In the second half of the nineteenth century, new theories of philosophy, science, and religion appeared. They all followed the earlier publication of Darwin’s work On the Origins of Species. In the book, Darwin introduced the ideas of natural selection and evolution. He described natural selection as the process of survival of those organisms, within the environment, who have more suitable characteristics. These characteristics give the organisms better chances of becoming mature and reproduce. Darwin defined evolution as the process of organism development from other species through natural selection. Darwin’s theory spurred other theories of the time. In particular, Herbert Spencer applied Darwin’s ideas to the study of human development and human society. He spoke about “the survival of the fittest” in the human society by analogy with animals and plants. He wrote in 1860: “People are beginning to see that the first requisite to success in life, is to be a good animal” ().
He also spoke about the child’s development as the process in which the child’s grasp of reason along with morality get fostered from the rudimentary to an advanced state with the help of experiment and play. Social Darwinism served the background for booming imperialism in Kipling’s time, when the industrialized nations with developed culture posited themselves as superior to less developed, “savage” nations and thus “called upon to rule” them (Cody par.2). Rudyard Kipling’s stories from The Jungle Book illustrate how the writer reflected the theories social Darwinism and imperialism prevalent during his lifetime.Social Darwinism, i.e. the idea of the survival of the fittest, is evident in the story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” from the second volume of The Jungle Book. In particular, the story focuses on the fight for survival between two competing parties: one mongoose and his family of humans and a family of cobras. In the epigraph, one can read: “This is the story of one great war that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought single-handed, through the bathrooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment” (Kipling 1). The story ends with Rikki-tikki-tavi’s victory as the mongoose kills the snake and says, “It’s all over […] The widow will never come out again” (Kipling 4). Likewise, social Darwinism is evident in the stories about Mowgli. In line with theory of the survival of the fittest, Kipling’s Law of the Jungle implies that the strongest animal has the power. Mowgli is the “fittest” in the book not because he is more sensitive or kind but because he is more cunning, stronger, and has a greater ability.
His superiority is evident in the scene just before killing Shere Khan, when he says, “Cattle thief, it is time to come to the Council Rock” (Kipling 48). Kipling’s imperialistic political views found reflections in these stories, too. For example, in Rikki-tikki-tavi, the confrontation between the British family and the family of cobras over the garden should be seen as a metaphor of Britain’s rule over India, where the British rather than “the savages” are in control of the beautiful land. India, in particular, is metaphorically described as “a large garden, only half cultivated, with bushes as big as summer-houses of Marshal Niel roses, lime and orange trees, clumps of bamboos, and thickets of high grass” (Kipling 5). With regard to the views on development, they are well reflected in the stories about Mowgli, where Mowgli is seen as a masculine ideal, someone who has managed to develop from a half-man/half-beast into the very best of man. Mowgli, for instance, says about his past, “So I learned to track and hunt, sending and calling my brothers back and forth as a king calls his armies” (Kipling 213).
In summary, the ideas of social Darwinism, including the survival of the fittest, imperialism, and development are all present in Rudyard Kipling’s stories from The Jungle Book. They should be carefully searched for when interpreting this work.