The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | Chapter 7 : The White Seal | Summary

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Summary

The story in Chapter 7 is told to the narrator by Limmershin, the Winter Wren. In Novastoshnah, in the Bering Sea, a seal named Sea Catch and his wife, Matkah, have a white seal baby, Kotick. In his first year he learns to catch fish; in his second year, as a holluschickie, or mating-age seal, Kotick dances the Fire-dance in the waves where the late summer sun gleams. He sees other holluschickie rounded up by a hunter and his son and follows them, discovering they are killed for their skins. The hunters won't touch him because he is white, and this is bad luck, but all of the other seals allow themselves to be herded and killed. Kotick decides this is so horrible he will have to find a safe place where men do not go.

Kotick talks with Sea Lion, who tells him to find Sea Vitch, the walrus, and ask him where there are no men. Sea Vitch tells him to ask Sea Cow, if he can find him. Kotick spends five years searching everywhere for an island where men do not hunt seal, but finds nothing. However, a very old seal tells him a story about a white seal, who, legend says, will come to save his people, so Kotick tries once more, and he finds a herd of sea cows. He follows them for a long while, and they finally swim through a tunnel to a beach where no humans have ever been. Kotick goes back to tell his Sea People, but they won't follow him. Kotick fights with them all, and when they have all had enough fighting, thousands of the tired seals decide to follow Kotick. Gradually, each season, more seals follow Kotick to the sheltered beach beyond Sea Cow's Tunnel.

Analysis

This tale explores the theme of bravery. Kotick is already special because of his white coat, and it helps him avoid the consequences of following the hunters, so he can afford to be brave. The hunters won't touch him out of superstition. But Kotick shows true bravery by not forgetting the sight of his friends, dead and skinned, and by being persistent enough to find a place where this carnage will not happen again. Just when he is about to give up, he hears from an old seal a story about a white seal who will save his people, and he uses this story to boost his bravery and keep on going. His persistence pays off. The seals are very much set up by Kipling to represent a collective group mentality, while individuality and intelligence is shown to be necessary to save the group from its longstanding habits and patterns.

The theme of violence also appears in this chapter, not only in the violent interaction between humans and seals but also in the fighting between the adult Kotick and the young seals. Kotick establishes dominance over the other seals by tearing them to shreds, and he doesn't escape unscathed. By the time he is done he is red rather than white, from all of the blood. However, this instance of violence makes the seals agree to follow him.

The seals follow Kotick to safety, but this is not always what happens when a leader beats his followers into submission. This particular metaphor is disturbing when the reader sees it in human terms, but the laws of the animal world are different. The ability to understand how a different set of rules works is a theme running through many of Kipling's stories.

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