The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | Chapter 5 : Tiger! Tiger! | Summary



Mowgli, having been kicked out of the pack, decides the village close by is too close to the part of the jungle where the Council is, so he goes to a village 20 miles away. He is taken in by Messua, the wife of the richest villager, whose son was taken by a tiger. Mowgli can't stand to sleep inside the hut because it feels like a trap, so he sleeps in a field. Mowgli, who has been learning about the ways of humans, ends up being a buffalo herder because he talks back to Buldeo, the village hunter, telling him Shere Khan was born lame and is not a ghost tiger.

Gray Brother, the eldest of the cubs Mowgli grew up with, comes to him at night and tells him Shere Khan, who is still healing from his burns, says he will kill Mowgli when he is healed. Mowgli has Gray Brother wait at a rock so he can spot him there every day until Shere Khan shows up. When Gray Brother is not there one day, Mowgli knows Shere Khan is on his way, so he must plan his attack. Gray Brother and Akela show up together, and Mowgli has them cut the herd of buffalo and cattle in half to block Shere Khan's way out of a ravine. Shere Khan is trapped in the ravine, and Mowgli rides his herd bull, Rama, into the ravine to trample Shere Khan to death. Buldeo finds Mowgli and yells at him for losing the cattle. Then Buldeo tries to take the hide away from Mowgli because it is worth money, and he tells Mowgli he will give him only one rupee of the hundred he will get for the hide. Mowgli tells Buldeo it was his mission to kill Shere Khan and asks Akela to help him keep Buldeo from taking the hide. Ordinarily, Buldeo would be able to fight a wolf, but Akela listens to Mowgli and understands him, which terrifies Buldeo.

When Mowgli comes back to the village, the villagers throw stones at him and accuse him of sorcery. He decides not to have the pack hurt the village because Messua has been kind to him, and he returns to Council Rock, meeting Bagheera and Mother Wolf along the way. The remaining wolves in the pack, sick of not having a leader, beg Akela and Mowgli to lead them, but Bagheera tells them they have the freedom they fought for and have to deal with it. Four cubs go off with Mowgli to form a pack and hunt with him, until he becomes an adult and marries.


This chapter continues the conflict set up in the first story, "Mowgli's Brothers," where Mowgli must leave the pack, promising to bring back the hide of Shere Khan. Mowgli's confusion in the village is partially related to his upbringing, following the Law of the Jungle rather than the laws of a community of people. However, it is also a confusion that arises from the willful ignorance of the people in the village about the jungle around them. The villagers are paralyzed by fear of what they don't understand, and they are not willing to explore further to dispel the myths they hold on to. This is an interesting issue Kipling brings up: the conflict of two cultures and the different sets of laws each culture has. Kipling's life in India was full of such conflicts between the British Empire's way of organizing society and the way native Indian people organized castes of people in their communities. Kipling understood the rules of the Empire but found the caste system difficult to understand and impossible to adhere to. His idea that the Empire brought civilization to India, however, can be compared with the blindness the people in the village have regarding the Law of the Jungle. They don't understand how these laws work, so they make up reasons for what they see, reasons with no bearing in reality.

Mowgli's promise is also important in this chapter, and he shows bravery when he and his two wolf accomplices set up a blockade in the ravine to trap Shere Khan. This plan could have failed, and Mowgli would not be able to fight Shere Khan if he were ambushed. However, Mowgli takes the bull by the horns, literally, and though he is worried Rama won't be able to handle this task, he pushes forward anyway. By bravely trusting in his instincts and his intelligence, Mowgli is able to keep his promise and comes away from the village with Shere Khan's hide.

At the end of the story comes a classic example of "Be careful what you wish for." Bagheera's comment that the wolves have fought for their freedom and must now eat that freedom represents the idea if an animal breaks the rules, there are natural consequences, and it is sometimes not possible to get back what is lost by breaking the rules. A betrayal of family is particularly awful, but Mowgli is able to leave with a few of his fellow cubs, so his remaining days in the jungle are not lonely. Still, it is hard for Mowgli to cope with the fact that his wolf pack has self-destructed.

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