What Are the Themes of “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”?

The themes in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi concern abandonment and adoption as well as pain and revenge. The tale is a short story in Ruyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and although it sounds like a nature tale, it can be read as a commentary on the British presence in India.

In Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a young mongoose is washed away from his family in a flood, but luckily, he is taken in by a human family and their young son. The central themes in this storyline concern survival, adapting to new situations and finding acceptance.

The story’s central climax features a deadly battle between Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and his enemy Nagaina, the mama cobra. In the battle, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is able to take revenge on his enemy and kill her – this theme of revenge starkly contrasts the themes that are part of Mowgli’s section of the Jungle Book. In the Mowgli stories, Mowgli, like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, is abandoned and adopted, but he is never allowed to take revenge on his enemies.

When Rikki-Tikki-Tavi defeats the cobra, he does not just kill his enemy. He also saves the life of the human boy. This event explores the theme of a charge or dependent saving the life of his master.