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Rudyard Kipling

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What symbolism is present in Kipling's “How the Camel Got His Hump” and “How The Whale Got his Throat”?

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There is prominent symbolism in Rudyard Kipling's “How the Camel Got His Hump,” including each of the animals in the story, and in “How The Whale Got his Throat,” including the 'Stute Fish and the suspenders. Both stories are presented with a light tone and an instructive narrator, and they share theme demonstrating humans' innate superiority.

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In "How the Camel Got His Hump," the three working animals symbolize humans' helpers. The horse wears a saddle and a bit, his gear reflecting his willingness to transport humans from place to place. The dog carries a stick, symbolic of his need to faithfully serve people's needs. The ox wears a yoke, symbolic of his ongoing efforts to work the land so that humanity can survive. Yet the camel refuses to do any of these things; he is therefore symbolic of a contentious force in nature which refuses to bend its will to humanity's desires.

In "How the Whale Got Its Throat," the 'Stute Fish symbolizes wit. Recognizing the power and appetite of the whale, he diverts the whale's attention away from himself, swaying the massive creature to spare him by refocusing him on a much larger target: humans. The whale symbolizes arrogance, believing that he can sweep through the ocean and consume anything in his path without any particular concern. He therefore fails to recognize the inherent threat in humanity, who refuses to comply with becoming the whale's next meal. The suspenders in the story, which readers are reminded to pay attention to, are symbolic of the resources given to humans to manipulate situations to his advantage. By recognizing the abilities of the suspenders to save him, humans are able to not only save themselves but to also save generations of people who follow; never again can a whale "eat men or boys or little girls."

Both stories are presented with a light tone, using an instructive narrator who interacts directly with the audience. There is also an element of repetition, stressing the significant elements of each story. Both share religious allusions. In "How the Camel Got His Hump," readers are told that "the Animals were just beginning to work for Man" in the early days of the world. This is an allusion to Genesis 1:26, where Adam is created with the authority to "rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and overall the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." The story of a man being swallowed by a whale is an allusion to the Biblical story of Jonah, found in the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. Of course, the details of that story differ, and Jonah was not merely out in the sea to "trail his toes in the water." Nevertheless, the scenario is a familiar one to those acquainted with the Bible.

Both stories demonstrate themes reflecting humanity's superiority. In "How the Camel Got His Hump," even the camel's independent will is bent toward helping humans, thanks to the influence of the Djinn. In "How the Whale Got His Throat," the man saves himself thanks to his spirit of ingenuity. The difference between the two is that humans rely on a supernatural intervention to assist them in "How the Camel Got His Hump," while the man directs his own actions in "How the Whale Got His Throat."

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