Rudyard Kipling

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Man and the Natural World

Animals are anthropomorphized—that is, given human qualities—throughout “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” Rudyard Kipling’s story of a young mongoose’s attempt to protect his adoptive British family from two lurking cobras. The titular mongoose, named for the sounds he makes, is at once a wild animal and in possession of a distinctly civilized sense of refinement and loyalty—traits that endear him to the reader and suggest a kinship between nature and human beings. On the one hand, Rikki-tikki possesses a…

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Colonialism as a Benevolent Force

Kipling was an Englishman living in India during its period of British occupation. As a result, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and similar stories often portray colonialism as a benevolent force: bringing peace, order, and tranquility to a violent and chaotic world.  Such attitudes were common and uncontroversial at the time, but both Kipling and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” have been criticized in recent decades for “whitewashing” the often-cruel realities of life in India under British rule.

Regardless, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” depicts the British…

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The Importance of Family

Almost every character in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is defined by their family and places the safety and prosperity of their family above all else. That starts with Teddy and his parents, who allow Rikki-tikki into their home in part to look after their son. But it also extends to Darzee and his wife, the tailorbirds who are shattered when the cobras eat their child, and to Nag and Nagaina themselves, who dream of ruling the garden…

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Courage and Cowardice

Kipling presents Rikki-tikki almost as a knight: brave, virtuous, and dedicated to the safety of others. Indeed, he doesn’t seem capable of feeling fear, and treats incidents in which his life is genuinely in danger as actively enjoyable. The fact that he uses that courage to noble ends is part of what makes Rikki-tikki a hero in the eyes of the story. Though no other character in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” exhibits the same level of courage as…

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