Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

by

Rudyard Kipling

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Rikki-tikki-tavi Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Rikki-tikki-tavi is a young, inquisitive mongoose who saves his adoptive English family—and the animals in their garden—from the dastardly cobras Nag and Nagaina. He’s described as fearless, self-confident, and, above all, “eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity.” That innate curiosity feeds his bravery, which, in turn, helps him stand up to bullies like cobras. His instincts make him a natural fighter and he expresses an innate loyalty to Teddy and his family that makes him a de facto protector of the garden. Still young at the start of the story, Rikki-tikki’s lack of experience tempers his formidable combat skills and prevents him from achieving a swift and painless victory against the cobras, but his strength, perseverance, and willingness to take the battle to the enemy make him akin to an English knight. He often grows short-tempered at the foolishness of other creatures in the garden, such as when Darzee is singing a victory song while Nagaina is still alive. In addition, he’s capable of duplicity in the name of pursuing justice, as when he bargains in bad faith with Nagaina and her egg, leveraging it to get the better of the cobra. Yet these flaws are overlooked not only because of the greater good he’s doing, but because of his positive qualities (such as courage and intelligence) which he diligently deploys to the betterment of all.

Rikki-tikki-tavi Quotes in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

The Rikki-Tikki-Tavi quotes below are all either spoken by Rikki-tikki-tavi or refer to Rikki-tikki-tavi. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Puffin edition of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi published in 1984.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Quotes

It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the mongoose family is “Run and find out,” and Rikki-tikki was a true mongoose.

Related Characters: Rikki-tikki-tavi, Teddy, Teddy’s Father
Explanation and Analysis:

“I suppose he’s so tame because we’ve been kind to him.”

“All mongooses are like that,” said her husband. “If Teddy doesn’t pick him up by the tail, or try to put him in a cage, he’ll run in and out of the house all day long. Let’s give him something to eat.”

Related Characters: Teddy’s Father (speaker), Teddy’s Mother (speaker), Rikki-tikki-tavi, Teddy
Related Symbols: Human Food
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t like that,” said Teddy’s mother. “He may bite the child.” “He’ll do no such thing,” said the father. “Teddy’s safer with that little beast than if he had a bloodhound to watch him. If a snake came into the nursery now—”

Related Characters: Teddy’s Father (speaker), Teddy’s Mother (speaker), Rikki-tikki-tavi, Teddy
Explanation and Analysis:

He sat on all their laps one after the other, because every well-brought-up mongoose always hopes to be a house mongoose some day and have rooms to run about in; and Rikki-tikki’s mother (she used to live in the general’s house at Segowlee) had carefully told Rikki what to do if ever he came across white men.

Explanation and Analysis:

Then inch by inch out of the grass rose up the head and spread hood of Nag, the big black cobra, and he was five feet long from tongue to tail. When he had lifted one-third of himself clear of the ground, he stayed balancing to and fro exactly as a dandelion tuft balances in the wind, and he looked at Rikki-tikki with the wicked snake’s eyes that never change their expression, whatever the snake may be thinking of.

“Who is Nag?” said he. “I am Nag. The great God Brahm put his mark upon all our people, when the first cobra spread his hood to keep the sun off Brahm as he slept. Look, and be afraid!”

Related Characters: Nag (speaker), Rikki-tikki-tavi
Related Symbols: Nag’s Hood
Explanation and Analysis:

He came down almost across her back, and if he had been an old mongoose he would have known that then was the time to break her back with one bite; but he was afraid of the terrible lashing return stroke of the cobra. He bit, indeed, but did not bite long enough, and he jumped clear of the whisking tail, leaving Nagaina torn and angry.

Related Characters: Rikki-tikki-tavi, Nag, Nagaina
Explanation and Analysis:

Rikki-tikki knew he was a young mongoose, and it made him all the more pleased to think that he had managed to escape a blow from behind. It gave him confidence in himself, and when Teddy came running down the path, Rikki-tikki was ready to be petted.

Related Characters: Rikki-tikki-tavi, Teddy
Explanation and Analysis:

If Rikki-tikki had only known, he was doing a much more dangerous thing than fighting Nag, for Karait is so small, and can turn so quickly, that unless Rikki bit him close to the back of the head, he would get the return stroke in his eye or his lip. But Rikki did not know.

Explanation and Analysis:

That night at dinner, walking to and fro among the wine-glasses on the table, he might have stuffed himself three times over with nice things. But he remembered Nag and Nagaina, and though it was very pleasant to be patted and petted by Teddy’s mother, and to sit on Teddy’s shoulder, his eyes would get red from time to time, and he would go off into his long war cry of “Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!”

Related Symbols: Human Food
Explanation and Analysis:

Chuchundra sat down and cried till the tears rolled off his whiskers. “I am a very poor man,” he sobbed. “I never had spirit enough to run out into the middle of the room. H’sh! I mustn’t tell you anything. Can’t you hear, Rikki-tikki?”

Rikki-tikki listened. The house was as still as still, but he thought he could just catch the faintest scratch-scratch in the world—a noise as faint as that of a wasp walking on a window-pane—the dry scratch of a snake’s scales on brick-work.

Related Characters: Chuchundra (speaker), Rikki-tikki-tavi, Nag, Teddy’s Father
Explanation and Analysis:

“It’s the mongoose again, Alice. The little chap has saved our lives now.”

Related Characters: Teddy’s Father (speaker), Rikki-tikki-tavi, Nag, Teddy’s Mother
Explanation and Analysis:

But his wife was a sensible bird, and she knew that cobra’s eggs meant young cobras later on. So she flew off from the nest, and left Darzee to keep the babies warm, and continue his song about the death of Nag. Darzee was very like a man in some ways.

Explanation and Analysis:

Rikki-tikki put his paws one on each side of the egg, and his eyes were blood-red. “What price for a snake’s egg? For a young cobra? For a young king cobra? For the last—the very last of the brood? The ants are eating all the others down by the melon bed.”

Related Characters: Rikki-tikki-tavi (speaker), Nagaina, Darzee’s Wife
Related Symbols: The Cobra Hole
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

“Ding-dong-tock! Nag is dead—dong! Nagaina is dead! Ding-dong-tock!” That set all the birds in the garden singing, and the frogs croaking, for Nag and Nagaina used to eat frogs as well as little birds.

When Rikki got to the house, Teddy and Teddy’s mother (she looked very white still, for she had been fainting) and Teddy’s father came out and almost cried over him; and that night he ate all that was given him till he could eat no more, and went to bed on Teddy’s shoulder, where Teddy’s mother saw him when she came to look late at night.

Related Symbols: Human Food
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Rikki-Tikki-Tavi LitChart as a printable PDF.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi PDF

Rikki-tikki-tavi Character Timeline in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

The timeline below shows where the character Rikki-tikki-tavi appears in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki-tavi fought a great war in a bungalow in Segowlee. Though other animals offered advice, it... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
As a young mongoose, Rikki-tikki-tavi is washed away from his family’s burrow and left dying by the side of the... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
An innately fearless creature, Rikki-tikki is given the run of the house and readily begins to exercise his curiosity. When... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki spends the rest of the day roaming the house, exploring and discovering all of the... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
The next day, Teddy’s family shares food from their breakfast table with Rikki-tikki, and he takes turns sitting on their laps. The mongoose remembers that his mother once... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
While in the garden Rikki-tikki encounters Darzee the tailorbird and his wife, who are mourning the loss of one of... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki is only afraid for a moment, however, before he remembers that his mother fed him... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Nag feigns interest in discussing, asking Rikki-tikki how eating baby birds is so different from the mongoose’s diet of eggs. As he... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki lands on Nagaina’s back and bites her, though he does not yet know enough about... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki sits in the dust to think. The narrator relates a myth about herbs that can... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
As he returns to Teddy’s family for a petting, Rikki-tikki spots one of the cobras’ babies, Karait, wriggling in the dust near the boy. Rikki-tikki... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki refrains from eating the dead Karait, knowing that eating too much will make him slow,... (full context)
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
That night, Rikki-tikki sets out on patrol of the house and meets the muskrat Chuchundra skulking in the... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki checks Teddy’s bathroom and Teddy’s mother’s bathroom before moving to the bathroom of Teddy’s father.... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
...mongoose waits—perfectly still—until Nag falls asleep. After debating the best spot to strike the snake, Rikki-tikki opts for the head above Nag’s hood and resolves that, once he bites, he cannot... (full context)
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-Tiki is left stunned, but essentially unhurt. As Teddy’s mother enters the bathroom, white-faced with fear,... (full context)
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki finds Darzee singing a song of triumph at Nag’s death. The mongoose is supremely irritated... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Darzee’s wife, however, understands that Rikki-tikki is acting for the good of the whole garden—because cobra eggs will turn into more... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Distracted by the bird, Nagaina misses Rikki-tikki sneaking into her nest. The eggs are ready to hatch, and the mongoose wastes no... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki smashes two of the remaining eggs and takes the third back to the home to... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
...challenges Nagaina to a fight, but the cobra will not be distracted from the family. Rikki-tikki tells her that he has smashed her nest of eggs and that only one remains.... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
The egg sits between Rikki-tikki’s paws as he engages with Nagaina. She strikes again and again, but he ducks aside... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Darzee begins to sing a mourning song of Rikki-tikki’s demise. As he does so, however, Rikki-tikki emerges victorious from the cobra’s hole, claiming to... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Rikki-tikki falls asleep on the spot, and when he awakens, he tells Darzee to inform the... (full context)