The Law of the Jungle

CCI09222015_0002(Moore)

The 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes is oft quoted as saying that without order, say that of a government, life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” This view is reflected in the views of Hobbes the tiger from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes thusly:

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(Waterson)

“Mowgli’s Brothers” by Rudyard Kipling, which relates the most widely known points of his famous collection of stories, The Jungle Book, describes how Mowgli is found by a family of wolves, raised as one of the pack, and eventually decides to rejoin the human world. In contrast to the above examples, it makes a case for the nobility of nature in preserving order so that, while life in the jungle may be dangerous, balance is internally maintained, in this case through the “Law of the Jungle.”

Kipling’s deep love for the Indian subcontinent, with its wild jungles, the complex and intertwining ecosystems of creatures that inhabit them, and the confrontational nature of their relationship with humans on the ever-shifting frontier of the 1890s, shines through in his efforts to meld a relatable narrative of coming-of-age and self-discovery with a setting and cast of animal characters that must appear foreign and alien to one not directly raised in a jungle. His stylistic choices, likely aimed at English school children of colonial-era India, as well as those dwelling far, far from the tropical jungles back in Britain, make the story accessible to readers of all levels with simple vocabulary and plenty of lively dialogue. It seems clear that Kipling hopes to inspire a sense of wonder and curiosity, rather than fear with regards to the shadowy world of beasts that lurk behind the veil of lush, nigh-impenetrable vegetation. He even takes a stab at being directly educational by introducing traditional terminology and local names such as the “gidur-log” for the jackals, and “dawanee” for rabies.

His reverence for the creatures is also apparent in his depictions of them as noble people who obey the “Law of the Jungle, which never orders anything without a reason.” The exceptions featured are the opportunistic, scavenging jackal, and the ill-willed tiger Shere Khan, who was called Lungri, or The Lame One, by his mother and is reduced to killing starved cattle and snatching children and pets from human villages. These are transgressions against The Law, and upsetting of the balance, bring the humans and animals of the jungle into conflict.

This enables The Law to serve as the moral foundation of the heroes of the story, especially the “free-people” of the wolves who are fiercely independent and want no dealings with humans, which the humans would clearly prefer as well. It also counters the general impression that the jungle, and the unknown that it holds, is chaotic and savage, but functions through an established order. From an instructive standpoint, this encourages readers to consider the consequences of their actions, as well as the the justifications for rules and laws already in place in their own societies, or even inherent flaws within these.

This ties in rather well with Mowgli’s realization that he is now a man, and must leave the jungle to be with his people, a conclusion he reaches with the help of his mentor and friend Bagheera the panther, who was born into captivity, but came to understand he belonged with his own kind. This, coupled with the high esteem in which these noble animals are held in Kipling’s tale, hints at a message of conservation and coexistence in further understanding of the wild frontier and the Law of the Jungle.

CCI09222015_0001

(Moore)

Sources

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathian c. 1651

Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. “Mowgli’s Brother.” Simon & Schuster, 1894

Moore, Inga. 1992

Waterson, Bill. Calvin & Hobbes

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