The Jungle Book
Review and Interpretation of the Movie Jungle Book
The Jungle Book is one of Walt Disney’s early works, and the last he was to oversee in his lifetime. It opens in the jungles of India, where Bagheera the black panther finds a crying baby. This baby is revealed to be Mowgli, our protagonist. Bagheera brings Mowgli to a wolf pack, where he is raised to be a young boy. As he is brought up, he learns to live in the jungle, until news comes of Shere Khan. The tiger Shere Khan is tipped that Mowgli is living amongst the jungle animals, and aims to kill him before he becomes a hunter like all the other humans. His wolf family asks Bagheera to take him to the man-village, away from safety. As Mowgli realizes what happens, he argues that he wants to stay in the jungle. They find Kaa, the snake, who tries to hypnotize the two. Mowgli proves a point by fending him off and they get a day’s rest before they progress to the village. In the morning, they wake up to elephants parading, where Mowgli finds a friend and joins the march. Bagheera, frustrated with Mowgli straying from the travel to the village, leaves him to fend for himself. As Mowgli and Bagheera storm off, Mowgli meets Baloo, the bear. They find companionship in one another, and hearing Baloo’s bellowing, Bagheera thinks Mowgli is in trouble. He comes to the rescue, but he is frustrated as he finds the carefree Baloo. As Mowgli and Baloo are just having a good time together, Bagheera is about to leave, but Mowgli gets abducted by the monkeys. As Mowgli is taken to the king of the monkeys, King Louie, he is asked for the secret to man’s fire. Bagheera and Baloo come to save him, and the monkeys are routed as their ancient ruins collapse. As the three escape, Mowgli takes the night to rest while Baloo and Bagheera talk. Baloo agrees to take Mowgli to the man-village for his own safety, albeit reluctantly – Baloo now sees Mowgli as his own child, and he knows he will miss Mowgli. The two start off, but Mowgli finds that they are going to the village and he again runs off on his own. Shere Khan appears, stalking Bagheera and finding out that Mowgli is missing. Kaa is stumbled upon by Mowgli, and by Shere Khan not shortly after. Shere Khan interrogates Kaa, but does not find Mowgli. As Mowgli continues to wander, despondent, he finds the vultures. The vultures comfort Mowgli and make him an honorary vulture. Shere Khan appears again, ready to attack Mowgli. As the tiger pounces, Baloo appears and thwarts him. The two battle and Baloo is knocked out, but Mowgli scares him off with fire. In the aftermath, Bagheera and Mowgli mourn Baloo, but Baloo awakes not soon afterward. The two are ecstatic and walk off together, but they walk by the village and they see a girl. Mowgli, intrigued, follows her, and joins the man-village. The film concludes as Bagheera and Baloo walk off, happy, and Mowgli walks off with his girl.
The cast of The Jungle Book helped bring the characters to life. It’s hard to point out a bad choice in casting, as each voice really fit each character. Bruce Reitherman is the director’s son, but fulfilled the childlike and adventurous voice of Mowgli. Phil Harris gave Baloo life and soul, and as the 2016 remake is about to release, it’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing Baloo. In specific, Phil Harris’s voice will be greatly missed in the performance of “Bare Necessities”. Bagheera and Shere Khan, voiced by Sebastian Cabot and George Sanders respectively, also fit their characters and performed their lines well.
The Jungle Book’s plot advancement was perfectly simple and very well-done. The incomplex intro of each character was perfect and was great for a family movie, while also being clever setups for the personalities of each character. Bagheera is introduced as the caring parental figure, Baloo is carefree and a wandering soul, Kaa is snakelike and conniving, and Shere Khan is confidently cool. One thing that was simply mediocre was the animation style. There was not much interesting going on in the animation, although it was done up to standard. This can be easily excused, though – the film was made in 1967 and, when compared to other Disney films, the technology was not there to make these intricately computer-generated graphics.
The theme of The Jungle Book is one of acceptance despite differences. Each character deals with Mowgli in a unique way, some accepting him and some treating him as an outsider. Bagheera and Baloo are Mowgli’s companions through and through, with each acting as a sort of parental figure in his jungle life. They enjoy the time they spend in the jungle and are blessed with a young boy alongside them. On the flipside, the people who treat Mowgli as an outsider are hit smack in the face by karma. Kaa is knocked around Tom-and-Jerry style for messing with Mowgli. King Louie of the monkeys covets man’s secret of fire and has the ruins he calls home destroyed for his greed. Finally, Shere Khan is turned into a coward for his hunting of Mowgli with a simple burning branch. The characters that accept Mowgli despite him being human are rewarded, while the ones that do not are duly punished.
The Jungle Book is a great family film that withstands the test of time. It is easily recommendable to families across the world, as it’s entertaining, lighthearted, and simply elegant – not to mention its catchy songs. However, if you’re looking for something serious, The Jungle Book isn’t the film to go to, as it’s fairly simple and jovial in nature. The film was Approved in 1967 and it was correctly so – there is not a drop of suggestive content. In closing, The Jungle Book is a great movie that’s nearly impossible to outgrow. Seeing this film at an early age and recently rewatching it, it is only natural that it would stick in a child’s mind; it is a measly 88 minutes, making it easily rewatchable, the catchy tunes are simple to sing along to, the characters are lovable, and it has a great moral for children to learn while they are young. Overall, a classic for families throughout the years, and for good reason.
Analyzing Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-tikki-tavi Story as Told in the Jungle Book
Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” Essay
One of the most famous story in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is the “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, has also been published as a short book. Many people read it as the story of a heroic mongoose. But we can also interpret “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” from the angle of post colonialism, which the British family is the invader, the cobras are less villainous and Rikki-Tikki becomes a loyal colonial subject.
Rikki-Tikki is an Indian mongoose who was very appreciated the English family for saved him from drowning. Therefore he helped the human family to kill the snakes who was planning to kill them. From the traditional angle, I can tell that the mongoose represents the knight protecting his new family and the garden, all of which form his home. However, there still something else about the story, the characters and the meaning that we need to interpret. By reading Kipling’s short story from the angle of post colonialism, we can also discover Kipling’s view on imperialist culture.
Post colonialism is the period after colonialism, when the invaders had returned to their countries, left many great influence and new culture to the colonies. The British family in the story moved into a bungalow in India, where Nag and Nagaina – the snakes, were living. The white invaders brought their culture, took over the land and controlled everything. This is the reason why the snakes wanted to kill the human family and take back what belongs to them.
From my point of view, the human represent an enormous threat to the livelihood of the Indian cobras and their young. Nag and Nagaina desired to ambush the humans is merely the fulfillment of natural instinct. Think of the Indian snakes just want to protect their eggs and take back what belongs to them, they are less villainous if we see them from the angle of post colonialism. I can say that the cobras are metaphors for the Indian population and they wanted to stand up against the British invasion. The cobras desired to live and bear young was as great and all-consuming as was the English family’s need to live in relative safety, free from a slithering death they would never see coming.
Kipling builds Rikki’s heroism in the story form killing the evil cobras and saved the human family life. However, as I mentioned above, Nag and Nagaina just wanted to defend themselves and their young. The cobras were living at the garden first and they wanted to rule the garden, as they did until Rikki-Tikki came along. I can point out that Kipling created the reasoning skills and deliberately make the cobras so evil and make Rikki-Tikki so reasoning. In fact, animals are not so calculating. People can say that the cobras may just want to live but, by their nature, they are inimical to the human and Rikki is properly values. I would say this is unacceptable. For Instance, some Indian people are the same as Rikki-Tikki who were helped by English people. There will be people are the same as the cobras who want to against the British and protect their young. Rikki-Tikki did not distinguish between right and wrong, but he just wants to return the favor, even killing people of his country. From the angle of post colonialism, the mongoose loses the status of hero and becomes, instead, a loyal colonial subject.
In conclusion, The “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is not only famous by the heroism but also by a deep sense of the author from the perspective of post colonialism and imperialist culture. Kipling has surprised us with three unexpected visions but by his own views and experiences.
Analyzing The Jungle Book
The story The Jungle Book is a collection of stories written about the ecosystems and everyones part in it. This book is written mostly from the animals point of view telling their feelings and their unheard laws. The book was written in a very simple form and was very easy to read, understand, and analyze. This story was broken up into seven parts. The first three parts were coinciding and had the same characters throughout. The other four stories were entirely separate although they all had the same theme. Plot Analysis:
All of the stories from the jungle book are written about animals. The animals have to prove things to other animals, and their struggles and victories make up the stories. Stories of Mowgli This collection of stories is about a boy that lived in the jungle. Mowgli was raised by wolves after his family was frightened away by a tiger named Shere Khan. Shere Khan wanted to eat the boy but the wolves would not let him. Mowgli grew up in the way of the wolves and the ways of the jungle. He learned all these from a bear named Baloo. Shere Khan turned the rest of the wolf pack away from Mowgli and so he had to leave. Mowgli then went to live with the humans of the area for a while, but after Mowgli killed Shere Khan they also threw him out. Mowgli went back to the wolf pack and showed them all that he was boss and took over the leaders position. The White Seal
This story is about a baby seal that grows up in a nursery on St. Paul Island. This baby seal is the first white seal that has ever been born. His name is Kotick. After two years Kotick follows a group of seals that are being herded by men. The men chase them to a slaughter pen. Kotick sees what happens and goes to talk to his parents about it. His parents tell him that this has happened for hundreds of years and will happen for hundreds of more years. Kotick decides that he will try to find an island where all the seals can live without any fear of men. He swims for two years trying to find this island. He starts to ask around the sea people to see if they have ever heard of this type of island. The sea people tell him that the Sea Cow should know. Kotick finds the Sea Cow and asks him to where the island is. The Sea Cow does not say a word but swims off. Kotick follows the Sea Cow to a island. The island is perfect so he goes back to where the other seals are living. The other seals do not believe that there is an island that man cannot get to so they refuse to leave. Kotick then goes through the seal population and starts to bite the seals until they have to leave the island. The seals then follow him to the island and they hibernate there for the rest of their days. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
This story is about a mongoose that is raised by a small family of three. The family thought that they were relatively safe. The family lived in a jungle in a little hut. Many different types of animals lived in the garden. The family did not know, however, that one of these groups of animals consisted of two Cobras. These Cobras were thinking of killing the family. They thought that if they killed the family they would be able to live in safety. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was aware of these snakes and knew that it was his job to protect the people. When one of the snakes went into the bathroom and waited for the father he went in after him and killed him. The people then thought that they were safe, but they were not. The woman Cobra was then up set because Rikki-Tikki-Tavi had killed her mate. The two Cobras had laid eggs together so he decided that it would be very advantages to destroy these eggs. He destroyed every egg but one so that he would have some collateral. He then went to find the Cobra. The Cobra was under the humans breakfast table and was about to bite the little boy. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi talks the Cobra into taking the egg and leaving. She does and he chases her down her hole and kills her. Toomai of the Elephants
This story is about a little boy who grows up in India. The boy is from a long lineage of elephant trainers. All of the experienced elephant trainers had never seen the “Elephants Dance”, but had seen the effects of it throughout the jungle. One night the elephants started causing a ruckus so little Toomai went out to see what was the matter. He followed one of the older elephants named Kala Nag. Kala Nag put little Toomai up on his back and the two walked through the jungle. Kala Nag met up with hundreds of other elephants and they danced through the night. Later on the next day when the two had returned back to camp Toomai told all the old elephant trainers about what he had seen and participated in. The elephant trainers didnt believe him so they had to go out into the jungle and see for themselves. When they saw how the elephants had trampled the jungle floor during their dance they were ashamed. They then raised little Toomai up and gave him the praise that he deserved. For little Toomai had seen what no other had seen before, and was therefore the greatest among the trainers. Her Majestys Servants
This story is about a group of animals that are used in the war efforts of India. These animals include a donkey, a yoke of oxen, a horse, a elephant, and a camel. Each of these animals go and meet after the camel heard has stampeded. The animals conversation is overheard by an officer in the army. Each animal describes what his life is like and how each is more brave than the next. Then as each animal get to talking about their duties they realize that they are all needed for the war because each of their jobs take a special talent which only their breed obtain. Character Analysis: Stories of Mowgli
The main character in this group of stories was Mowgli. He was a quiet, well tanned, strong, long haired boy who was quite intelligent and was able to learn anything he put his mind to. He was kind, gentle, loyal, honorable, and brave. We can see this in the way he deals with the jungle animals, and also in the way in which he deals with his enemy Shere Khan. Some minor characters were Shere Khan, Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa, The Bandar-log, King Louis, Tabaqui, Raksha, Akela, Chil, Messua, Grey Brother, Buldeo, and Rama. Most of these characters are animals except for Messua. Messua was Mowglis biological mother. She looked after him when he went to live in the settlement with the humans. The minor characters were very important to the story because without them Mowgli would not have been able to prove his character qualities in the way he dealt with the people. The White Seal
The main character in this story was Kotick. Kotick was a young, white seal who was always curious about what laid beyond the horizon. He wanted to find a place where the seal population could live without being harmed by humans. He was courageous, honorable, devoted, and determined. We can see these qualities portrayed in this story by the way in which he administers himself to the job at hand. He also does not quit even though he is four years old and should be settled down and raising his own pups. Some minor characters were Sea Catch, Matkah, Grampus (Killer Whale), Sea Pig (Porpoise), Kerick Booterin, Patalamon, Sea Vitch (Walrus), Chickies, Gooverooskies, Epatkas, Burgomaster, and Sea Cow. Most of these characters were needed for the plot developement of this story. I think that the most needed was Kerick Booterin because he was the reason that the White Seal became so important. It was he that made Kotick go in search of an island which men could not harm the seals, and also it was he that made his men not kill Kotick. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
The main character in this story was indeed Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. He was like a weasel in appearance yet had the temperament of a cat. He was a quiet little mongoose that only tried to please the people who were taking care of him. He would walk around through the garden and try and learn new things which would be useful to him. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was loyal, trustworthy, and brave. We can see some examples of these in the way in which he deals with his dilemma of the two cobra snakes. We can also see these qualities portrayed when he has to make the choice of whether he should stay in the house of just leave the family. Some of the minor characters were Darzee, Nag, Teddy, Nagaina, Chuchundra, and Karait. The most important minor characters were the family and the two cobra snakes. These were the most important because the snakes represented the challenge to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and the family represented the responsibility that he had to the humans that had looked after him. Toomai of the Elephants
The main character of this story was Toomai. Toomai was a quiet, strong lad of about 10 years of age. He only wanted to grow up and be the best elephant trainer that he could be. The older elephant trainers often made fun and jokes with him. They said that he was too small to be a smart elephant trainer and that he would have to wait to grow up to become as seasoned as they were. Toomai was curious, brave, and knowledge seeking. We can see these qualities portrayed through the entire story, because of the way he approaches his destiny. We can also see these characteristics because of the way in which he was not afraid to follow Kala Nag into the jungle. Some of the minor characters in this story are Kala Nag, Radha Pyari, Black Toomai, Peterson Sahib, and Machua Appa. All of these minor characters were needed in this story because without them Toomai would not have needed to prove himself. Without this challenge he would probably not have become the great elephant trainer which he has become today. Her Majestys Servants
The main character in this story is a soldier. The soldiers name is never really mentioned but he is the main character I think. The soldier is telling his story from what he overheard from the animals. The soldiers characteristics are not visible although one of them seem to be observation. Some of the minor characters are Vixen, Dick Cunliffe, and Billy. These minor characters were not really needed for the unfolding of the plot because any other characters could of been used for this documentary type of story. Symbolism/Imagery: The only symbolism which I can see in this book was Shere Khan as a symbol of evil. Theme:
The theme of this entire collection of stories was one of great importance. It was that each person should learn to live and cooperate with their neighbors, and also learn to appreciate the animals. Style: The authors style was very easy to read and follow. Some of the stories were however quite childish and lacking in adventure. The author could of put a little more excitement into this collection by perhaps putting more thought into them. Also a bit more imagination could have been used in the description of the characters in this novel. Personal Reflection:
I like this novel mostly because of the fact that it is a classic in our literature. The stories were easy to read and follow although much more excitement could of been added. The stories included in this novel are something which an every day person could whip up on a weekend yet still be able to send a distinct message through. Rudyards purpose, I think, was to let the world know that we must get along with our brothers in nature instead of trying to tame them and conquer them. He must also in the back of his mind had a fascination with the mindset of animals and what some of their unheard laws must have been.
An Essay On The Jungle Book By Rudyard Kipling
When reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, one could look at the Jungle as a “city” and the animals as its inhabitants, its civilization. A civilization is “the type of culture and society developed by a particular nation or region or in a particular era” (American Heritage 246). Each animal in The Jungle Book represents a different part of the “city.” In a city, there are the lazy people, the hard workers, the thieves, the cheaters, the criminals, etc. It is all the same with the Jungle. Kipling uses the Jungle and the animals to represent human civilization, and sees civilizations and cultures as being threatened by “danger.” A danger is an “exposure or vulnerability to harm or risk” (American Heritage 334). This danger can be represented by many different things: war with other nations or lack of food, for example. As a civilization gets older and older, part of that culture is lost, and even that could pose as a danger. One of Kipling’s main themes in his writing was the way that civilization is always being threatened by danger. That theme is clearly seen in The Jungle Book. And what is this danger that is present in this novel? This danger is symbolized by none other than the tiger Shere Khan. Through the use of Shere Khan and the Law of the Jungle, Kipling expresses how civilization is always being threatened, while at the same time using the Law of the Jungle and all of the animals to metaphorically show morality and civility in human civilization.
The easiest way to see how this “civilization” is being threatened is to break it down and look at what each animal represents. As Angus Wilson put it; The chief glory of [Kipling’s] art in the Mowgli stories lies in his extraordinary combination of the natural and animal world with the world of the humans. Baloo is a bear and a housemaster; Bagheera is chiefly the leopard but a wise, sensual man more worldly than the bear; Kaa is primarily a python, delighting in his coils and glistening skin, lusting chase and kill, but he is also an exceptional and clever man, knowing himself yet accepting The Law, perhaps a true intellectual as opposed to the Bandar-Log who are monkeys and “intellectuals”; the jackal is Mussolini’s forerunner; and Shere Khan Hitler’s. (Wilson 205) Kipling uses these animals to represent society, its laws and morals. “He certainly believed that moral ideas can be derived only from experience, but that as there is much that is common and universal in all human experience so is there a common and universal law lying beneath all the variations of racial and national cultures” (Stewart 2). His use of the animals and the Law of the Jungle expressed this moral idea of what happens when one follows or when one disregards the law. “It is a law codified in custom, and its recognition and preservation is the distinguishing principle of civilization. People or societies or individuals ignoring ‘the Law’ thereby diminish themselves-becoming…’lesser breeds.’ To show a wolf pack as within ‘the Law,’ and a chatter of monkeys as outside it, is simply to…enforce the depth and reach of this idea” (Stewart 3).
To fully understand Kipling and his writings one should know more about his background. Kipling was born in India and this became a setting for many of his works (Paffard 43). He lived in various places, including India, England, London, United States, and Burwash, Sussex. His wife was a very domineering woman and had trouble accepting the varied aspects of Kipling’s character. While in America, Kipling became a “‘harder man,’ as his political beliefs started to stiffen” (Essa). Kipling believed very much in law and morals, and living by the law. He uses the metaphor of the Jungle to express these laws and morals: “…in the context of the Jungle Books, Kipling is casting the impressive disguise of authentic moral law over certain aspects of animal behavior instinctively evolved to secure the survival of a species” (Stewart 2). Kipling was best known for his work on laws, traditions, and rituals, as well as the daily struggles in society’s communities (Seon 75). All of these ideas are found in The Jungle Book. “The vital contrast in The Jungle Book is not between man and beast, but between law and anarchy…” (Raskin 202).
The danger that is present in The Jungle Book is the “breaking” of the Law. This law that is spoken is built on Kipling’s fears and beliefs. “A specter haunted Kipling’s imagination, the specter of a breakdown of authority…[Kipling sees authority as] as an earned and measured conservatism that has reckoned the costs of civilization and takes them to be worth paying…It is out of this moderate conservatism…that he built his notion of “the Law” in The Jungle Books” (Wilson 208) The main antagonist in the novel is Shere Khan, for he is the one who is breaking “the Law.” Right off the bat, the reader sees Shere Khan almost as an outlaw, a self-imposed outcast, one who has nothing to do with the rest of the Jungle. He symbolizes the outlaw, the criminals and convicts who care little, if at all, about the feelings of others. He represents the bad side of this Jungle culture (McClure 205). He does as he pleases and does not abide by the Law of the Jungle. After Tabaqui tells Father Wolf that Shere Khan has shifted hunting grounds, Father Wolf responds, “He has no right! By the Law of the Jungle he has no right to change his quarters without fair warning. He will frighten every head of game within ten miles; and I — I have to kill for two, these days” (Kipling 3). By shifting his hunting grounds and not letting the rest of the Jungle know, Shere Khan is disturbing the rest of the Jungle, causing disorder among the other animals. It is this kind of action that is threatening to the Jungle. Not only does Shere Khan disturb the Jungle, but the village as well. The reason why Mowgli ended up with the wolves in the first place is because Shere Khan attacked his village. But it is the second time that Shere Khan attacks that village, after Mowgli has been outcast from the wolf pack, that ultimately leads to his downfall. One way that Shere Khan disturbs the Jungle is the way in which he provokes the cubs to dislike Mowgli. Mowgli was born a leader, and whether the cubs and Shere Khan are willing to accept that is up to them. Shere Khan tells the young wolf cubs that they should not be led by a man’s cub, and stirs up the situation. He tries fervently to get the cubs on his side, so that when Akela (pack leader) dies they will join him and kill Mowgli. When Akela is dying, Shere Khan tries to speak at the council and become leader of the pack; “When they were all gathered together, Shere Khan began to speak — a thing he would never have dared to do when Akela was in his prime” (Kipling 34). Shere Khan wants to be the next pack leader but Mowgli will die before he lets that happen. Shere Khan represents a danger not only to the Law of the Jungle, but to the people and Mowgli as well and while everyone in the Jungle fears Shere Khan, Mowgli does not. Constantly Mowgli is reminded that Shere Khan is an enemy, one who should be feared. “Little Brother, how often have I told thee that Shere Khan is they enemy?” (Bagheera in Jungle Book 27). One reason why Mowgli is not afraid is because Mowgli is a unique individual. He plays a very important role in the novel, as a leader and a punisher, enforcing the Law, and finally realizing his dual personality: I dance on the hide of Shere Khan, but my heart is very heavy.
My mouth is cut and wounded with the stones from the village, but my heart is very light because I have come back to the jungle. Why? These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the spring. The water comes out of my eyes; yet I laugh while it falls. Why? I am two Mowglis… (Kipling 133) This dual role that Mowgli plays is important when the situation regarding the pack and Shere Khan is exacerbated, and he is needed to subdue Shere Khan (Dobre 204). Mowgli is as much an outcast as Shere Khan, but where Shere Khan has outcast himself, Mowgli has been outcast by others. “Man Pack have cast me out. I did them no harm, but they were afraid of me. Wolf Pack, ye have cast me out too. The jungle is shut to me and the village gates are shut” (Kipling 133). Because Mowgli is not accepted anywhere he goes, Mowgli realizes that although outcast by both species, he is indeed a man. He uses his knowledge and advantage of being a man to help overcome Shere Khan for now he no longer fears him. “But remember when next I come to the Council Rock, as a man should come, it will be with Shere Khan’s hide on my head. For the rest, Akela goes free to live as he pleases. Ye will not kill him, because that is not my will. Nor do I think that ye will sit here any longer, lolling out your tongues as though ye were somebodies, instead of dogs whom I drive out…!” (Kipling 40).
It is the maturity of Mowgli and his adeptness that helps destroy the danger that threatens the Jungle. Shere Khan is finally killed by Mowgli and his brother wolves. Although this “danger” has now been defeated, there will always be more, which is the point that Kipling is trying to make. Civilization will always be threatened by danger. “Rudyard Kipling always wanted his readers to know that ‘the social fabric we are inclined to take for granted is fragile and that we must be forever watchful’” (Lampi).
The Jungle Book is not just a children’s novel that speaks of a boy living with the animals, telling “three stories of Mowgli, a young boy raised by the animals in an Indian village” (Kipling). It is much more profound than that. It is a story of law and morals, of victory and defeat, and how good always triumphs over evil. Mowgli matures throughout this novel and becomes a man. He becomes a leader and leads his wolf pack into victory by defeating the much-loathed Shere Khan. This struggle between Mowgli and Shere Khan represents two things: a struggle between good and evil, where good ultimately prevails, and the threat of danger to a civilization. Civilization will always be vulnerable and susceptible to danger. There is no way to stop that and that is the main point that Kipling makes to the reader. Just because a leader comes along, like Mowgli for instance, and defeats the “danger,” like Shere Khan, another danger looms around the next corner, for instance like the Bandar-Log. If the danger is present despite individuals like Mowgli, then what is the civilization’s option? Or is the danger something society must learn to live with, another “law of the jungle”? Through the use of metaphors and literary devices, Kipling was able to write about an in-depth topic as a children’s novel. As a man who believed very deeply in authority, Kipling uses his experience to write The Jungle Book and encourage respect for the Law of the Jungle.
War and Womanhood in Rudyard Kipling’s Mary Postgate (1915)
There is a scene within Rudyard Kipling’s Mary Postgate (1915), within which the experience of the titular character is narrated, whilst she incinerates the belongings of ‘Wynn’ – a recently deceased British soldier who Mary, the caregiver of Wynn’s aunt, had helped raise from a young age – she discovers an injured German airman. The extract only marginally precedes Mary’s refusal to get medical attention for the airman, who subsequently, (potentially because of Mary’s deliberate inaction), dies of his injuries. Because of this positioning within the text, the extract is crucial for an understanding of Mary’s ensuing treatment of the soldier, however rather than giving one, definitive explanation for Mary’s actions, Kipling’s construction of the passage lends itself to numerous different interpretations. Many of these, as will be explored in this essay, concern themselves with investigating the effect of war on womanhood.
The first of these interpretations relies on Mary’s role as a ‘mother’ to Wynn; that is, the extract sets up a reading where Mary’s later neglecting to help the airman is an act of revenge from a grieving mother. In addition to the significance of Mary’s name, (with surely the most infamous Mary being the biblical Virgin Mary – a woman who, like Mary Postgate, did not conceive the child she mothers), there is plentiful evidence of this in the extract.
From the offset, for example, the detailed description of how Mary ignites the destructor, (‘she lit the match’, ‘threw in the fuse’, and ‘[stepped] back from its blaze’, once ‘the pyre went up in a roar’), exploits traditional associations between fire, passion, and rage, to suggest that the pyre is a symbolic testament of Mary’s love for Wynn, and anger over his death. Kipling reinforces the intensity of these emotions through his personification of the ‘roaring’ pyre, where in attributing life to the fire there is both a suggestion that the emotions have taken on a life of their own, and through this, a sense of foreshadowing; if readers accept that Mary’s feelings are enough to evoke life, they must accept the implicit suggestion that they can also evoke death – as is possibly later discovered by the airman. Readers also see this foreshadowing of death in the metaphor that begins the extract, ‘the match that would burn her heart to ashes’, which likens Mary’s destruction of all that is left of Wynn – his possessions – to committing suicide, indicating an almost fanatical love; without him she regards life as no longer worth living. This metaphor can be furthered through a reading which compares Mary’s ‘burning her heart’ with Indian ‘suttee’ rituals – the suicide of a wife by self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre. Kipling, with his years spent living in India, would have been aware of this – and though there is no evidence of romantic love between Wynn and Mary in the extract, it’s undoubtedly an interesting contribution.
However, Mary’s feelings are not just a result of her position as a grieving mother, but as a woman grieving her motherhood. Readers are informed prior to this particular segment of the text that Mary was thirty-five when Wynn arrived at Miss Fowler’s. To be thirty-five, unmarried, and childless, Mary violates the expectations of an archetypal woman of the twentieth century – expectations made even more apparent through war-time propaganda emphasising the importance of wives and mothers. Wynn, if only a surrogate son, provided Mary with a chance to be a mother, meaning when he dies, Mary is faced with the prospect of reverting back to a woman who, given contemporary opinions and attitudes towards female identity, could be considered to have hardly any tangible identity at all. In this reading, Mary ‘burning her heart to ashes’ is a symbolic suicide of her maternal identity, and Mary’s refusal to help the German is not only in response to Wynn’s death, but to the resulting death of this identity.
Furthermore, the scene suggests that this act of revenge is also on behalf of Mrs Gerritt – another mother now without a child – with Kipling textually reducing the man to body parts, (‘his head’, ‘his body’, ‘his chest’, ‘pinky skin’, ‘his lips’, ‘his hands’), mirroring the way Edna was physically reduced to body parts prior to the extract. This is emphasised by use of dashes, (‘his lap – one booted leg’), which ‘break up’ the words in the same way Edna’s body was broken by – so Mary believes – this man.
Contrastingly, the extract can also be read as Mary’s symbolic rejection of motherhood, achieved through Kipling’s likening of the wounded aviator to a baby. This is overtly seen in the simile ‘this man’s [head] was as pale as a baby’s’, however references to the man being ‘bareheaded’, with hair ‘so closely cropped that [Mary] could see the disgusting pinky skin beneath’ reinforce this through depicting the man’s head as unprotected, which readers can associate with the posterior fontanelle, or ‘soft spot’, of babies’ heads, which leaves their skulls vulnerable. Moreover, Kipling’s descriptions of the man’s ‘head [moving] ceaselessly from side to side’, and in other editions of the story, ‘his horribly rolling head’, generate ideas of a lack of bodily control comparable to those of a baby’s. Similarly, his inability to effectively verbally communicate with Mary, (‘his lips moved… “Laty! Laty! Laty!”’), can be perceived as equally infantile. The result of this is that the soldier becomes representative of the demands of motherhood, meaning that when Mary leaves him to die, she is leaving the concept of maternity to die also. Contextually, there’s a notable link between this rejection of a traditional pillar of femininity – motherhood – and contemporary anxieties over effects on femininity that would arise from an unprecedented number of women not only working, but working historically male jobs, during the war.
A final interpretation of the extract suggests that Kipling’s description of the German soldier is designed to draw comparisons between the soldier and Wynn, with the intention of suggesting that Mary allows the man to die in order to vicariously witness Wynn’s death. These comparisons – the soldier is ‘in a uniform something like Wynn’s’, and Mary initially believes him to be ‘one of the young [British] flying men that she met at the funeral’ – are underpinned by the shared occupation of Wynn and the soldier, with both being airmen. Furthermore, Mary first notices the soldier immediately after referring to Wynn, (‘how Wynn would have loved this!’), establishing an association between the two. When questioning why this association is drawn, it’s useful to consider that theorists such as Edmund Wilson (1964) have suggested that ‘a first principle of Kipling’s work is revenge; the humiliated must become the humiliator’. When Mary dismisses the groan or grunt’ she hears as a sheep, it mirrors Wynn’s dismissal of Mary as a sheep prior to the extract, (‘a sheep would know more than you do, Postey’), and reminds readers of the years of mistreatment – in some cases extreme enough to ‘reduce Mary to tears’ – directed at Mary by Wynn. It is for this reason, that Mary associates the soldier with Wynn; when she later refuses him medical attention, she is vicariously inflicting an act of cruelty on Wynn, in retribution for the cruelty he has aimed at her. This – a woman responding to male aggression with equal aggression – defies contemporary gender roles, which contrastingly, placed high value on a woman’s submissive nature. As such, it is indicative of the level of anti-German sentiment present in British society at the time; Mary could never have responded to the real Wynn’s bullying with such anger, but a substitute, German Wynn, is acceptable.
‘Ambiguity, when consciously and artistically employed, offers alternative explanations – any of which can fit the context of the work – with the aim of stressing the complexity of reality’, states William Dillingham (2005). It is with this kept in mind that one should, in concluding, examine Kipling’s development of numerous interpretations, and his methods of doing so. Through use of similes, metaphor, symbolism, and listing, Kipling explores the effect war has on motherhood; through baby-based imagery he explores the rejection of motherhood; through comparing the characters of Wynn and the airman, he explores the effect anti-German sentiment has on gender roles. What’s more, the ambiguity that allows for so many different interpretations of the extract – and indeed, of Mary Postgate overall – acts to provide a commentary on the ‘complexity of reality’ experienced by women during the war.
Rudyard Kipling, ‘Mary Postgate’, The Penguin Book of First World War Stories, ed. by Barbara Korte and Ann-Marie Einhaus (London: Penguin Books, 2007) pp. 179-194.
Secondary Sources · Dillingham, William B. Rudyard Kipling: Hell and Heroism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). pp.143 · Wilson, Edmund, “The Kipling That Nobody Read”, in Kipling’s Mind And Art: Selected Critical Essays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), pp. 17-69