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 unmolested so that their eggs can grow into adult cobras too. Rikki-tikki, who is essentially orphaned, understands the value of family, first from the advice given to him by his mother, and then later under the protection of his “adopted” human family. Even Chuchundra, the cowardly muskrat living in the British family’s bungalow, takes care to mention a cousin. Family in the story gives an underlying sense of urgency that further connects the characters to the larger natural world, in the sense that the survival of children can mean the survival of a species. That links family to Kipling’s ongoing interest in the natural world and its harsh nature; family is the ultimate motivation, the story suggests, and characters will defend their own at all costs.
Families are shown as loyal, loving, and stalwart in their willingness to defend each other. They offer comfort, safety, and companionship, and seek to ensure that their children will carry on their traditional ways of life. For example, Teddy’s parents allow Rikki-tikki to sleep with the boy because the mongoose will protect him from snakes. Rikki-tikki, in turn, has no family initially but readily adopts Teddy and his parents as his own. He shows them the same loyalty they showed him and repeatedly risks his life to keep them safe; the very mention of the cobras harming the humans fills him with rage.
Despite their villainy, even the cobras are very loyal to each other. Given the importance the story places on family, that the cobras plot together to kill Teddy’s family reflects their evil nature—yet even this is somewhat tempered by the fact that they’re also desperately trying to protect their own nest of eggs.
Having established how important family is, the story then lets readers contemplate what might happen if families get torn apart. Specifically, the death of a child—and the end of a genetic line—is viewed as a terrible blow, to the point that parents will do anything to keep their children safe. from harm. The tailorbirds, having lost one of their babies, are first shown consumed with grief, and the cobras are portrayed as unrelentingly evil for eating their baby. Teddy’s mother can’t bring herself to think about the dangers a snake might present her child, and Teddy’s father reacts suddenly and aggressively when Teddy is threatened—clear evidence of his intense desire to ensure the well-being of his son. The fact that Rikki-tikki is able to bargain with Nagaina—who doesn’t normally negotiate—when he holds the fate of her last egg in his jaws reveals the power of familial bonds that bring the cruel, calculating snake to heel.
The importance of family in “Rikki-Tikki Tavi” not only motivates the characters’ actions, but also forms the cornerstone of the story’s other themes. British colonial rule, for instance, is reflected within Teddy’s family itself—with a benevolent authority figure setting rules and pronouncing judgment in the form of Teddy’s father—while the harsh natural world is dangerous specifically because it often kills helpless babies who have not yet had a chance to grow. Kipling stresses the importance of family by highlighting the consequences of a family being broken apart, as well as the rewards for the entire community if the sanctity of the family is preserved.
The Importance of Family ThemeTracker
The Importance of Family Quotes in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
“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—”
“It’s the mongoose again, Alice. The little chap has saved our lives now.”
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.
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.”