Rudyard Kipling

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Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India in 1860, when the country was under control of the British Empire. As an “Anglo-Indian,” Kipling grew up with a complicated relationship to both countries—complexities he often explored in his fiction. He attended boarding school in England, where a combination of homesickness and mistreatment turned him towards literary endeavors. He returned to India to finish his schooling, and soon got a job at a small local newspaper in what is today a part of Pakistan. He worked in newspapers for the first six years of his career—from 1883 until 1889—where his first short stories and essays were published. He released six collections of short stories between 1887 and 1889, giving him the success he needed to fully pursue a literary career. He married Caroline Balestie, the sister of an American publisher, in 1892 and spent a few years in America before returning to Britain in 1896. There he became one of England’s most beloved authors, penning the likes of The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, and Just So Stories. In 1907, he became the first British writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1936, and today is remember as one of the foremost authors of the late Romantic era.
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Historical Context of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

As an “Anglo-Indian”—the term for a British national living in occupied India—Kipling was deeply influenced by both the occupiers and the occupied. The British Empire controlled India throughout the entirety of Kipling’s lifetime, an occupation typically viewed by contemporaries as beneficial to spreading western “civilization” to exotic or “savage” lands. Of course, the British Raj, as it was called, also inherently oppressed Indian culture and contributed to widespread prejudice and racism against allegedly “uncivilized” locals, elements that manifest in much of Kipling’s writing. His work has often been criticized as being very pro-colonialism, advocating for British rule over other cultures in their native lands. But having witnessed the give-and-take between British and Indian cultures, Kipling also viewed such a process as inherently complex and occupied cultures as possessing value worthy of preservation. He advocated colonialism as a force for good, bringing advancement and improved quality of life to those whom they ruled. That gave his work a nuance that defies simple propaganda and captured some of the intense exchanges that take place when two different cultures come into contact. India declared independence in 1947.

Other Books Related to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Kipling was a writer of the late Romantic era. Stories of the era emphasized the beauty of the natural world, as well as the extraordinary qualities of the individual. Kipling’s work was in keeping with other late Romantic writers such as the famed poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, who wrote about Arthurian knights in The Idylls of the King as well as contemporary British soldiers in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Kipling himself often wrote about military adventures, notably in his short story “The Man Who Would Be King,” and viewed soldiers with an air of hero worship. “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” also bears a strong resemblance to classic Aesop’s fables and fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. The animals in these stories share human qualities, a method Kipling returned to many times with his Just-So Stories and The Jungle Book. The natural world influenced Kipling as well, which was in keeping not only with Tennyson, but with earlier poets such as Percy Shelley (“Mont Blanc”) and John Keats (“Ode to a Grecian Urn”).
Key Facts about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
  • Full Title: “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”
  • When Written: 1894
  • Where Written: Vermont, United States
  • When Published: 1894
  • Literary Period: Romanticism
  • Genre: Short Story, Fable, Historical Adventure
  • Setting: Segowlee, a city in Northen India sometime in the late 19th Century
  • Climax: Rikki-tikki-tavi slays Nagaina in the cobra’s hole
  • Antagonist: Nag and Nagaina
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Animated Adaptation. An animated version of the story was released in 1975, directed by the great Chuck Jones (who also brought Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch to animated life and directed dozens of classic Warner Bros. cartoons).