Nature versus Nurture
The nature part of the story pertains to Mowgli’s innate classification as a human. His body is human, hairless and upright. The nurture part of the story pertains to his learned traits and characteristics. His extended foster family teaches him everything he must know to be a wolf. He hunts when he is hungry; he sleeps in a cave with his family. Mowgli understands and lives by the Law of the Jungle. Mowgli’s identity grows based on both his innate nature and the conditioning he receives from his surrogate family. Although he never breaks the Law of the Jungle, he continues to develop his prowess as a human being. This fact is evident in his ability to stare down any animal in the jungle. In addition, Mowgli grows as a human even though he follows the jungle code. He understands and recognizes himself as being like the villagers even though he feels as if he could live as a wolf for all of his days.
Experience and Knowledge
Mowgli develops an understanding of the jungle based on his experience. Interacting with the jungle and the teachings of Baloo, Bagheera, his family, and the pack shape his experience and develop his knowledge of the jungle. In this regard, Mowgli is an example of empiricism. With his accumulation of knowledge through experience, Mowgli is able to develop the skills necessary for survival and pleasure in the jungle. Experience provides him with knowledge, both of the jungle and of himself as a wolf.
Reason and Knowledge
Mowgli develops his knowledge of humans through his reasoning faculty. It is from within that Mowgli is able to grasp his identity as a human. He is able to see the similarity between himself and the villagers, but it is his deduction that leads him to the knowledge of his inborn nature. Reason compels Mowgli to grasp the universals that mandate his power over the animals. Even Mowgli’s dear friend and mentor, Bagheera, the most feared animal in the jungle, cannot withstand the stare of the boy. Mowgli does not learn the power of the stare. He grows to understand it through the rationalist process of deductive reasoning. This power, in turn, helps Mowgli to understand the determined laws that dictate his nature as a human being.
In “Mowgli’s Brothers,” Mowgli faces abandonment twice: first, he loses his family in the tiger attack, and, second, at the end of the story, he is cast out by the pack. Both events are compensated by victories. When Mowgli loses his family, he is embraced, protected, and accepted by a team of foster parents: Mother and Father Wolf, Akela, Baloo, and Bagheera. His extended family loves him deeply, but they are also aware and leery of his power. The boy’s strength as a human being lessens his vulnerability. This circumstance mitigates the trauma of his separation from his birth family. In the other instance, when most of the pack wishes to banish Mowgli, he defeats his enemy, the lame tiger, Shere Kahn. Mowgli overcomes the banishment by singeing the tiger, sending him fleeing into the jungle, and by exercising his will over the pack to save Akela and get rid of his saboteurs.
Laws and Codes
Kipling’s story is based on laws and codes. He constructs a strict Law of the Jungle that mimics the strictness of the code Mowgli’s foster family makes Mowgli follow as a youth. Within a framework of codes, Kipling creates the complicated title character. With the Law of Jungle and the Law of Man, Mowgli faces two systems that are intended to dictate his decisions. However, these codes clash, so Mowgli is pulled in opposite directions.
Discrimination and Envy
Kipling explores both discrimination and envy in “Mowgli’s Brothers.” In the beginning of the story, Mowgli is treated differently than the other wolf cubs because his appearance is different than theirs. Because Mowgli is a member of another specie and looks different, and the wolf pack wants nothing to do with him. He is different. He cannot be accepted as a member because he does not look like the group. Luckily, Baloo and Bagheera are able to save Mowgli from certain death. Later, as the boy grows and learns, discrimination and envy become linked. Mowgli learns the Law of the Jungle, and it directs his decisions. At the same time, because he is human, he is able stare down the animals. While Mowgli sees this trait as humorous, the animals see it as proof that he is superior to them. The animals see his stare as proof that he is wise beyond their comprehension. Shere Kahn and the wolves are jealous of Mowgli’s stare, so they work together to banish Mowgli from the pack. Their envy of Mowgli’s apparent power causes them to want to drive Mowgli from the jungle.
Mowgli as a Jungian Archetype
Psychologist Carl Jung used the term archetype in connection with his description of the unconscious. He argued that the unconscious is composed of two parts: the personal, consisting of an individual’s own memories and repressed information; and the universal or archetypal, consisting of those patterns and symbolic elements that all human beings inherit from a shared racial past. The content an individual shares with all other members of the race Jung called the collective unconscious. The archetype is prototypical or original material. This content surfaces in literature in the form of the recurrent story, myth, or character type. It causes strong emotional response because it is universally relevant.
Literary criticism can apply the term archetype to a given story or character that illustrates a paradigm or recurrent pattern. Mowgli’s story echoes the myth of Romulus and Remus, the twin boys who were taken from their mother and thrown into the Tiber River. The brothers were discovered by a female wolf, who suckled them. In this myth, Romulus grew up to become the founder of Rome. The character of Mowgli and his story repeat some features of the Romulus myth. Mowgli, a human child, is reared among wolves and then leaves the animal kingdom to return to human civilization. In this sense, then, one might say that Mowgli is archetypal. In terms of Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, one might interpret the end of Mowgli’s story, his departure from the jungle and return to the village, as a reenactment of a memory stored in the vague recesses of the unconscious of a time when human beings stood upright and “left” the animal kingdom. Something distinguished these very early human-like beings from the animals around them (perhaps their ability to stare down the animals), and this difference caused them to separate from jungle existence. The remembered moment is itself a construction or distillation of a developmental process that occurred during the development of the human race. That extremely slow process is compressed and dramatized succinctly in Mowgli’s departure from the wolf pack.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Rudyard Kipling, Published by Gale Group, 2010