The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | Chapter 1 : Mowgli's Brothers | Summary

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The Jungle Book consists of seven short stories and seven songs, one song after each story. Ten of the selections are set in the Indian jungle, and the others take place in the Bering Sea or Pakistan. Rudyard Kipling did not number the chapters. For the purpose of this study guide, the stories and songs have each been numbered and treated as an individual chapter.

Summary

Just after Mother and Father Wolf wake up, a small boy they call a man-cub wanders into their den. Moments later Shere Khan, a large tiger, shows up at the mouth of Mother and Father Wolf's cave, looking for the man-cub he has been hunting. Mother Wolf claims the cub as her own and names him Mowgli, which means "little frog." Shere Khan is furious, but he backs off. The wolves must present Mowgli to the Seeonee Wolf Pack, so the other wolves will identify him as part of the pack and not harm him. At the Council meeting Shere Khan tries to convince the Free People (the wolves) to turn over the cub, but Akela, the old pack leader, asks if there is anyone who will speak for the cub. Baloo the bear offers to train Mowgli, and Bagheera the black panther offers a bull in exchange for Mowgli's acceptance into the pack.

Baloo and Bagheera teach Mowgli the Law of the Jungle, while Shere Khan tries to convince the other young wolves they should get rid of Mowgli because they can't look him in the eyes. Bagheera warns Mowgli just as the panther had to escape from humans and return to the jungle, so Mowgli will have to leave the jungle and return to a "man pack." Bagheera also says Mowgli will have to kill his enemy Shere Khan one day. When Akela, leader of the Wolf Pack, misses his prey and is, as required by the Law, forced to step down as leader, the pack turns against Mowgli. Shere Khan demands they turn Mowgli over to him. Mowgli frightens them all with fire, the "red flower" he has stolen from the village. He singes Shere Khan with the fire and frees Akela from being killed by the pack. As he leaves, Mowgli, crying for the first time in his life, promises the pack he will return in the future with Shere Khan's skin on his head.

Analysis

In this first of three chapters about Mowgli, the little boy who is raised by wolves in the jungle, Kipling reveals to readers the power of the Law of the Jungle as well as the corruption and power of those who break the laws. Shere Khan's character most embodies the negative associations with corruption of power, turning on those who trust their leaders, as well as undermining the leader, and betrayal. Mowgli's supporters do everything they are supposed to do to make Mowgli part of the pack, and there is no reason for any of the wolves to turn against him, but Shere Khan secretly coaches many of the younger wolves to hate him. Shere Khan is also not a member of the Council, but he tries to direct the outcome of the meeting where Baloo and Bagheera support Mowgli. The interference of someone who doesn't follow the Law of the Jungle produces negative results. The wolves who ally themselves with Shere Khan lose not only their wolf leader, Akela, but their man-cub leader as well, the one member of the pack who can defend them from the likes of Shere Khan as well as from human beings. Their betrayal of the Law and of Mowgli foreshadow later events in Mowgli's life story as well as their own downfall as a pack.

The themes of coming of age and violence are prevalent in this story as well. Mowgli grows up with the pack, and as he gets closer to adulthood, he takes responsibility for protecting the pack from Shere Khan's influence. He may sound like he is tossing off promises he can't keep, but Mowgli is persistent, intelligent, and crafty. He also relies on his teachers for help in figuring out how to keep his promises, but to be successful, he has to frighten the pack with fire, the "red flower," and save not only Akela, but himself. He begins his attack on Shere Khan at that point, singeing the tiger's fur, but this is not the last time he will confront Shere Khan.

Kipling uses the technique of fast-forwarding in time to set up the conflict between Mowgli and Shere Khan. He could have continued with the story of Mowgli's education in the jungle and the confrontation with the Monkey People, but instead he goes straight to Mowgli's promise to come back to the pack with Shere Khan's hide. The reader now understands how Mowgli feels about the pack's betrayal, as Mowgli's tears symbolize not only his humanness but his deep sadness, and the reader is kept wondering if Mowgli will really be able to kill Shere Khan. The mixed-up timeline heightens the suspense in this adventure story, keeping readers on the hook until the next installment of the Mowgli-Shere Khan battle, which doesn't come until the third Mowgli story in the book.

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