Rikki-Tikki-Tavi from The Jungle Book
"Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" shows man (and woman) in a really awkward place within the natural world. On the one hand, Teddy and his family are obviously super into nature. Teddy plays in the garden and the family takes in Rikki-tikki—a wild creature, mind you—without much hesitation. On the other hand, nature just seems out to get them. Three snake attacks in less than three days? That's got to be a record. Then to further complicate matters, the only way the family can protect themselves from nature as represented by the cobras is by domesticating a natural creature like Rikki-tikki. Perhaps the story's view of nature can best be summed up as: "Wow, isn't nature wonderful? Sure hope it doesn't kill us."
Questions About Man & the Natural World
- Nature is often depicted as dangerous in "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." Do you see any instances where it's seen as benign or helpful? If yes, where and how does this affect your reading of the story? If no, why do you think such a moment is absent from the story?
- What member of the British family seems most at ease with nature? Which one the least at ease? What does this tell you about this theme as seen in the story?
- By the end, do you think Rikki-tikki is a creature of nature or of civilization?
- The human father is practical while the human mother is a bit flighty. On the other hand, Darzee is a flighty songbird while his wife has a good head on her feathers. Why do you suppose the characterization of these couples is reversed like it is? Does it say something about man and the natural world?
Chew on This
In "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," the division between man and the natural world is also a division between Imperial Britain and India, with the British Empire and civilization on one side, and India and nature on the other.
It's possible to read "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" as arguing that the man's ownership of the garden is a result of survival of the fittest (a relatively new idea when Kipling was penning the story).