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Friday, January 27, 2023

A Quest for Identity and Self with Mowgli

Mowgli, in The Jungle Book, takes us on a quest, all the while searching for meaning and identity- his true self.

The story is about human archetypes in animal form, highlighting themes of belongingness, identity formation, freedom, and democracy.

Through him, we explore connections between membership to a political community, consequent rights, and reciprocal obligations and duties. This is shown through his trials and tribulations as he undergoes an identity crisis and learns how to form his own ‘self’ while at the same time being a denizen of the Jungle.

The journey starts with a fight between his adoptive family and the tyrant of the jungle over how he doesn’t belong to the Jungle by virtue of the fact that he is a ‘man-cub’. Then as he leaves his family and explores the deeper side of the Jungle, he questions the very idea of who is in fact a denizen of the Jungle and on what criteria.

The biggest dilemma that Mowgli faces is finding his own space in Jungle in such a way that, not only is he accepted by all its members but, at the same time he remains true to his ‘self’.

This dilemma is highlighted by the debate between Bagheera and Baloo- as to on what criteria can Mowgli remains in the Jungle. While the former, stresses that he neglects his ‘human ways’ and completely adopts the ‘wolf way’, Baloo on the other hand, encourages him to just do it ‘his own way’. The subsequent song ‘The Bare Necessitates of Life’ stresses this point. Thus, it is under the guidance of the bear that Mowgli reconciles his human side with the fact that he is a denizen of the Jungle. He uses his ‘tricks’ not only to help Elephants (which represent a higher authority there) and gain their trust but also to ultimately defeat Sher Khan in the final fight and gain the trust of all members of the community. Thus, once he is given the freedom to truly express himself and actualize his true potential, he is able to fully develop and, in turn truly give back to the Jungle while enjoying the privilege of being a member of the community.

Therefore, as Mowgli forms his identity, he recognizes the Jungle as his home while at the same time remaining true to his human self. Thus, he does not let his particularity alienate him from the rest of the community. Instead, he uses it to become an active member of the community. Strong solidarity is formed with all denizens, which cuts across all differences and forges mutual trust, fellow feeling, and harmony.

It can be seen that the Jungle serves as a parallel to the ‘State’, which is a sovereign, self-governing, and moral educator (as represented by elephants). This state is not homogenizing as it maintains diversity by giving all denizens a fairly participatory form of democracy. It is within this space that members come forward to take collective decisions and put across their points. The members create laws for themselves and understand that they are in place for their own good. This point is clearly elucidated by the ‘water truce’ depicted in the movie adaptation of the book. This goes on to show that these laws are applied universally to all and treat everyone equally.

Laws and members of the community are therefore held together by strong solidarity and ‘fellow feeling’ amongst all.  All members recognize themselves with the Jungle. Hence, they become accepting and accommodating of all diversities. Sher Khan exists to highlight the importance of this solidarity and mutual respect – to show that this cannot be forced upon anybody in a top-down manner.

Members are held together not only by a set of rights but by social duty as well. Thus, the transformation from a noble savage to an active member in a political community is elucidated in Mowgli’s quest for identity formation.

The Jungle Book, through Mowgli’s journey, shows the path towards an ideal state of affairs. There is an accommodation of diversity in such a way that people don’t subsume their identities and particularities, all the while remaining active citizens.  Thus, the journey not only combines justice with utility and rights with duties but also sets a benchmark for all modern-day nations to achieve.


Saumya Singh
Saumya Singh
Studying International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Political Science graduate from Lady Sri Ram College for Women. A contributor to The Eastern Herald from NOIDA, India.



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