Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

“The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” is rich in meaning. One theme that Rudyard Kipling explores here is that of the social stratifications that exist both within Indian society, with its caste system, and between the local Indians and their British masters. One is reminded of the exploration of similar themes in Sir James Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton (1902) and in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954). In the Kipling story the master prevails, but not without the help of the faithful servant.

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Morrowbie must prove his mastery to the people confined in the crater: “I have been accustomed to a certain amount of civility from my inferiors, and on approaching the crowd naturally expected that there would be some recognition of my presence.” These people, however, first laugh at Morrowbie and cackle after him. He thrashes one or two of them, and then they keep a respectful distance. Morrowbie realizes, “I had left the world, it seemed, for centuries. I was as certain then as I am now of my own existence, that in the accursed settlement there was no law save that of the strongest.”

When Morrowbie’s pony is killed, Gunga Dass explains to him that horse is “better than crow, and ’greatest good of greatest number’ is political maxim. We are now Republic, Mister Jukes, and you are entitled to a fair share of the beast.” This political statement, written in the 1880’s, must have been startling for its time.

This story is in many ways a commentary on all humanity. The microcosm that Kipling creates in the crater is a discouraging one. Gunga Dass torments the representative of the ruling class because in the crater the classes that exist outside have little meaning. Gunga Dass reminds Morrowbie of a schoolboy who enjoys watching the death agonies of a beetle impaled on a pin, but Morrowbie is not much better than Gunga Dass in this respect. One must remember that life does not mean much to him. He kills a dog because it disturbs his sleep. He has no feeling for the Indians, whom he regards as his inferiors.

The human race, Kipling seems to be saying, feeds on itself, just as the baying dogs eat the dog that Morrowbie has slain. Gunga Dass uses live crows, Judas crows, to attract other crows so that he can capture them and eat them. Survival for the British, according to this philosophy, can be assured only if, figuratively, they feed on their own species, the Indians and other colonials.

In the crater, Morrowbie depends on Gunga Dass for his survival, and Gunga Dass moves toward assuming the role of master. However, Morrowbie also depends on his Indian servant, Dunnoo, for his escape from the crater and from the city of the living dead. Once Morrowbie is back in his own world, Dunnoo will be the inferior, Morrowbie the master.

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