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Ericka Sanchez

Dr. Lynda Haas

WR 37
The Several Rhetorical Devices in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a story, by Rudyard Kipling, about a mongoose who is taken into
the care of an English family after being washed away from his family during a flood. The
transition from a normal mongoose family to a family of humans creates the fish out of water
scenario. Rikki-tikki is unfamiliar to his new surroundings and experiences growth as the story
goes on. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi has the central conflict of Good vs Evil, an everyday conflict for
some humans. In common Good vs. Evil stories, there are heroes; Rikki-tikki portrays one as he
saves his human family from cobras, Nag and Nagain. Anthropomorphism is a rhetorical device
used by Kipling and it is also called personification, when non-human characters in a story are
given human characteristics. Giving these animals human characteristics would allow readers to
connect with them because:
[humans] tend to sympathize more with animals that look like us, and especially that
resemble human babies, so with big, forward-facing eyes and circular faces, kind of a
roly-poly posture. (Mooallem)
So the more human characteristics used to describe characters, the easier it is for readers to
understand the non-human character. Kipling uses rhetorical devices, anthropomorphism and
epithets, in order to create a bridge that illustrates the roles of Rikki-tikki, Nag and Nagaina.
Kipling anthropomorphizes Rikki-tikki and the villains, Nag and Nagain in certain ways.
Throughout the text, these animals are able to uphold conversations with each other. The creation

of the several dialogue, humanizes the animals. During the beginning of the story the narrator
describes Rikki Tikkis actions which made him seem more animal like, so Rikki-tikki is
humanized in his first conversation with Darzee, the Tailorbird. In the conversation between
Rikki-tikki and Darzee:
What is the matter? asked Rikki-tikki. We are very miserable, said Darzee. One of
our babies fell out of the nest yesterday and Nag ate him.Hm! said Rikki-tikki, that is
very sad but I am a stranger here. Who is Nag?
One is able to sense that these animals have emotions, another human characteristic implemented
with these creatures. Rikki-tikki expresses empathy, for Darzee who has lost one of his eggs.
Most humans dont associate emotions with animals, so as readers see Rikki-tikki having
feelings, the more relatable he tends to become. The emotions of these creatures develop the plot
further, since Rikki-tikki felt the need to keep his owners safe he came up with a plan erase
cobras from the future. He tells Darzee:
Darzee, if you have a grain of sense you will fly off to the stables and pretend that
your wing is broken, and let Nagaina chase you away to this bush. I must get to the
melon-bed, and if I went there now shed see me.
This humanizes him further because it shows Rikki-tikki being protective of his family,
something most humans tend to do too. Rikki-tikki is given these emotions and thought process
to humanize him the most out of all the creatures in the story.
Rikki-tikki is represented as a hero because of his human like characteristics to defeat the
villains in order to protect his human family, so Kipling anthropomorphizes him the most.
Readers are more likely to root for him because of this. Unlike a snake, Rikki-tikki is a creature
that is similar to us because of his physical looks. Rikki-tikkis face is equal to what a human

baby looks like and with the addition to how much Kipling anthropomorphizes him, readers tend
to connect the hero role with him better than if he was just given animal characteristics like Nag
and Nagain. In order to get rid of Rikki-tikki, Nag had plotted to wait and kill the humans and
then Rikki-tikki. These snakes were made out to be smarter than usual snakes, giving them a
human characteristic like Rikki-tikki. Though they also had some human characteristics, they
arent anthropomorphized like Rikki-tikki. The actions of these two snakes were more animal
like. As a hero, Rikki-tikki is presented more human than the villains who are more similar to
being snakes.
The main conflict of this story is Good vs Evil, with Rikki-tikki as the hero and Nag and
Nagain as the villains. Kipling uses epithets, the rhetorical device to describe Rikki-tikki, Nag
and Nagain for their roles as hero and villains. Epithet is a descriptive device that describes a
place, a thing or a person in such a way that it helps in making the characteristics of a person,
thing or place more prominent than they actually are ( When describing a
hero, authors would typically use adjectives that would give characters a good standing with the
readers. Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, states that, heroes are a combination of
virtues, which include, but are not limited to, joy, hope, love, serenity, loyalty, humility,
perseverance, faith, and honesty ( Even before becoming the hero of the story,
Rikki-tikki has attributes, similar to those listed by Campbell. During the first night Rikki-tikki
sleeps with Teddy, the child of the family, the mother questioned if Rikki-tikki should be so close
to her boy. However the father replies Teddys safer with that little beast than if he had a
bloodhound to watch him. Rikki-tikki is a creature the parents can trust, so he has this
protective description that other heroes in various tales have. Killing the small snake Karait, was
the first accomplishment that made the family see Rikki-tikki as a hero and so the father of the

family called Rikki-tikki their providence. Providence stands for the protective care of nature as
a spiritual power. After the killings of Nag, Nagain and their eggs, Darzee exclaims about how
Rikki-tikki was valiant. Rikki-tikki is described as a hero not only by his family, but also by most
of the creatures in the garden since many of them were prey for the cobras. With complete
opposite descriptions of the hero, Nag and Nagain, were deemed villains from their very first
appearance in the story. The adjectives associated with Nag and Nagain, were primarily negative,
suggesting that they were villains. As Nag has his first encounter with Rikki-tikki his entrance
was stated, ...from the thick grass at the foot of the bush there came a low hiss a horrid cold
sound that made Rikki-tikki jump back two clear feet. Horrid and cold, create an unfriendly
image as readers picture Nag slithering out from a bush. Cold is also used to describe Nags
heart, when Kipling states Nag knew that too and, at the bottom of his cold heart, he was
afraid. Readers can understand that Nag is evil, since cold heart wouldnt be associated with
good characters. Nagain, is part of the villain duo and her entrance is also deemed dark. These
are adjectives that are usually used to describe a snake, and Kipling uses them in order to stick
with an animalistic description for these villains. As Rikki-tikki dodges Nagains ambush on him,
its stated that He heard her savage hiss as the stroke missed. Savage was used for describing
her hiss, which sends chills to the readers since a snakes hiss can have that effect. The
description of Nagains hiss is one example that frames Nagain as more animalistic than Rikkitikki. The readers first encounter with Nag and Nagain, are similar in which they are not the
friendliest characters that appear in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Describing these snakes as more
animalistic shifts the readers to view Nag and Nagain as villains.
Through the use of anthropomorphism and epithets, Kipling is able to help readers
understand why there is a Good vs Evil conflict. Using these rhetorical devices allow readers to

understand why Rikki-tikki, Nag and Nagain did the actions. Personifying human characteristics
on on Rikki-tikki more than Nag and Nagain showed a contrast of good and evil. The several
adjectives used to describe these main characters allow readers to illustrate the hero and the
villains. The positive adjectives connote a feeling of a hero were primarily used to describe
Rikki-tikki. The dark language that described Nag and Nagain, helped implement the idea that
they were the villains. Readers understand now why Rikki-tikki is battling against Nag and
Nagain, because readers are able to infer that it is a typical Good vs Bad story.

Works Cited
"Epithet - Examples and Definition of Epithet." Literary Devices. 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Mar.
2015. <>.
Harper, Charles. "Heroic Virtues: AN INTRODUCTION." The MY HERO Project: Forum. 1
Jan. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <>.
Kipling, Rudyard. "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." The Jungle Book. N.p.: Macmillan, 1894. N. pag. Print.
Mooallem, Jon. "How the Teddy Bear Taught Us Compassion." TED. TED, 1 Mar. 2014. Web.
15 Mar.2015. <