in the absence of the British colonizer. I then examine the structuring of Mowgli's world as an Indological India constituted upon and deeply informed by Western, imperial “knowledge” of India. Moving on to a close examination of the jungle-boy's narrative progress, I isolate and analyze the unsettling, allegorical inscriptions of the Mutiny upon Kipling's jungle tales.


An oddity in the publication history of the Mowgli saga makes of it a narrative that discovers its resolution in advance of its elaboration, a drama that is preceded by its epilogue. “In the Rukh,” published in Many Inventions in 1893, a year before the appearance of the first of the two Jungle Books, provides the comedic, empire-affirming dénouement of an as yet untold story: Mowgli, in the fullness of his youthful manhood, takes a wife and embarks upon a career of imperial service with the Department of Woods and Forests. His two principal actions are intimately intertwined, each being contingent upon the other: by accepting an imperial career Mowgli assures himself of the status and income necessary to claim a wife; by taking a wife, he confirms his stable placement within the human community and hence his candidacy for imperial service. Mowgli espouses, at one and the same time, humanity and the empire.5

In 1894 readers of Kipling open The Jungle Book with the reassuring foreknowledge that the ambivalencies marking Mowgli's drives, sympathies, and identifications, will discover an appropriately imperial resolution: the feral child among the wolves will ultimately pursue his human destiny in the service the empire. He has been chosen, moreover, to play an important role within the imaginative economy of the British imperial project. As the text of “In the Rukh” announces in a moment of epiphanic revelation, Mowgli is to be a hero of the imperial imagination. Having tracked Mowgli through the woods, Gisborne, accompanied by the wood-demon's reluctant father-in-law-to-be, comes upon a wondrous pageant:

There was the breathing of a flute in the rukh, as it might have been the song of some wandering wood-god. … The path ended in a little semicircular glade walled partly by high grass and partly by trees. In the centre, upon a fallen trunk, his back to the watchers and his arm round the neck of Abdul Gafur's daughter, sat Mowgli, newly crowned with flowers, playing upon a rude bamboo flute, to whose music four huge wolves danced solemnly on their hind legs.

(“Appendix A” of The Jungle Books, 345)

This sylvan flautist, this demigod who commands the natural world, associates himself with Orpheus or Pan or, as Gisborne's German colleague, Muller, observes, with “Adam in der Garden” (344). The rukh is presented in this key scene as an enchanted glade, as a little world constructed upon Mowgli's personal and individual scale, a world where everything is fitted to him—within his reach, available to his grasp. As the young man states his case, “The jungle is my house” (346), and the wolf-brethren “my eyes and feet” (347). Mowgli's lupine imago-figures have not, here, the potentially threatening, confrontational aspect that they, along with the other jungle denizens, frequently reveal in the tales of the hero's jungle boyhood. The ego has tamed its images, which now dance in ceremonial obeisance to the music of a sovereign will. Mowgli enjoys, in other words, what one might describe (in Lacanian terms) as an ideal imaginary relation with the jungle world: he is able to apprehend it in specular relation to himself, as a self-affirming system of similitudes and equivalences organized around his own body and selfhood.6 He therefore provides the possibility of a personal, intimate envisioning of an alien world. Certainly, there is truth in Muller's lament, “I shall nefer know der inwardness of der rukh” (344). And Gisborne, the other imperial alien, might also voice such a lament were he not granted a vision of that mysterious inwardness. To appreciative British eyes, Mowgli offers a glimpse of a “real” India, of a “natural and essential” India residing beyond the confounding veil of culture.

It is curious, yet strangely apt, that Mowgli, the first and still the most famous of Kipling's adolescent heroes, should be a feral child. The Mowgli saga draws upon existing knowledge of feral children, plays upon the European public's fascination with them. But, of course, Kipling's interest in the wild child is mythic rather than sociological and anthropological. Objects of public and scientific curiosity since the seventeenth century, feral children in Europe, as C. John Sommerville remarks, had been quite extensively documented by Linnaeus and others. Victor of Aveyron, a wild boy captured in 1798 (at the estimated age of eleven) and placed under the care and supervision of French physician Jean Itard, provides the most famous, most fully detailed case. Victor, under Nature's tutelage, acquires neither physical grace nor heightened sensibility and intelligence. He is, when first apprehended, “a surly, snapping beast”—amoral, emotionally and intellectually stunted, sensorially deranged (Sommerville, 134). “The crowds that turned out to watch Victor,” Sommerville pertinently notes, “expected that in a few months he would have picked up enough of the language to offer some striking observations on his life in the wilds” (135). In this respect, Victor frustrates most acutely the cultural desire he provokes, responding in significant ways to socialization, but never learning to speak. Kipling chooses against the historical feral child, electing instead his Mowgli, who gratifies, allegorically, the desire the factual and historical Victor disappoints, who brings a voice, provides a view, into the silence and secrecy of an alien world—the colonial “wilds.”

This offering of a privileged view into the secret world of the Other is not, of course, the full extent of the jungle youth's largess. Mowgli in his enchanted glade also presents an ideal image of imperial authority. “To be above yet to belong,” writes John McClure, “to be obeyed as a god and loved as a brother, this is Kipling's dream for an imperial ruler, a dream that Mowgli achieves” (60). And if Mowgli's power and knowledge must remain in large part mysterious, yet they are pledged to imperial service rather than to subversion and resistance: “I have eaten Gisborne's bread,” Mowgli affirms, “and presently I shall be in his service, and my brothers will be his servants” (347).

“Mowgli's paradise,” ascertains John McBratney, “is not a creation independent of imperial politics but a coextensive product of it” (289). Mowgli's status as a remarkably serviceable imperial hero is most saliently marked by Kipling's tale's subtle deployment and manipulation of the two modes of psychic identification which Slavoj Žižek, working from Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, has characterized as “imaginary” and “symbolic” identification. Emphasizing the crucial role of the gaze in processes of identification, Žižek explains:

Imaginary identification is identification with the image in which we appear likeable to ourselves, with the image representing “what we would like to be,” and symbolic identification, identification with the very place from where we are being observed, from where we look at ourselves so that we appear to ourselves likeable, worthy of love.


The clear and thorough apprehension of the significance of the enchanted glade experience requires, then, the recognition that it is (and must be) observed. The glade is not a site of freestanding, “private” experience, but rather the setting of a pageant, whose presentation within the narrative is contingent upon the advent of a spectator, Gisborne. As Žižek stresses:

Imaginary identification is always identification on behalf of a certain gaze in the Other. So, … apropos of every “playing a role,” the question to ask is: for whom is the subject enacting this role? Which gaze is considered when the subject identifies himself with a certain image?


Gisborne's status as the appropriate spectator is confirmed, of course, by the presence of an inappropriate candidate, Abdul Gafur, whose terror and abject incomprehension contrast sharply with the ranger's appreciative wonderment and thus signal the colonial subaltern's effective exclusion from the economy of ideal imperial identifications. While the fulfillments of Mowgli's imaginary identification are contained within the glade (in the figures of the dancing wolves who “reflect” the jungle-master's sovereign status), his symbolic identification is to be located in the figure of Gisborne, who provides the imperial presence and the imperial perspective. Only in the eye of empire can the lupine sovereign of the jungle fully appreciate his own charms. And of course, one should note that Mowgli repays Gisborne in the same coin, by offering himself, first, as a pleasing image-object of ideal imperial sovereignty (which finds in the other an obedient brother) and, subsequently, by returning the gaze—“Mowgli turning with his three retainers faced Gisborne as the Forest Officer came forward” (347)—and thus providing the site of symbolic identification, the perspective from which Gisborne (as the wondrous Mowgli's acknowledged master) appears agreeable to himself, worthy of esteem.

For both Gisborne and Mowgli symbolic identification constitutes the empire-affirming nature of their encounter. “It is,” writes Žižek, “the symbolic identification (the point from which we are observed) which dominates and determines the image, the imaginary form in which we appear to ourselves likeable” (108); the “interplay of imaginary and symbolic identification” occurs “under the domination of symbolic identification” (110). Both Gisborne and Mowgli locate symbolic identification in a representative of empire: Gisborne apprehends himself from the perspective of the Master of the Jungle, Mowgli from the perspective of the British imperial officer. Each character recognizes and accepts, in symbolic relation to the other, “a certain ‘mandate’, … a certain place in the intersubjective symbolic network” (Žižek, 110): Mowgli (together with the “retainers” of his little empire) is pledged to service in the British empire; Gisborne is confirmed as a duly empowered, responsible representative of British imperial authority. Ultimately, then, “the point of symbolic identification, the agency through which we observe and judge ourselves” (Žižek, 108; my emphasis), is, for Mowgli as for Gisborne, the empire itself, or, more precisely, the imperial perspective, the gaze of empire. For both characters the symbolic “trait-of-identification” (Žižek, 105), the particularizing quality or characteristic that motivates identification, is imperial status. An idyllic and ideal envisioning of the imperial project is thus enabled by a finely balanced economy of complementary identification, which securely situates individual imaginary gratification and self-fashioning within the defining symbolic context of the British empire. But more crucially for the analysis of the Mowgli saga that is to follow here, the seminal scene in the rukh announces a mutually sustaining imaginary and symbolic relation between Gisborne and Mowgli, between an imperial subject whose characterization is marked by historical referentiality—there is, in British India, a Department of Woods and Forests; there are Forest Officers—and an entirely mythic, liminal boy. In “In the Rukh,” the first and the last of the Mowgli tales, the narrative point of origin and of resolution, imperial subjectivity is produced in contingent relation with the myth-figure of the boy, who represents, in ideal terms, the empire, and who is represented, at the same time, from the perspective of empire.


Whereas Gisborne and Muller are active presences in “In the Rukh,” the Mowgli tales of The Jungle Books contain not one European character. The English are a matter of rare allusion, a distant, vaguely understood presence that never intrudes upon the little world of jungle and village. Imperialism, however, is always already there in the Indian scene even in the absence of the imperialist; it is inscribed in advance as the beginning and the end of the narrative progress. The Mowgli saga, as detailed in The Jungle Books, allegorizes an imperialist worldview in the nearly absolute absence of an imperial subject, inscribing and “naturalizing” imperial codes and values without immediate recourse to imperial agency and presence.

Crucial to this work of allegorization is the liminal boy—situated upon the in-betweens of the animal and the human, of nature and culture—who serves, even before the advent of Gisborne, as an imperial proxy. Mowgli's jungle history repeats, in ideal form, the history of the British presence in India: a weak yet “bold” newcomer (who pushes his brethren-to-be aside to reach the she-wolf's nurturing teat) establishes himself in jungle society, gradually reorganizing the jungle world around himself and emerging, with time, as master. An imperial progress is refigured as an extraordinary Bildung, as a jungle-boy's life process of growth and maturation. As “Kaa's Hunting” clearly reveals, Mowgli receives an education in which imperial codes are reenvisioned as jungle laws: under Baloo, “the Teacher of the Law,” Mowgli learns more and different lessons than the young wolves do, receiving instruction in “the Master Words of the Jungle,” which allow him to move freely and safely in jungle spaces controlled by potentially hostile jungle peoples (23). The imperial thrust of Mowgli's jungle formation is most clearly in evidence as the boy establishes relations with the specifically Indian world of the village. Employing quite sophisticated techniques of strategy and “intelligence,” Mowgli, aided by his jungle allies, uses village bullocks to destroy his archenemy, Shere Khan. And when the jungle-boy moves against the village in “Letting in the Jungle,” his mastery of techniques of surveillance and infiltration is still more clearly the key to his success. An insider/outsider in both the jungle world and the village world, liminal Mowgli is different from and superior to all other characters (animal or human) he encounters: he has always a mysterious supplementary power—the mystique of “Man” or the uncanny jungle knowledge. Native-born, yet set apart, Mowgli is different, undeniably special. Caught between two opposing worlds, divided in his identifications and his affiliations, he can be read as a fabulous, idealized analogue of the socio-cultural in-betweenness of an India-born Englishman (like Rudyard Kipling). With greater certainty, however, one can discover in Mowgli, the hybrid adolescent, an allegorical representative of a youthful, vigorous British imperial project and a figure of Kipling's ideal imperial subject, a subject capable of negotiating—not without hardship but with ultimate success—the antithetical demands of domination and assimilation.


Reading Mowgli as a protagonist of imperial allegory demands a reading of his world as allegorical fictional space. A reading such as mine would need to demonstrate, moreover, that Mowgli's progress toward the mastery of his world does not simply represent an archetypal, generalizable Bildung within a generalizable, more or less transcultural microcosm. At the literal level, the Mowgli saga is set in India, in an Indian jungle and, alternatively and secondarily, in an Indian village. However, allegorically too, India, or rather the “India” articulated by Western Indology, is the principal referent of Mowgli's little world. Imperialism, the “absent presence” of the Mowgli tales of The Jungle Books, is thus inscribed, conceptually and tropologically, in relation to biased European knowledge systems that reconstruct India as the Western world's dominated Other.

In Imagining India, a revaluative, deconstructive study of Western Indology, Ronald Inden documents the development and consolidation, particularly during the nineteenth century, of the notion of Hinduism as the religion that expresses and effectively embodies the “Mind of India” (85ff.). To understand Hinduism is, for the Indologist, “to grasp the mind of the entire [Indian] civilization” (86); in the words of Vincent Smith, British historian of India, “The unity underlying the obvious diversity of India may be summed up in the word Hinduism” (qtd. in Inden, 86). Smith's one word, however, contains a wealth of Indologically ascribed meanings. Hinduism and, by extension, Indian civilization are made to represent the negation of conceptions of rational order bestowed upon Western thinkers by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment's “principles of order,” Inden recalls, are “mutual exclusion, unity, centredness, determinacy, and uniformity.” Entirely antithetical to these principles, the Hinduism of Indology “does not consist of a system of opposed but interdependent parts, but a wild tangle of overlapping and merely juxtaposed pieces. It is uncentred …, unstable …, and lacking in uniformity” (88). What Hinduism entirely lacks is Western “world-ordering rationality.” Not surprisingly, therefore, “the most widely used metaphor” in Indological accounts of Hinduism “is that of Hinduism as a jungle” (86).

Kipling's use of jungle as the principal setting of his tales is not to be read, then, as the elimination of specific cultural traces, but rather as the specification of cultural reference: Kipling's Indian jungle is not simply a culturally unmarked “world”; it is India as jungle. Like the “jungle” of Indian civilization, Kipling's manifests, in its nurturing adoption of the alien man-cub, a remarkable capacity “to absorb and include, … to tolerate inconsistencies” (Inden, 88). Significantly, however, Mowgli's jungle home, as he soon discovers, is not entirely lacking in world-ordering rationality: although it is a world of predation, where brute force is often the final arbiter, Kipling's jungle includes a “Jungle Law” quite distinct from “the law of the jungle.” If, as one learns in “How Fear Came,” the Jungle Law is mythic and archaic in its origins, it is also eminently pragmatic in its applications. As the narrator informs the reader, as Mowgli learns from Baloo, this Law orders and codifies all the eventualities of jungle life. If it is not the work of reason, yet it is fully rationalizable.

Although on first consideration the inscription of the Law would seem to place Kipling's jungle world at odds with the Indologist's “jungle,” the presence of Law—and, by implication, of world-ordering rationality—actually confirms the allegorical jungle's affiliation with Indological discourse more clearly and decisively than its absence might do. As Inden makes clear, Indology's “jungle” is disorderly, but for the duly informed, analytically adept, Western specialist, not beyond reasoned comprehension. The “Hinduism” that reveals “no apparent order” is nonetheless posited as “knowable” (86). This “jungle” is “after all, a part of the orderly world in which the jungle officer of the Indian mind, the Indologist, wishes to live” (87).7 Indeed, world-ordering rationality is precisely what Western systems of analysis and interpretation bring to the study of Indian civilization, just as Western legal and administrative intervention (supposedly) brings that same rationality to Indian cultural and political actuality. Indologists, observes Inden, “do not constitute an order out of the jungle, for it is inherently disorderly, but they can, it would seem, introduce a certain degree of rationality to it” (86). Even so, Kipling writes a jungle that knows disorder—for example, the interregnum that follows upon the fall of Akela—but he also provides his jungle with an inscription of rational organization.

Significantly, the “rationalizing” of the jungle is energized by an alien element. As Hathi relates in “How Fear Came,” the formation of the Law is instigated by the advent of an alien, Man, who sets in motion a chain of events that produces first Fear and subsequently, in response to that Fear, the Law. In a somewhat similar way, the much later advent of a man-cub provokes a massive mobilization of the Law: Mowgli's reception is attended by a complex process of “litigation”; his initiation to the Law requires one full- and two part-time instructors; his mastering of the jungle ultimately entails his unique privilege of taking the Law into his own hands. Kipling's writing of the Law in the Indian jungle thus conforms quite closely to Indology's central tenet, “the idea that the Indian mind requires an externally imported world-ordering rationality” (128). Preceding Mowgli's arrival in Kipling's jungle is an imaginative, Indologically informed, sense-making intervention, which sets the stage for the jungle-boy's allegorical reconfiguration of British imperial history in India. Mowgli's role is not to initiate but to confirm the jungle's colonization—a role he fulfills very prettily in “In the Rukh.”

As I noted earlier, Mowgli's world includes a secondary space, an Indian village. I characterize the village as secondary because of its lesser importance in the articulation of the boy-protagonist's life-story, because the jungle-boy is never allowed to discover a securely defined place within its structure, and, most importantly, because the village is clearly represented as subordinate to the jungle, the defining space in Kipling's fictive world. As is made clear when the jungle is “let in” upon it, the village is, in the last instance, a differentiated space within the jungle world, a space the jungle has the power to “de-differentiate” and reclaim. It is noteworthy, moreover, that Kipling's portrayal of the relationship between jungle and village reverses the expected distribution of the terms of contrast: in the jungle, there is law; whereas the village, a place of folkloric “tall tales” and superstition, is ultimately lawless—like the Monkey-People's anarchic community, which provides (as Mowgli duly notes) the jungle analogue of village society. Kipling envisions his village as an insular, tenuously differentiated space within an encompassing, ultimately dominant order, the jungle, even as the Indian village is envisioned by the Raj as an insular, representatively Indian, social structure encompassed by, and securely contained within, the British colonial administration.

Kipling's village, like his jungle, reveals its close affiliation with British Indological discourse. As Inden argues, the Indian village, an object of British survey and classification throughout the nineteenth century, becomes, like India's “jungle”-mind, another “pillar of … imperial constructs of India” (132). As the “living essence of the ancient” (131), the village construct enables Indological discourse to contrast the “archaic” (as represented by the Indian village) with the “modern” (as represented by British imperial government):

[T]he constitution of India as a land of villages was … due to the efforts of the British to deconstitute the Indian state. As they were composing their discourses on India's villages, they were displacing a complex polity with an “ancient” India. … The essence of the ancient was the division of societies into self-contained, inwardly turned communities consisting of cooperative communal agents. The essence of the modern was the unification of societies consisting of outwardly turned, competitive individuals. Just as the modern succeeded the ancient in time, so the modern would dominate the ancient in space.


Kipling's Mowgli tales first displace Indian socio-political structures on to the relatively simple, yet ostensibly representative village, then submit this same village to very literal extinction. Even a cursory consideration of Kipling's jungle-boy reveals that he is clearly imbued with the spirit of modernity: starkly an “individual,” he is an “outwardly turned” character who competitively seeks dominion over others, a character whose thrust will inevitably set him at odds with the “inwardly turned,” organic, and exclusive community of the village. My subsequent analysis will show that Mowgli's relationship with the Indian “archaic,” as manifested by the village and, in a different way, by Shere Khan, is intransigently aggressive, a relationship that is only to be resolved by the extremity of violence. As is already clear, however, Kipling's village figures forth an “ancient” Indian social structure posited and defined by an imperial knowledge system and pledged to destruction by the irresistible “modern” force of imperial power. The village is not simply “the social world” any more than the jungle is simply “the natural world”: both these fictive spaces represent highly specific Indological and imperial constructs for the imaginative ordering of colonial India.


Notwithstanding the assiduous, preparatory organization of his allegorical world, Mowgli's rise to prominence and power within his microcosmic Indian empire does not proceed without noteworthy instances of trial and contestation. In such instances the shadowy and fearful presence of the Mutiny can be discerned. Despite Mowgli's liminal placement between worlds, which signals his potential capacity to allegorically negotiate cultural difference, the narration of his Bildung allows no place for an India that resists. The boy invariably resolves adversarial confrontations by violence and, in a singularly important, defining instance, by the effacement of the inimical Indian Other.

The earliest and also the most obdurate adversary Mowgli must confront is Shere Khan. The tiger shares his name with a sixteenth-century Afghan chieftain, who invaded the subcontinent and, for a short time, unseated the Mughals. As Percival Spear observes, Sher Khan (also known as Sher Shah) is commonly credited with being “the virtual founder of the future Mughal empire on the ground that he provided the essential administrative framework” (28). The tiger's name thus associates him with the conquest and consolidation of empires. Significantly, Kipling's Shere Khan is old and lame, yet very dangerous—a rogue tiger, a cattle-killer, a manhunter. Both in relation to the wolf pack and in relation to the human society of the village, he is an outsider—almost an “alien,” very much an outlaw.8 Mowgli, another outsider, but one who becomes an initiate and a representative of the law, stalks and kills the tiger and by this richly symbolic action establishes himself unmistakably as an imperial protagonist.

As Sujit Mukherjee emphasizes in “Tigers in Fiction: An Aspect of the Colonial Encounter,” the tiger and the tiger-slayer are significant figures in British imperial mythologies. The myth-tiger of imperial imaginings purportedly has its origins in the north and is frequently envisioned as a “white tiger.” A pale invader from the north, this tiger “is clearly reminiscent of the fair-complexioned Indo-Aryan or Caucasian tribes who are believed to have entered from the north and conquered India several thousand years before the British did” (Mukherjee, 11). The tiger hunt thus takes shape as a contest between conquerors, one modern and one archaic. By his victory over the tiger, the British tiger-slayer implicitly lays claim to imperial authority, as the tiger's successor. Similarly, the killing of the tiger refigures the British conquest of India as a kind of return, as the reenactment of an earlier “white” conquest.9

Mowgli, by overcoming Shere Khan, stands in the place of the British imperial adventurer and restages the British consolidation of empire in India. This jungle-child, youthful and energetic yet duly schooled in the codes of the Law, is the alien liberator whose final victory signals the establishment of just rule in the place of an ostensibly corrupt and decrepit Mughal dynasty. As the rebel Sepoys of 1857 looked to Bahadur Shah for leadership, so, during a troubled period of interregnum within the Seeonee pack, restless young wolves rally around Shere Khan and turn against Mowgli. Just as the British, in 1858, put an end to the symbolic kingship of Bahadur Shah, so Mowgli puts an end to the lame tiger's pretensions to power. As the British, after 1858, articulated “a new imperial order … through Mogul emblems of power” (Sharpe, Allegories, 4), so Mowgli uses the tiger's splendid skin to symbolize his accession to the role of Master of the Jungle. The story of Mowgli's ultimately victorious struggle against Shere Khan thus mirrors key features of Mutiny history and of the British reconstitution of that history, recapitulating a British “triumph” in the midst of treachery and adversity.

The death of Shere Khan, however, cannot be taken to announce the definitive consolidation of Mowgli's imperial progress, because, as Mukherjee remarks, the myth-tiger is never definitively dead:

Particularly when we recall the nature and range of human qualities attributed to the tiger by Anglo-Indian writers of fact as well as fiction—memory, cunning, vengefulness, to mention only three—we shall realize that the tiger represented some enduring spirit of India that the British felt they had failed to subjugate. No matter how many successful campaigns the British had waged, how many decisive battles they had won, how many cantonments they had founded to guard settlements, some basic fear of India continued to haunt British Indian life and imagination. Therefore the tiger had to be shot again and again.


One can begin, at this point, to appreciate the full resonance of Kipling's allusion in his title “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” to William Blake's tiger of “fearful symmetry,” eternally burning “in the forests of the night.” The Mowgli saga, evidently, must be considered as an optimistic yet anxious discourse, as a narrative that assuages yet also revives the nagging doubts and fears troubling post-Mutiny British India. The new conqueror displaces rather than replaces his predecessor, as is tellingly signaled by the retaining of the tiger's pelt. The menacing tiger asserts (and invariably reasserts) the “undying” resistance with which the old order confronts the new, the resistance of “archaic” India to imperial innovation. Not surprisingly, therefore, the imperial hero who defeats the tiger immediately faces renewed resistance—this time from the very village he has saved from the ravaging “Khan.”

Already in “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” the tiger-vanquisher's heroic achievement goes unrecognized and unappreciated by those it presumably benefits most: Mowgli becomes the object of the villagers' superstitious fear and loathing and is cast out from village society. However, it is in the sequel tale, “Letting in the Jungle,” that the narrative organizes itself around themes of treachery and violence, punishment and revenge, and emerges most clearly as post-Mutiny allegory. To effectively read “Letting in the Jungle” as a post-Mutiny allegory requires focusing upon the production of a certain thematics of femininity within the tale. Mowgli's revenge upon his enemies is inspired not so much by violence against himself as by violence against his mother: upon seeing Messua's blood, Mowgli ominously declares, “There is a price to pay.” Messua's role in Kipling's story parallels that of “the English lady” (Sharpe, “Unspeakable,” 29ff.) in inflammatory Mutiny narratives: the violence done to her justifies the most extreme reprisals.

In the course of the Mutiny crisis, British women were captured and killed, most notably at Delhi and Cawnpore (Kanpur). In response to these events, the British press circulated lurid, richly detailed if unsubstantiated rumors of rape and sadistic torture. British counter-insurgency, in its effort to restore order and assert the “rightness” and necessity of British authority, took the form of punishments whose barbarous extremity was justified by the invocation of a moral imperative, the protection of women. As Jenny Sharpe argues in “The Unspeakable Limits of Rape: Colonial Violence and Counter-Insurgency”:

During the 1857 uprisings, a crisis in colonial authority was managed through the circulation of “the English Lady” as a sign for the moral influence of colonialism. A colonial discourse on rebellious Sepoys raping, torturing, and mutilating English women inscribed the native's savagery onto the objectified body of English women, even as it screened the colonizer's brutal suppression of the uprisings.


In Kipling's tale, Messua too is produced as an object, the body that must be violated if the narrative is to move forward. Mowgli “protects” his abused and endangered mother by instigating a suspension of Jungle Law and unleashing the jungle's savage, “primordial” forces of destruction upon an offending village. Messua provokes the action by providing an image of outraged virtue and kindness.

Just as importantly, Messua serves as the site of a displaced violence, of a violence that must, if she were absent, expend its full force upon Mowgli himself. As Sharpe points out, the public narratives of the events of 1857-58 rarely produced the broken bodies of English men. To have acknowledged this much more pervasive reality of the Indian uprisings would have been

[to deny] British power at the precise moment it needed reinforcing. … Once an English man has been struck down, then anything is possible; in death his mortality is revealed and sovereign status brought low. A focus on the slaughter of defenseless women and children displaces attention away from the image of English men dying at the hands of native insurgents.

(“Unspeakable,” 34)

Clearly, the symbolic importance of the “English man” resides in his being the representative of constituted imperial order and authority. In a like manner, authority and order in Kipling's allegorical empire—the little world composed of lawful jungle and ultimately lawless Indian village—are centered upon the figure of Mowgli, the Master of the Jungle. In “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” Mowgli does, in one brief moment, fall victim to village violence: a cast stone bloodies the boy's mouth. Mowgli's being bound, beaten, and imprisoned by the villagers, however, would undermine his charismatic authority and dispel the illusion of his heroic invulnerability. This much more humiliating violence, which would constitute not a provocation but a defeat, is displaced upon Messua.

Of course, “Letting in the Jungle” does present a male victim of violence, a rather significant one—Messua's husband, Mowgli's human father. Kipling's rendering of this male victim, however, serves to confirm violated “Woman” as the site of narrative focus. As Mowgli secretly enters the hut where his mother and father are being held—captives awaiting torture and death—the articulation of Kipling's text deftly shifts attention away from the male victim onto the injured and outraged female, carefully constituting violence against “Woman” as the violence that signifies:

Messua was half wild with pain and fear (she had been beaten and stoned all the morning), and Mowgli put his hand over her mouth just in time to stop a scream. Her husband was only bewildered and angry, and sat picking dust and things out of his torn beard.

“I knew—I knew he would come,” Messua sobbed at last. “Now do I know that he is my son!” and she hugged Mowgli to her heart. Up to that time Mowgli had been perfectly steady, but now he began to tremble all over, and that surprised him immensely.

“Why are these thongs? Why have they tied thee?” he asked, after a pause.

“To be put to death for making a son of thee—what else?” said the man sullenly, “Look! I bleed.”

Messua said nothing, but it was at her wounds [Kipling's emphasis] that Mowgli looked, and they heard him grit his teeth when he saw the blood.

“Whose work is this?” said he. “There is a price to pay.”


The passage names Messua, but not “her husband.” Although “the man” cries out for attention—“Look! I bleed”—he receives none. Conforming to the pattern of Mutiny reprisals, Mowgli's revenge shapes itself around imagery of violated femininity.

Consider also the answer to Mowgli's question, “Whose work is this?” His father replies, “The work of all the village” (193). The crime to be punished is the action not of specific individuals but of an entire community. Here, Kipling's narrative arrives at the core of the contradictory logic characterizing British response to the 1857 rebellion. On the one hand, the insurrection is constructed as a “mutiny,” as a thwarting of authority that has a specific and delimited context—the military hierarchy. On the other hand, the ascription of responsibility and guilt is generalized: to be Indian is to be guilty. Reprisals therefore enjoy the very broadest scope: not only rebel sepoys but chance-encountered peasants can be given over to summary execution; whole villages can be razed; estates and temples can be vandalized and looted (see Morris, Heaven's Command, 243-6). The barbarity of the avenger's justice surpasses the savagery that is ascribed to the insurgent.

In Kipling's tale, however, treachery and outrage are not punished by bloody atrocities. The villagers are spared, though their village is utterly destroyed, effaced. Kipling thus restages one specific strategy of British counter-insurgency, and his choice is significant: Mowgli spares the villagers' lives, but destroys all traces of their shared existence as a community, all the material manifestations of their society and culture. Certainly, Mowgli's revenge does stop short of the British excesses of 1857-58, but in evaluating this fact, one should recall that Messua is saved from violent death, whereas the women captured at Delhi and Cawnpore were not. While this tale is clearly marked as a post-Mutiny allegory, it stops short of invoking “unspeakable” acts of rape and mutilation. Although atrocities are suggested—“Let us see if hot coins will make them confess!” (199)—Mowgli's heroism preempts their enactment. Kipling's tale, however, does not really oppose the logic of British reprisals; it confirms and reinforces that logic. If one considers the relation of the crime to the punishment, one can detect the influence of the extreme emotional responses Mutiny scenes can evoke. Messua, an innocent woman, is bound and beaten; her son, to avenge the abuse, eradicates an entire village.

Interestingly, Mowgli's revenge takes shape as a sort of abandonment: the jungle is “let in” upon the offending village. The archaic and chaotic forces, which Mowgli had symbolically mastered by killing the tiger-outlaw, are unleashed, allowed to return. Not jungle law but a kind of primordial jungle madness takes possession of the village, negating, indeed effacing, all vestiges of socio-cultural order: “by the end of the Rains,” writes Kipling, concluding his tale, “there was the roaring Jungle in full blast on the spot that had been under the plough not six months before” (210). Kipling thus portrays, allegorically, the fate of a rebellious India. There would be no need of active punishment. India might simply be left to itself, abandoned to the misrule and disorder that supposedly preceded the establishment of British government.10 And indeed, even at the literal level of the story, British government—although distant and but dimly comprehended—represents the sole possibility of order and justice: it is to “the English” at Khanhiwara that the fugitive victims of injustice and brutality must fly.

But in the last analysis, Mowgli's agency in the destruction of the village is far from passive; he does not merely “unleash” the jungle's destructive forces, he commands and directs them. In “Letting in the Jungle” as in “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” the resolution of conflict requires a decisive act of violence. The liminal boy, who would seem to bear the promise of new possibilities for the negotiation of agonistic colonial encounter, does not in fact provide alternatives that differ significantly from those of 1857-58. “In the Rukh” stages, as I have shown, the liminal boy's capacity to experience seamless union with the spaces and societies of the colonial “wilds”; it reconfigures the imperial project as a masterful participation in the world of the colonial Other. Another sort of masterful participation is evident in Kipling's Indologically informed constitution of the protagonist's allegorical world. Nonetheless, Mowgli's world includes elements that offer an intransigent resistance to the process of imperial domination, assimilation, and incorporation represented in his Bildung. As Edward Said has argued in a recent analysis of Kipling's Kim, the liminal boy can be made to serve as an enabling figure in the representation of a putative “absence of conflict” in imperial affairs (140-1). Yet situated in the context of a Mutiny “scene of writing,” where colonial terror and conflict are manifest, the liminal boy proves unwilling or unable to manage difference and to forge a passage between opposing worlds. He follows upon the actions of his less gifted predecessors, resolving terror and conflict as British forces did during the mid-century crisis.


By way of concluding this discussion, I will briefly step outside the Mowgli saga but remain within The Jungle Books. Examined in relation with “Letting in the Jungle” (the tale that immediately precedes it), “The Undertakers” appears to present an interesting turn in Kipling's narrative strategy. The former tale allegorically reinvokes and revives the actions and emotions of the Mutiny story. “The Undertakers,” which contains explicit allusions to Mutiny events, attempts to bring the Mutiny narrative definitively to a close, or at least to assert the possibility of closure. In this tale, the forces of colonial disorder are embodied—most compellingly if not exclusively—in a gigantic crocodile, “the Mugger of Mugger-Ghaut,” a monster that grows fat upon Mutiny corpses. When, however, he stalks a refugee boat and tries to carry off a British boy, the boy's mother—in the heroic style of “the Judith of Cawnpore” (see Sharpe, Allegories, 69-73; Brantlinger 295n)—rewards the overly intrepid mugger with several shots from her revolver.11 The boy thus saved grows to manhood, becomes an engineer—the very man in charge of the building of a railway bridge at Mugger-Ghaut. Upon completing the bridge, the engineer shoots and kills the crocodile, ending his fearful reign over the village that bears his name.

The successful building of the bridge announces the end of the uncanny Indian monster, the mugger that gorges himself upon Mutiny horrors. The death of the mugger seems almost to be a necessary effect of the triumphant manifestation of British technological and administrative know-how. The bridge manifests new possibilities for communication and exchange in the erstwhile divided spaces of empire. And in lieu of a liminal Mowgli, this story offers a different sort of hero, a boy who is saved from the grim menace of the Mutiny, spared to become a bridge-builder. This imperial protagonist is evidently secure in his British cultural identity but possessed nonetheless of the capacity to negotiate cultural difference in the divided, agonistic spaces of empire. His answer to the problems of the Eastern empire is technical rather than intuitive—the engineering (physical and social) of modernization. And yet the bridge and the bridge-builder, being nothing more than new manifestations of an ongoing imperialist project, bring no really new potentiality to post-Mutiny allegory. The British-Indian colonial confrontation resolves itself once again in favor of the imperialist and by means of extreme violence: the mugger, like the tiger before him, must be shot. As if by the blast of “a small cannon (the biggest sort of elephant-rifle is not very different from some artillery)” (232), the Mutiny crocodile is blown apart, “literally broken into three pieces” (233). The mugger's grisly end recalls the brutal execution of rebel Sepoys, many of whom “were lashed to the muzzles of guns and blown to pieces” (Morris, Heaven's Command, 245). Thus, the closure of the Mutiny story, which “The Undertakers” seems intent to announce, is really only another return to that story, one more return to a story for which no imperial resolution is possible.

Recalling Michel Foucault's assertion that discourse is “a violence we do to things,” Stephen Slemon defines colonial discourse as “that system of signifying practices whose work it is to produce and naturalize the hierarchical power structures of the imperial enterprise, and to mobilize those power structures in the management of both colonial and neocolonial cross-cultural relationships” (6). Considering the example of imperial allegory, Slemon goes on to suggest that the discourse of colonialism strives to recuperate its Other “by reference to [the colonizer's] own systems of cultural recognition” (7). Following from Slemon's argument, I would suggest that, at least for colonial discourse in Kipling's historical moment, the mid-century Indian rebellion stands as an instance of the irreclaimable; the Mutiny, that is, manifests itself as British imperialism's limit-text—the social, historical “text” that can neither be circumvented nor made to serve. If Kipling's jungle allegories reassert and reconfirm the validity and viability of the British imperial mission, they also acknowledge and revive post-Mutiny doubts and fears, reasserting their presence and pertinence, giving them a renewed shape and substance. If the Mutiny history is a constitutive element in the empire's story of itself, its evocation also invariably interrupts that story by inscribing the agency of intransigent opposition, by speaking, albeit partially and indirectly, the story of the rebel. Imperial “systems of cultural recognition” can provide no secure and stable placement for such agency, for such a story—hence the fearful tiger that must be shot again and again or the hideously uncanny, unrecognizable crocodile that must be blown to bits. As Guha observes, in the prose of counter-insurgency “the rebel has no place … as the subject of rebellion”; empire-affirming historiography does not, cannot, “illuminate the consciousness which is called insurgency” (71). Significantly, however, in The Jungle Books the place of the intransigent, resistant element is not simply empty. It is designated and then voided, submitted, in psychoanalytic terms, to an action of disavowal. Although Kipling's post-Mutiny imperial allegories represent utopian potentialities of imperial subjectivity, agency, and experience, the enactment of domination ultimately requires a violent self-assertion, a violent disavowal of the presence and agency of the colonial Other. Allegorical empire, like the historical empire upon which it is predicated, is sustained by a violence that never achieves its final act. One cannot put an end to the Mutiny story, one can only return to it—again and again.

Kipling's repeated inscription of violence, as the seemingly inevitable final arbiter of imperial order, tears the fabric of his imperial allegory, revealing that the structure and meaning of social, cultural, and political relations within the empire are not constituted in advance, as reiterable features of given social “reality,” as stable points of reference for the process of allegorical reframing and restaging. The aggressive initiatives marking Mowgli's boyhood progress, his combative response to intransigent configurations of resistance, repeat, albeit in a different way, the enabling exclusion of Abdul Gafur from the magic moment in which the imperial subject attains clear, coherent recognition of itself. Such initiatives confirm the necessary exteriority of “In the Rukh” in relation to the narrative of Mowgli's boyhood: it is only in an idyllic narrative of utopian fulfillment—situated outside and beyond, both “before” and “after,” the agonistic context of Mowgli's Bildung—that imperial subjectivity can be constituted within a stable, self-sustaining economy of recognition and identification.


  1. “Victorian accounts of the Mutiny,” Brantlinger observes, “display extreme forms of extropunitive projection, … an absolute polarization of good and evil, innocence and guilt, justice and injustice, moral restraint and sexual depravity, civilization and barbarism” (200). In the immediate aftermath of the event and throughout the remaining decades of the century, British Mutiny writing is typically marked by sensationalism and “a general racist and political hysteria” (202).

  2. As Brantlinger briefly acknowledges, Kipling's Kim, although it is not a Mutiny novel, does address the Mutiny topic (294n).

  3. The urge to remember the Mutiny vividly and concretely and, at the same time, to maintain the preestablished, socio-genetic “lines” of its interpretation is clearly manifested in the post-Mutiny production of monuments and memorials. As Stokes observes, “The shell-pocked Kashmiri Gate at Delhi … was left to point its moral. At Kanpur (Cawnpore) a weeping angel carved in marble by Marochetti was placed as a shrine. … At Lucknow the shattered remains of the Residency were left unrepaired, and from the tower the Union Jack continued to be flown day and night, as through most of the siege. … So long as the Raj endured, the living force of these symbols remained” (2).

  4. As Brantlinger observes, the Mutiny story is so deeply resonant that the Victorian imagination can submit it, on occasion, to various forms of fictive displacement. First finding in Dickens's “The Perils of Certain English Prisoners” a restaging of the East Indian crisis in a West Indian setting (207-8), Brantlinger subsequently draws attention to noteworthy inscriptions of the Mutiny in A Tale of Two Cities and in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (208, 295n).

  5. John McBratney, in his recent examination of Kipling's jungle saga, offers a similar argument, affirming “the decisive importance of the British Raj” in the resolution of Mowgli's “rival allegiances to bestial and human cultures” (287). He also notes that the jungle-man finds (in addition to a wife) “a new father-figure” in Gisborne, a European, imperial “father” to replace his “bestial fathers … Kaa, Baloo, and Bagheera” (288).

  6. Homi Bhabha affirms in a different way the importance of Lacan's conception of the imaginary for colonial discourse theory: a process of imaginary identification, which enables the subject “to postulate a series of equivalences, samenesses, identities, between the objects of the surrounding world,” establishes and assures the colonial subject's relationship with the colonial “stereotype,” which is, for Bhabha, a fundamental figure within imperialism's discourse of domination (76-7).

  7. Given Kipling's characterization of Gisborne, Inden's use of the figure of the “jungle officer” is startling. As one might expect, Inden is borrowing the figure from the Indological discourses he criticizes. I am tempted to surmise that Gisborne is drawn in part from the same sources.

  8. To place this affirmation of the tiger's outsider status in relation with Inden's scholarship, I should emphasize that Shere Khan's symbolic affiliation is not with “Hindu” India but with Mughals and “Indo-Aryan” conquerors.

  9. Kipling's imaginative participation in an imperial thematics of the tiger hunt is most clearly revealed in “The Tomb of his Ancestors” (The Day's Work), in which young John Chinn, a newcomer to colonial service, successfully undertakes an initiatory tiger hunt and thus confirms himself as the rightful successor—indeed, the reincarnation—of his grandfather, John Chinn, a highly revered district administrator.

  10. In Pax Britannica James Morris sums up the British attitude quite nicely: “By the end of the century most people assumed, not least the public and the policy-makers at home, that an India without the British would fall apart in communal violence, and relapse into the chaos from which the Empire was supposed to have rescued it” (125).

  11. The Cawnpore “Judith” is famously imaged in an illustration from Charles Ball's 1858 history of the Mutiny (see Brantlinger, 198). Here, the porcelain-pale “Judith” (one Miss Wheeler) is shown with blazing pistol in hand, stalwartly defending herself against notably “black-faced,” attacking Mutineers. According to Mutiny lore, “Judith”-Miss Wheeler later “killed her captor and his family” (Brantlinger, 295n).

Works Cited

Blake, William. Selected Poems. Edited by P. H. Butter. London: Dent, 1982.

Brantlinger, Patrick. Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Chaudhuri, S. B. Theories of the Indian Mutiny (1857-59). Calcutta: World Press, 1965.

Guha, Ranajit. “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency.” In Selected Subaltern Studies, edited by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Day's Work. Edited by Thomas Pinney. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

———. The Jungle Books. Edited by W. W. Robson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

McBratney, John. “Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space in Kipling's Jungle Book.Victorian Studies 35.3 (Spring 1992): 277-93.

McClure, John A. Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Macherey, Pierre. The Theory of Literary Production. Translated by Geoffrey Wall. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.

Morris, James. Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress. London: Penguin, 1979.

———. Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire. London: Penguin, 1979.

Mukherjee, Sujit. “Tigers in Fiction: An Aspect of the Colonial Encounter.” Kunapipi 9.1 (1987): 1-13.

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Sharpe, Jenny. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

———. “The Unspeakable Limits of Rape: Colonial Violence and Counter-Insurgency.” Genders 10 (Spring 1991): 25-46.

Slemon, Stephen. “Monuments of Empire: Allegory/Counter-Discourse/Post-Colonial Writing.” Kunapipi 9.3 (1987): 1-16.

Sommerville, C. John. The Rise and Fall of Childhood. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1982.

Spear, Percival. A History of India, vol. 2. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1965.

Stokes, Eric. The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857. Edited by C. A. Bayly. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989.


Rudyard Kipling World Literature Criticism