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Re-Reading Rudyard Kipling's ‘English’ Heroism: Narrating Nation in The Jungle Book

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This essay explores the construction of colonial English national identity in a text not always read in the context of its author's imperial project. Since Kipling's The Jungle Book has been relegated to the category of children's fiction and is today usually read in its Disneyfied version, its constructions of nation, race and class in colonial space, exposed through its narrations of local inhabitants (both animals and humans), have not attracted the attention that they deserve. I will argue that the stories' racialized and interrelated images of Indian children and animals contribute to an imagining of Englishness as a site of power and racial superiority. While the stories appear to narrate an Indian space, the images and constructions of nation produced stem from an understanding of Englishness as a site of colonial authority. Thus it is argued that Kipling's colonial animals map a racialized contrastive space where national identity is inseparable from racial identity, leading Kipling finally to abandon the colonial animal in order to be able to represent proper Englishness. While Kipling constructs colonial animals as racialized Others by writing monkeys and snakes in his jungle sketches, he also promotes ‘truly English’ identities in the nationalist allegory of “The White Seal”. Indeed, all animals are not equal but they too are represented in racialized and nationed terms, which points to the flexibility of the animal trope in colonial discourse.
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Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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