Study Guide

Shere Khan (the Tiger) in The Jungle Book

By Rudyard Kipling

Shere Khan (the Tiger)

Tiger Tiger Burning… Dim

Shere Khan might be the least scary tiger ever. Seriously, this tiger is scarier than Shere Khan. His lackey, Tabaqui (hey, that rhymes) calls him "The Big One" (1.8), but he's not the most reliable source. Kissing tiger butt serves Tabaqui well since he's a jackal—so he's definitely smaller than Shere Khan—plus he's a scavenger who enjoys tagging along with this giant predator, and hopes to keep doing so. On the flip side, Shere Khan is called Lungri—or "the Lame One" (1.11)—by Mother Wolf and pretty much everyone else.

The tiger's main (read: only) strength is that he's able to take advantage of animals dumber than himself, like most of the wolves and most of the humans. Without physical strength, Shere Khan instead must outwit, outplay, and outlast everyone else in what amounts to a game of Survivor in the jungle.

In the first chapter, we see him convince the young wolves "that a man-cub has no place within the Pack" (1.78). Shere Khan is always jonesin' for a Mowgli snack, a hunger he tries to satisfy by basically saying he will annoy the wolves with his incompetence until they give him to them: "Give me the man-cub or I will hunt here always" (1.119). And guess what? It works. Shere Khan is so useless that when he "hunts," he scares off all the game, forcing other animals in the area to either move or go hungry.

Eventually, Shere Khan's laziness and stupidity backfire and kill him. He suffers what has to be one of the most ignoble deaths in literature: He is taking a nap, and Mowgli stomps him flat with a buffalo. Seriously—he's squished in his sleep. So much for the big bad cat of the jungle, huh?

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