The Jungle Book Comparison Essay

Most people are familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” to some degree. There are those who have read the full text, those who have read excerpts, and those who have seen one of the various screen adaptations based on the work. At the very least people are familiar with the story of Mowgli, which is by far the most popular; it is also one that most people can recite with little to no thought: boy is found by wolves, boy is raised by wolves while hanging out with a panther and a bear, evil tiger tries to kill boy, boy goes to live in the village of men – simple, straightforward, it really is a story we’ve heard in many incarnations.

Unfortunately, most people’s interpretation of the story is so influenced by the Disney treatment that the most popular adaptation gave it, that our understanding of the story is tainted. Commonly, Mowgli is considered the protagonist of the story – our hero, as it were, and Baloo, Bagheera, and the wolves that support him are like his white knights. Shere Khan the tiger is the antagonist, or villain, while all of the wolves who support his cause are an army of black knights.

Both sides working against each other and it all must come to a head eventually, with one side victorious – a classic story of good vs evil, but there is room for debate as to who stands on which side of that line. When Mowgli comes to the jungle, specifically to the cave of Mother and Father wolf, it is a result of Shere Khan’s attack on the place where is family made camp. Placed among the wolf cubs, his boldness is remarked – Kipling writes “The baby was pushing his way between the cubs to get close to the warm hide,” and Mother Wolf exclaims that “He is taking his meal with the others. (Kipling)

The tiger makes his attempts at taking the “man cub” and by and by he’s accepted into the pack, to be taught the ways of the wolves and the law of the jungle. Interestingly, rather than look on him as a threat, “the jungle animals confront this boy much as a troop of natural scientists would confront an oddity of nature. ” (Lerer 180) In the brief confrontation with Shere Khan after Mother and Father Wolf decide to keep him, they essentially take his quarry from his very grasp.

Interestingly, in Evans’ work on animal symbolism, it is said that wolf”means ravisher, and this is, in fact, the signification of the Sanskrit name of the animal, vrika, seizer” (Evans 78) in this regard, they seized Khan’s prey for their own purposes. A google search for information and interpretation on The Jungle Book will generally bring several results pointing to the story being an allegory for the British colonization of India. Given the author’s history and ties to both countries this is a very reasonable conclusion.

Following this allegory, the split factions of the wolves would represent groups of Indian natives who are for and against British colonization. Those who support Mowgli, equate to those who are supportive or at least ok with the colonization; while those who oppose his presence represent the people who were not particularly fond of the idea. Shere Khan, in this instance, is representative of the people who were aggressively against the idea. Ultimately, the forest is India.

It is interesting to note that the human “invader” comes from a culture that is portrayed as being fairly lawless, prone attacking their own over little more than superstition; yet the inhabitants of the jungle, the “natives” if you will, abide by laws that are taught fastidiously. Illustrating this inane notion men have that beings they view as beneath themselves must be less civilized, and are in need of our aid and teaching. Other interpretations take a biblical turn, likening Mowgli to Adam, as master of the animals, although this analysis might be a bit of a stretch.

In any case, American society in general tends to regard Shere Khan as the bad guy. He’s been trying to kill and eat Mowgli since he entered the jungle, and has managed to turn some of the wolf pack to his side, making them wonder how a man cub can be allowed a place at the wolf council and in the pack. As a result of his hate-mongering, when the standing of the council leader, Akela, as the strongest comes into question, Mowgli must run to a man village for his own safety; after doing what he can to defend Akela.

Iti s in the man village that Shere Khan sees his opportunity to seize the interloper once and for all. ttacking while Mowgli is seemingly alone. It is also where the tiger meets his demise, as he’s lead into a trap devised by Mowgli and some wolf companions and subsequently stampeded to death by the cattle the boy was attending. This end is generally satisfying to most, as it seems fitting for one so “evil” and intent on the destruction on a harmless little boy. The animated film version, from which I believe most Americans draw their conclusions, leaves Shere Khan running away in a panic, as Mowgli has tied a flaming stick to his tail, and the mighty tiger is terrified of fire.

If we take a step back to reinterpret what we thought was the truth of the story, and look at the characters from a different perspective, I believe we find a completely different tale altogether. If we explore the tiger a little bit deeper, we may find that this oft vilified character is less attacker and more protector than we have been lead to believe. In name, “The word Shere (or “shir”) translates as “tiger” or “lion” in Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi, and Khan translates as “sovereign,” “king”, or “military leader”, in a number of languages influenced by the Mongols, including Pashto. (“Shere Khan”) The character most certainly does behave as though he thinks he’s the king, for which he is treated with derision. Throughout Asian cultures, tigers are held in very high regard symbolically. In Korea, theyr’e regarded as “guardians that drive away evil spirits. ” (Wikipedia) Indian mythos places the tiger as sacred to their version of Mother Nature, Durga – often serving as the goddess’ vehicle. (Tiger)

In India, the country in which our story is set to begin with, tigers are respected for strength, grace and incredible power. They are, in fact, the national animal of India. Symbols of India) Even in Thailand, in the not so distant past, those suspected of crimes were thrown into tiger pits, the first killed deemed the guilty party. (Tiger) From these examples, one can easily extrapolate that the oft vilified character of Shere Khan is less murderer and more protector. Acting not as wanton assassin, intent on killing whomever he pleases, but on a creature of character and courage, doing what he feels is necessary to protect his home and his animal brothers from the evil that it could spread.

In the end, he pays the ultimate sacrifice for his efforts. A large number of myths are concerned with a primal animal, which must be sacrificed in the cause of fertility or even creation. ” (Jung/Franz 264) In this text, Shere Khan plays the part of the sacrificial animal, dying in his attempt to protect his home and people from the intrusion and influence of man, or in the British colonization allegory, dying to prevent the dilution of his people’s culture and lifestyle. The way things were was the way they should have been, but by the time the sacrifice had been made, it was too late to go back.

When Mother and Father Wolf”seized” young Mowgli from the jaws of Shere Khan, and their decision to keep him was backed by the wolf council, the fate of the pack was altered forever. Although they asked Akela to lead again after Khan’s death, and free them of the lawlessness they enjoyed as a result of the splintering of factions, it could not be put back together. As Bagheera put it, “Nay, that may not be. When ye are full-fed, the madness may come upon you again. Not for nothing are ye called the Free People. Ye fought for freedom, and it is yours Eat it, o Wolves. ” (Kipling)