Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

by

Rudyard Kipling

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Human Food Symbol Icon

The food from the human table is presented as a reward for Rikki-tikki, along with being petted by Teddy and his parents and being allowed to sleep in Teddy’s bed at night. As such, it symbolizes the benefits (in Kipling’s understanding) of British colonization: a luxuriant lifestyle that provides comforts and delights that wouldn’t be possible without the occupation of India. Rikki-tikki couldn’t hope to enjoy food from the table as a wild mongoose, and his life would likely be considerably less comfortable. Yet the same rewards he enjoys for accepting the authority of Teddy’s family can make him soft. Rikki-tikki refrains from eating the food at the human table while the cobras Nag and Nagaina are on the loose, for instance. Kipling thus seems to be saying that the very luxuries “civilization” provides can blunt the instincts needed to defend it. Rikki-tikki therefore needs to be sparing in his enjoyment of these luxuries, at least until the threat of the cobras—that is, of Indian “savagery”—is removed.

Human Food Quotes in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

The Rikki-Tikki-Tavi quotes below all refer to the symbol of Human Food. 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

“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:

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:

“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:
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Human Food Symbol Timeline in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

The timeline below shows where the symbol Human Food appears in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
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... (full context)
Man and the Natural World Theme Icon
Colonialism as a Benevolent Force Theme Icon
The Importance of Family Theme Icon
...family showers Rikki-tikki with affection, but while he enjoys the attention, he refuses to take food from their table at dinner, even though he is welcome to it. He fears it... (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
...deaths. He then goes into the big house and eats his fill from the humans’ dinner table before riding to bed on Teddy’s shoulders. He is proud of his victory, but... (full context)