The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | Chapter 13 : Her Majesty's Servants | Summary

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Summary

The Amir of Afghanistan is visiting a camp of soldiers and trained military animals in India. He has brought along 800 men and wild horses who have never seen a military camp before. The Amir's horses get loose and trample tents on a regular basis while he is there. One night the narrator, who is part of the Viceroy's camp, has to quickly vacate his tent in a rainstorm because it is about to be trampled by a camel who is having bad dreams. The narrator ends up hiding under a large gun, keeping himself dry under the tent he made from his waterproof jacket, listening to the military-trained animals tell each other what they each are afraid of. Their specific fears differ, but they all agree: knowing who to obey is what makes them do their jobs well. The chaos in the camp, in various forms, sparks their fears, but each animal has a particular strength for dealing with difficulties. One's strength is another's weakness.

The animals argue about what it means to be brave and fight, and a young mule wants to know why they even have to fight at all. The only reason for fighting is the fact that the animals are ordered to go into battle, and if the animals had a choice, they would not want to do it. However, they have to obey their drivers, who have to obey their commanders, and so forth. The line of command for the camp animals goes from their drivers all the way up to the Viceroy and the Empress (of the British Empire). The Amir's soldiers, who obey their own wills, end up having to take orders from the Viceroy.

Analysis

This chapter, on first appearance, seems to reflect the notion that civilization by the British Empire is what makes a nation great, and without that chain of command, everything falls apart. However, the character of the young mule questions the main point of the story when he asks why there is fighting at all. Through the character Kipling questions how violence can be considered civilized when it results in the same bloodshed as total chaos does. The elephants' fear, from their knowledge of what bloodshed means, shows Kipling, at some point in his writing, wants to demonstrate there is no such thing as a good war. The animals can be running around the camp toppling tents or they can be marching in lines, obeying their drivers, but the end result is still bloodshed.

The push and pull between the idea of obedience to rules and the idea of violence being something to avoid is a particularly human conflict, but in this chapter, some of the animals feel the conflict, too. In the Mowgli stories the tears Mowgli sheds because he is betrayed make him human, but some of the animals in this story are not immune to sadness and fear, particularly the elephants. They take on human qualities, though their particular fears are expressed through their bodily perceptions of the world around them.

The young mule's fear and need to be near Billy, the older mule, is part of his coming of age. He knows he is supposed to be brave and follow his driver, but the fear of the unknown, as well as the fear of being immersed in the fighting, overtakes him. The troop-horse's admonition to be gentle with the young mule shows sympathy for the pains of growing up in the military.

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