Rudyard Kiplings "The Jungle Book": India, Colonialism, and the Orient

Joseph Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is a series of seven short stories that mostly take place in the jungles of India. Since the book’s publishing in 1893, there has been much thought of how ‘The Jungle Book’ somewhat represents the colonization of India by Western culture and how the Western ideal of orientalism, the Orient, and the Other are created through the power of Western culture and is represented in the writing.

According to the Introduction to Post Colonialism and Ethnic Studies in the text The Critical Tradition, Michel Foucault has a theory that knowledge is a way in itself to have power over another people, and this is where Edward Said takes and builds his theories about Orientalism and the Other. Agreeing with Foucault’s theory, it makes sense that a Western nation would think they know how to colonize better than another nation because Western nations are so much more advanced in every way than nations that have not yet been colonized. Imposing their knowledge on these nations is what gives the West power, because these nations are being forced to colonize faster by following (or mostly following) the example and leadership of the Western cultures.

According to Said, Orientalism is a creation of the Western culture and allows the West to have domination over another culture because of the political power and force the West has cultivated. The Orient is also a creation of the Western culture and therefore is based on the view of this culture, making the ‘Other’ as viewed in Western terms. Said also points out that there are certain traits given to the Orient and these traits are held in place by the literature of that culture, ‘The Jungle Book’ for example.

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The British had a hand in colonizing several nations.Indian womenThe British soldiers killing Indian people who no longer wanted to be under British rule
The British had a hand in colonizing several nations.
The British had a hand in colonizing several nations.
Indian women
Indian women
The British soldiers killing Indian people who no longer wanted to be under British rule
The British soldiers killing Indian people who no longer wanted to be under British rule

Jane Hotchkiss mentions that the typical qualities attributed to the Other, according to European culture, are indolence (lazy), licentiousness (sexually immoral), cunning (crafty/deceitful), cruelty, and brutality, the last of which were emphasized. According to the Introduction to Post Colonialism and Ethnic Studies in the text The Critical Tradition, Edward Said implicates the Orient as having these characteristics; irrational, depraved, childlike, or different. Having this foundation for what it is to be the Orient or the Other, Said also has a definition of what it is to be a part of the Western nation.

Said defined the West as being rational, virtuous, mature, and normal. We see most of these traits in the novel, and both Said and Hotchkiss seem to be right about what it is to be the Orient or the Other according to the West. These traits are given to both the villagers (according to the jungle animals) and to the jungle animals (according to the villagers), but it seems they mostly fit the lifestyle of the jungle animals. In the novel, animals altogether are seen as cunning, as in ‘Tiger, tiger’ when the wolf turns into a human. This is an example of the way animals are seen; cruel (taking villager children), brutal (the ferocity of their lifestyle), and different (not of the same species).

In the history of India, we see that Britain invades the land in order to help make them a colonized nation, according to their idea of colonization. Labeling India as a nation under Orientalism, as the Other, allowed the British power to seep through and give the British the power to colonize India according to their standards and beliefs. It is obvious that Britain has allowed themselves to be defined in the terms Said would define the Western nations as; rational, virtuous, mature, and normal, as opposed to the Indian natives who are not.

According to Danielle Sered, the Orient is given the traits of the ‘Other’ according to the Western idea of what the ‘Other’ is to their culture. This takes other cultures (the Indian culture in ‘The Jungle Book’) that seem alien to the Western idea of culture and labels them as the ‘Other’ in terms of the West. Being labeled as the ‘Other’ by the West gives the Western culture the political power and strength to turn the ‘Other’ as a whole into the culture that is less alien to Western nations, thus redefining their culture and colonizing their culture to fit the Western idea of what the structure of a nation should be.

Kaa trying to Eat Mowgli

In ‘The Jungle Book’, Orient or the Other is the title given to the jungle animals because they are seen as un-colonized and having no workable society according to the villagers. We see the title of the Other being silently given to the jungle animals as Mowgli is thrown into the village, and the villagers try to change Mowgli, who is more like a jungle animal, into what they believe he should be like according to their society. They see their society as superior to what Mowgli knows (the ways of the jungle animals) and want to impose their ways on him in order to separate him from the jungle animals. The villagers would only try to change Mowgli if they labeled him/his actions as the Other, since his lifestyle is much different than theirs. The villagers try to change Mowgli into something more familiar to them, less of the Other and more of what they know as a culture, but Mowgli is somewhat resistant to their changes.

Said then looks at how the culture that has been defined as the Other is kept in the generalization and is only seen as the Other in literature. Applying this statement to ‘The Jungle Book’, we see that the Indian nation has been labeled as the Other from the beginning, and are constantly shown as the Other in the stories. When Mowgli first shows up in the story, he is known to be human, not of the animal’s species, yet the animals take him in and treat him as their own for the most part. Mowgli is not clearly seen as the Other by the jungle animals until Shere Khan labels him as the Other, giving Shere Khan the power to define the normal and try to change (or eat) the abnormal (Mowgli).

On the other hand, we also see other humans in this book, and they are always seen as the Other in terms of the jungle animals, because humans are the Other species when seeing from the view of the animals. However, when it comes to humans, the animals are given the title of the Other because they are of a different species than the humans. The representation of Indian people as the Other is the most constant structure in this novel, and it is by these means that India is kept under the constant title of the Other in terms of the Western culture. It is as if the Western culture is seeing the same view as the animals in the novel, because both see the Indian people as the Other who are alien to them, and who are seen as extremely different than themselves.

According to Jane Hotchkiss, Kipling himself was born in India and spent some time there, but he also lived in America, and therefore experienced two stories of who the Other was; Indian people whom he was a part of, (according to the Americans), and also the Americans whom he was also a part of, (according to the people of India). We see this same concept in ‘The Jungle Book’ because Mowgli is, in fact, a part of the animals from a young age and a part of the Indian people biologically speaking. In this light, the animals could be seen as the Indian people and the Indian people could be seen as Britain in terms of the existence of colonization within each nation.

Being a part of both sides gives Mowgli the benefit of first seeing the humans as the Other since he grew up in the wolf pack, and then seeing the animals as somewhat the Other when he lives with the humans for a while. This concept being in the novel embellishes the point that who the Other is depends on what group you are a part of, something that the Western civilization did not care to think of since they saw everyone who was not their culture or close to it as the Other, not thinking about the fact that they themselves were the Other according to these other nations.

According to Hotchkiss, the song at the end of ‘Mowgli’s Brother’s’ represents the dilemma that Mowgli had with being caught in between two cultures, that of the jungle people, and that of his biological people, the cultural Indians. Mowgli says ‘I fly between the village and the jungle’, meaning that he is living among those in the village and those in the jungle, a part of both species, seeming to also represent how Kipling himself could have felt since he was also in between two cultures at once (Indian and American).

According to Laura Stevenson, when speaking of the politics in ‘The Jungle Book’, Kipling “endorses, for example, Shamsul Islam's discussion of the Mowgli stories as expositions of imperial law, and he quotes with evident approval Norman McClure's statement that collectively the stories compose "a fable of imperial education and rule" that shows "Mowgli behaving towards the beasts as the British do to the Indians.” The imperial law is represented by the law of the jungle, which are the laws of which Mowgli follows over the laws of man. Stevenson saying Mowgli’s treatment of the beasts is similar to that of how the British treated the Indians is defining the Other as it is seen in Mowgli’s position. He defeats the beasts that threatens his livelihood, as the British work to defeat un-colonized nations in colonizing India and other nations.

Another view by Hotchkiss is that the villagers represent the colonial settlers and the animals represent the native population in rebellion. Historically, India rebelled against Britain as they tried to take control over the nation and colonize it beginning in 1857 and continuing throughout the late 1800’s in India. In the novel, the animals could be seen as the rebellious Indian natives because although they are not ‘colonized’ in the jungle, they still have rules and a society, just as the native population did before Britain decided to help change them into a more ‘colonized’ nation. Another example of how the jungle animals represent the native population in rebellion is that, as mentioned before (page 2, paragraph 2) Mowgli is resistant to the changes set before him by the villagers who want him to become more as they are, entirely representing the rebelling natives.

The villagers in the novel could very well represent the colonial British settlers because, first of all, they do not understand that the society of the jungle animals is somewhat organized, and does not need their understanding or help to be colonized as they are. The villagers also see the jungle animals as wild and savage, as they first see Mowgli, because they place the animals as the Other, thus giving them reason to change Mowgli to what they think is colonized and settled into changing for the better. The fact the Mowgli would rather live with the animals seems insane, but from Mowgli’s perspective, the villagers are the savages and the animals are his family because he has placed the humans as the Other for his entire life.

There is sufficient evidence supporting the theories that Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ helps to identify the time in which the British colonized India and the presence of Orientalism in the novel itself. The novel supports two different and (both correct views) of who and what the Oriental or Other is depending on the view we are looking at. Furthermore, the strength and superiority given to the Western nations is proved to have a hand in being able to colonize a nation, imposing their beliefs, ways, and society upon others to help ‘better’ these societies. It is in these ways ‘The Jungle Book’ helps depict Orientlaism, the idea or the Other, and colonizing India as a whole.

"Bear Necessities" Disney's The Jungle Book


Hotchkiss, Jane. “The Jungle of Eden: Kipling, Wolf Boys, and the Colonial Imagination.” Victorian Literature and Culture 29.2 (2001) : 435-449. Print.

Introduction. “Postcolonialism and Ethnic Studies.” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David H. Richter. Queens, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 1753-1776. Print.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. New York: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1893. Print.

Said, Edward. “From the Introduction to Orientalism.” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David H. Richter. Queens, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 1801-1814. Print.

Sered, Danielle. Orientalism. 1996. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.

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Sood, Abhishek. India. 2001. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

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Stevenson, Laura. “Mowgli and His Stories: Versions of Pastoral.” The Sewanee Review 109.3 (2001) : 358-378. Print.

© 2014 Nicole


sheilamyers 2 years ago

For the most part, I read all fiction for the simple entertainment; however, I did enjoy reading your hub and learning about the story behind the stories. It was very interesting and thought-provoking.

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baybpnk 2 years ago from Michigan (the Mitten), United States Author

Sheila, I remember reading this comment months ago and forgot to reply to it! Thank you very much. This was one of my favorite stories as a child, so it was cool for me to be able to tear it apart and see what was underneath-at least according to the adult world. The Jungle Book is still a story about a boy who grew up in the wild and was treated like family by beings so different than he to me =)

sheilamyers 2 years ago

baybpnk: You don't have to apologize for not leaving a response to my response sooner. I know how busy we all can get.

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baybpnk 2 years ago from Michigan (the Mitten), United States Author

Yes, thank you!

Ranin 22 months ago

can I use some of these information as a source for my research paper?

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baybpnk 20 months ago from Michigan (the Mitten), United States Author


I'm so sorry, I didn't see this comment until now! I hope you did not use this as a source because I am not a reliable source, I am a blogger. You may by all means look at my sources for any information, though. I have them listed at the very end of this post. If you are still working on your paper I would be happy to look it over for you or help you with your sources.

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ahamley 18 months ago

I enjoyed reading your hub and learning about the story behind the stories.

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