The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | Chapter 9 : Rikki-Tikki-Tavi | Summary

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Summary

Rikki-tikki-tavi is a young mongoose who, like all mongooses, wants to be a house mongoose one day. When a flood washes him out of his parent's nest, a little boy named Teddy finds him, and the boy's mother takes Rikki-tikki-tavi into the house. Teddy's father wraps him up in cotton to help him get better, since Rikki-tikki-tavi nearly drowned. He is a curious little mongoose and wants to explore everything. He likes to play with Teddy and sleep in the same bed with him at night. The mother of the family worries the mongoose will bite Teddy, but Teddy's father knows Rikki-tikki-tavi will be gentle.

When Rikki-tikki-tavi saves the family from a small, brown, poisonous snake named Karait, Teddy's mother realizes Rikki-tikki-tavi is there to help them. Rikki-tikki discovers there are more snakes, when Darzee, the Tailorbird, tells him Nag and Nagaina, two cobras, have been eating his fledglings. Rikki-tikki-tavi, who eats eggs but would never kill a fledgling, is infuriated and decides he is going to kill Nag and Nagaina. The cobras decide they will kill the human family, believing Rikki-tikki-tavi will leave the garden if the humans are gone. One night when Nag lurks in the bathroom waiting to spring in the morning and kill, Rikki-tikki-tavi attacks the cobra first and kills him. The next morning Rikki-tikki-tavi decides to kill the cobras' eggs in the garden. While he is crushing the eggs, Nagaina attempts to strike Teddy, who is eating breakfast with his family. Rikki-tikki-tavi lures Nagaina away from Teddy by showing her the last living egg. Nagaina pursues Rikki-tikki-tavi, giving Teddy's father time to grab Teddy and place him out of the cobra's reach. Rikki-tikki-tavi chases Nagaina, who snatches the egg, down into a hole in the ground, and he kills her. Rikki-tikki-tavi spends the rest of his days keeping the family's garden free of snakes.

Analysis

The character of Rikki-tikki-tavi is one of the funniest characters Kipling has created in The Jungle Book. He is a curious little mongoose whose every move reflects his larger-than-life personality. Through the descriptions of Rikki-tikki's bottlebrush tail, red eyes, and angry noises, Kipling creates a clear picture of a determined little creature whose wit and speed allow him to protect the people in his house. The body language of Nagaina also gives the reader an idea of her personality in the story. Her stealth and evil intent come through in the descriptions of her snatching her egg from the nest and escaping, and her conversation with Nag before he is killed also reflects this cunning predator's skills in taking down her victims.

This story contains one of the rare instances where the interaction between human and animal is beneficial for both parties. Rikki-tikki-tavi gets to live in a house and play with Teddy, and he has an unlimited buffet of deadly snakes to eat. The family gets protection from Rikki-tikki-tavi as well as a big dose of entertainment, watching Rikki-tikki explore everything and show affection to Teddy. There is also a beneficial interaction between Rikki-tikki-tavi and Darzee, in that Rikki-tikki's penchant for killing snakes helps to keep Darzee's fledglings alive. In return Rikki-tikki gets to have an entire neighborhood of birds sing his praises.

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