Study Guide

The Jungle Book Coming of Age

By Rudyard Kipling

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Coming of Age

[Mowgli] grew and grew strong as a boy must grow who does not know that he is learning any lessons, and who has nothing in the world to think of except things to eat. (1.70)

Coming of age is a gradual process of learning, and it's not like you're a man-cub one day then—boom—a man the next.

"Now I know thou art a man, and a man's cub no longer. The Jungle is shut indeed to thee henceforward. Let them fall, Mowgli. They are only tears." (1.139)

Real men do cry. Part of Mowgli's journey to becoming a man means leaving his wolf family behind. This would have happened whether or not he was a man because eventually a young wolf must leave the den, no matter the circumstance.

Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a good deal more than this. (3.1)

Being from both worlds, human and animal, Mowgli kind of has to come of age in both. In the jungle, he must learn to survive on his own, and as a man, he must learn to take care of himself and others, which is different than just basic survival.

"Well, if I am a man, a man I must become." (5.9)

Mowgli thought he was full-grown when he left the jungle, but he learns that he still has more growing to do in the human world. Sigh.

But [Mowgli] was not always alone, because years afterwards he became a man and married. (5.114)

We learn that Mowgli still has more journeys ahead of him, even if we don't know the specifics. We're told point-blank that he became a man, and we have no reason to believe otherwise.

"Next year," said Matkah to Kotick, "you will be a holluschickie; but this year you must learn how to catch fish." (7.25)

Holluschickie is the seal word for swinging bachelor, which is part of the journey for a seal to become the seal version of a man.

"The sea is deep, and you don't know all that's in it yet." (7.30)

This is a seal phrase meaning, you might think you've seen it all, but you still have room to grow. Like Mowgli's journey, Kotick's path keeps taking him places he thought he would never have to go.

[Kotick] turned and galloped (a seal can gallop very swiftly for a short time) back to the sea, his little new moustache bristling with horror. (7.42)

Kotick has a moustache. Just like with a human, that's how you know he's becoming a man soon. However, the phrase "little new moustache" here shows us that he's not quite there yet.

"We will come," said thousands of tired voices. "We will follow Kotick, the White Seal." (7.103)

Although Kotick's dad wasn't a leader (the seal community didn't have one), he was the closest they had to one. Kotick, however, surpasses his father and becomes the first bona fide leader of the seals.

This little one shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him. (11.80)

Toomai gets a title bestowed upon him, one that is only reserved for adult elephant trainers, like his grandfather. This is part of a coming-of-age ritual for the young boy.

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