The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Hello everyone! You should definitely appreciate this post because I have been working TWO WHOLE DAYS NOW and it is HARD and TIRING and it is only because of my dedication to you that this blog post now exists. So please excuse me if this is not very coherent.

I really like Rudyard Kipling. I find his writing elegant and evocative and I really don’t understand why he is the poster-boy for colonialism. I don’t feel like the casual racism that emerges from his stories is any worse than others of the time and in his short story collection Plain Tales from the Hills he pokes more fun at some of the white characters than other native heroes. Admittedly I haven’t read that much of his work but I am genuinely interested in why he is seen as the ultimate racist writer of Empire. Please tell me if you know!

This is exactly what my copy looks like! Thank you, Internet

Anyway I found The Jungle Book fairly delightful. It was the first real book I’d read in three months which probably helped but I loved the stories of Mowgli and the jungle creatures. I think that Kipling created some very distinct animal characters and I found Mowgli to be a sweet mix of pride and affection often present in kids. This kind of child character was echoed in Rikki-tikki and Little Toomai, found in other stories. (Did you know The Jungle Book is a collection of stories? I didn’t.) They weren’t all perfect, ‘Toomai of the Elephants’ dragged and ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ never captured the excitement implicit in its life-and-death situations. But overall there is a real sense of the excitement and otherness of nature. Kipling’s stories have a casual brutality that is present in the animal world but would probably be edited out of children’s stories today, but also a vitality and simplicity that makes them great adventure stories. Apart from ‘Her Majesty’s Servants’ which is clearly racist dogma.

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4 thoughts on “The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

  1. Even though I have to disagree with you about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which is one of my favourite stories, I definitely agree with you about Kipling overall. I don’t know if Kipling is really seen as the most racist writer, but he’s definitely one of the most obviously imperialist. It’s the general attitude that, even though there are “bad” Europeans, white people overall are more capable than the natives, and white society is better than native society. His poem “White Man’s Burden” exemplifies this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Man's_Burden – but as with things like Huckleberry Finn, I think that the casual racism and imperialist attitudes can be a good starting point for education and discussion.

    • You’re definitely right, there are some pretty repugnant ideas in his writing. As you said, it’s a good starting point for discussion and maybe it’s because he’s so well known that he has been focussed on?

      • Probably, yes – he won the Nobel Prize, after all. There were a lot of other very imperialist writers around, especially at the turn of the 20th century (when that was the accepted attitude), but Kipling was the best and most popular – and still is. I like his work for discussion in part because it is fairly balanced – it is definitely imperialist, but Indian culture is never described in a hateful way.

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