Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Power and Empathy in Children

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman have numerous similarities within the storyline, however, a more significant meaning lies within the differences.  Mowgli the frog and Nobody “Bod” Owens, the protagonists of The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book respectively have similar adventures within their stories, but they differ personality-wise.  Mowgli’s defining characteristic is control, while Bod’s is empathy.  The emphasis on these qualities highlights the authors’ views on how children should behave based on the authors’ backgrounds and personal beliefs. 
Kipling grew up with parents who thought of themselves as “Anglo-Indians”, meaning that they were of British origin living in India.  This resulted in identity issues for Kipling throughout his childhood.  He experienced intense cruelty and neglect during the 1870’s as he and his sister were taken in by a couple in India (“Rudyard Kipling”).  His life lacked control and as a child he lacked power.  He highlights the importance of control and power in the youth through Mowgli in The Jungle Book.  Mowgli is taught that the Law of the Jungle is to “[s]trike first and then give tongue” (The Jungle Book, 17), emphasizing the importance of having control in the situation and possessing the most power.  He also learns that he has power within his family of wolves.  He is told that “[t]he others they hate thee because their eyes cannot meet thine; because thou art wise” (The Jungle Book, 17).  Mowgli uses his power over other animals to control them and for his personal benefit.  Kipling, influenced by his own childhood, makes clear through the use of Mowgli the values and characteristics he believes children should possess.
Gaiman had a very different childhood than Kipling.  He could read at the age of four, exposing himself to different worlds and different types of people early on in his life (“Neil Gaiman”).  He was happy while reading; he was continuously learning.  He learned to put himself into the characters’ shoes, adopting empathy.  Gaiman communicates the importance of empathy in children through Bod in The Graveyard Book.  Bod feels the witch’s pain in “The Witch’s Headstone” and goes on a mission to help her get her own headstone (The Graveyard Book, 99).  He makes friends with her, and she later helps him in tough situations.  Bod also feels empathetic to the younger children being bullied in “Nobody Owens’ School Days” and stands up to the bullies to help them (The Graveyard Book, 174).  Though he got himself in some trouble by speaking up, he felt good and prevented the future bullying of the younger students.  Gaiman saw the effects of empathy in children through himself and the characters in the books he read and uses Bod to exhibit the importance of empathy in children.

Although The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book have similar storylines, they have different messages.  Kipling used Mowgli to express the importance of power and control in children, while Gaiman used Bod to highlight the importance of empathy.  They both put their respective characters in situations where control or empathy will shine through.  Mowgli and Bod are ultimately influenced from the younger Kipling and Gaiman and their own experiences as children.        

Fear in The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book use fear in noticeably different ways. Where Kipling’s character Mowgli is able to use fear in order to gain power and dominance over other members of his jungle, Gaiman’s character Nobody is often taught that fear is better as a last resort, if it has to be used at all. These two approaches show the change in the views of fear between the years that the two books were published, from a useful way to gain authority to a negative method used only by those who have nothing else to offer.

Mowgli is often rewarded for his ability to inspire fear in other characters. He was able to show power in “Mowgli’s Brothers” by waving a stick of fire “among the cowering wolves” (21). As a result of their fear, he was able to order the wolves not to kill Akela, and had the power over them that he needed in order to stay safe and make his own decisions. Fear was an acceptable method of gaining power over the wolves that wanted to cast him out. An entire story, “How Fear Came,” tells of how the tiger brought fear into the jungle, and that fear took the form of a man, and now a tiger can only hunt once a month without fear (157). Even Tabaqui, the small jackal, gains power when he forgets his own fear; he will occasionally go mad, “and then he forgets that he was afraid of anyone” (5). When this happens, every animal is afraid of him, even the tiger; without his fear, the jackal becomes powerful. Fear is a weakness in Kipling’s novel, and being able to create it is an enormous power. It is an asset to be able to scare someone else.

Nobody, however, learns that fear is not a very useful weapon. When he and Scarlett encounter the Sleer, they are able to escape precisely because they are not afraid of it (56). Fear is an unreliable weapon at best, and it often results in punishment or regret. Mo and Nick, two of Nobody’s classmates, use fear in order to scare classmates; they are shown to be the antagonists of their story, and Bod only uses fear against them as a last resort (183, 208). Silas uses fear as a weapon, as well, but he is shown to regret it: “I was the monster, then” (303). The ability to scare is not a demonstration of power so much as it is a last resort or a regrettable action.
While the similarities between The Graveyard Book and The Jungle Book are plentiful and purposeful but one of the ways that Gaiman decided to distance his work from Kipling is through his portrayal of his protagonist. While Bod and Mowgli both are similar in their isolation from the human world and their "feral" nature, they differ in their interactions with the human world as well as their roles in their respective novels.
Both Mowgli and Bod are confined to an area that is mostly free from human interactions. Mowgli spends his time in the jungle where he lives and talks with animals because he was separated from his parents during a tiger attack and Bod lives in the Graveyard with ghosts, vampires and werewolves because his family was murdered by Jack. However where Mowgli is separated from humanity for much of the Jungle Book, Bod's companions are obviously more closely linked to the human world seeing as the ghosts were humans and Silas and Miss Lupescu are both humanoid. Bod even has a human companion that he interacts with for a considerable period of time in Scarlet. Fittingly, the similarity of their upbringings leads to very similar ends of both Mowgli and Bod. Once the two characters begin to grow up the grow out of their childhood homes as well. Mowgli drifts out of the jungle and into the human world, even being adopted by Messua and her husband, and although Mowgli still has interactions with the jungle, by the end of the book it is clear that Mowgli has chosen a life of man as opposed to one of animals. Like Mowgli, Bod is slowly forced out of the graveyard as he begins to lose the power of the graveyard when he grows up. However with Mowgli we know that later in his life he still has a connection with the jungle as is shown in the story Into the Rukh but with Bod, the ending of the Graveyard book makes it clear that he will not return to the graveyard. 
The two characters have their similarities as well as their difference in their interaction with the human world as well as their futures one large difference Mowgli and Bod have is their role in the stories of Kipling and Gaiman. Kipling uses Mowgli for only part of The Jungle Book as his growing up is not suitable for a children's book as opposed to Gaiman who fully explains the end of Bod's life in the graveyard. The difference between the two characters roles with humans as well as their roles in their stories shows the fundamental difference in times between the two novels. In Kipling's world it was possible for someone like Mowgli to exist, a feral child in the untamed jungle of central India. However with Gaiman this is not the case, a person cannot live detached from society like Mowgli once did, the difference of the times is shown at the very end of The Graveyard Book when Bod leaves forever and Silas gives him a passport and a wad of cash.

The Protagonists and Their Cultural Contexts

The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book are clearly companion stories because of their many similarities, yet they maintain marked differences between each other. The most intriguing of these distinctions can be made between the protagonists Mowgli and Nobody, and it is this difference that gives each story its own unique tone. One of the main differences between the two characters is in how they relate to others. The main way that Mowgli relates to the animals around him is by dominating them. For example, when his wolf friends come to help him kill Shere Khan, instead of commiserating with them as equals, he uses Akela and Grey Brother as tools to obtain his ends, ordering them about in a domineering manner (Kipling 61). This instance shows Mowgli's feelings of superiority over the animals, which explains his behavior towards them. Though he values them in some ways, he is also imbued with a sense of inherent superiority because he is a man. This superiority of mind to his fellow creatures allows him to get away with dominating the other animals without any real consequences. This hierarchical style of thinking was common in Kipling's India, especially in relations between white men and Indians, and is reflected in Mowgli's treatment of others. On the other hand, Bod tends to relate to others in a much more friendly way. Instead of dominating others and forcing them to help him like Mowgli, Bod makes friends who come to help him because they care about him. A good example of this can be seen in Bod's friendship with Liza the witch; he is friendly and kind to her, and in return she helps him out of his scrape with the police. She tells Bod "us in the graveyard, we wants you to stay alive. We wants you to surprise us and disappoint us and impress us and amaze us"; because of the way he relates to others, I have a hard time imagining any of the animals of The Jungle Book saying something like that to Mowgli (Gaiman 198). Bod's loyalty and appreciation for the skills and wits of his friends set him apart from Mowgli and reflect an idealistic view of how modern people should treat each other.

Another important difference between Mowgli and Bod is that they face challenging situations differently. When Mowgli encounters a threat, he jumps straight to using fear and actions to overcome his situation. In the story "Mowgli's Brothers", Shere Khan uses his influence to turn the wolves against Mowgli, and Mowgli retaliates by threatening them with fire. He uses his wits to inspire fear and intimidate his former friends, particularly when he "flung the fire-pot on the ground, and some of the red coals lit a tuft of dried moss that flared up as all the Council drew back in terror before the leaping flames" (Kipling 21). Mowgli is much more of a man of action than Bod is, a trait that reflects the more rugged sentiment of the time in which The Jungle Book was written. Instead of jumping head-first into action, Bod tries to reason his way out of his scrapes. When he faces the bullies at school, Bod tries to reason with them first, and only as a last resort uses dream walking to scare Nick and threats of haunting to scare Mo (Gaiman 183-209). In the more modern times in which The Graveyard Book was written, being able to reason your way out of a bad situation is seen as a much better alternative to violence. Though these two characters are similar, they are also significantly different because of the cultural contexts in which they were written.

The keys to survival in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book differ from the keys to survival in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In The Graveyard Book one of the main keys to survival is empathy. Bod displays empathy in “The Witches Headstone.” In “The Witches Headstone” Bod meets Liza Hempstock, who was buried without a headstone because she was a witch. Gaiman states, “And she looked so sad, just for a moment, that Bod wanted to hug her. And then it came to him…he would find Liza Hempstock a headstone, with her name upon it. He would make her smile” (Gaiman 113). Bod empathizes with Liza and feels bad that she is upset about not having a headstone. He is propelled to action by this feeling of empathy and leaves the graveyard to find Liza a headstone. Leaving the graveyard is breaking the rules but Bod places helping Liza as a higher priority. Bod is rewarded for being empathetic when Liza helps him escape. She also does a spell that allows him to fade, which he could not do before. Bod’s actions in “The Witches Headstone” were motivated by wanting to help someone else rather than self-interest. The positive end result of his actions indicate that empathy is valued in The Graveyard Book.

            The Jungle Book does not highlight empathy as a significant trait. One of the important keys to survival in The Jungle Book is following and knowing the laws of the jungle. Baloo takes on the task of teaching Mowgli all the laws of the jungle. He hits Mowgli when he does not remember things and says, “Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance” (Kipling 28). Baloo thinks learning and remembering the laws of the jungle is of the utmost importance. Although Mowgli hates his lessons, knowing the laws is for his protection. Mowgli is later rewarded for learning the laws when he is kidnapped by the monkeys. He uses the Master Words of the birds and a bird helps him. Baloo and Bagheera are able to find Mowgli and rescue him as a result of Mowgli remembering his lessons. Following the laws is another important key to survival, breaking them means death. In The Graveyard Book breaking the rules is discouraged, but the punishment is much harsher in The Jungle Book. The Jungle Book places a significance on order and organization that The Graveyard Book does not.

Teaching Strategies

          In order to survive and flourish, Mowgli and Bod must learn about the history, customs, and dangers of their surroundings. The children’s teachers use different methods in order to instill knowledge. In the graveyard, the inhabitants change in response to Bod’s arrival and in the jungle, the animals expect Mowgli to adapt and assimilate into the culture.  The graveyard provides a more child-centered place of learning in which Bod’s contribution is valued whereas the jungle is patronizing and views children as untrained adults. Both Baloo of The Jungle Book and Miss Lupescu of The Graveyard Book rely on rote memorization to teach their pupils, but they respond differently to the child’s rejection of the method.
Mowgli is compelled to learn about the ways of the jungle and blend into the already established culture. Baloo believes strongly in the importance of rote memorization and would never be convinced otherwise even when his pupil responds negatively. Mowgli has to “repeat the same thing a hundred times” (Kipling 28) and eventually becomes “angry and indignant” (Kipling 28) after enduring Baloo’s physical punishment. He is driven to play with the monkeys because they give him attention and agree with his resentment towards his teacher. Mowgli is unwilling to learn because Baloo insists on rough beatings and passive memorization. After Baloo and Bagheera save Mowgli from the Monkey People, they remind him that “sorrow never stays punishment” (Kipling 48). Even though it was Baloo’s beatings and emphasis on rote memory that drove Mowgli away, the bear shows no intention of changing his ways. Baloo learns nothing from his experience and is more concerned with shaming Mowgli about his actions. Baloo does not take into account the reasons behind Mowgli’s interactions with the monkeys and continues to beat him. Mowgli’s feelings of shame and indignation have zero effect on the consequences of his behavior and on Baloo’s teaching methods. Kipling emphasizes the consistency of punishment despite Baloo’s worry and love towards his pupil. Young Mowgli must adapt to the environment rather than expect the animals changing in response to his needs.
The graveyard is responsive to Bod’s needs creating a child-centered environment that respects Bod. Unlike Baloo, when Miss Lupescu sees that Bod is upset and angry about her lessons, she listens to his opinion and changes. Bod’s teacher “taught in lists” (Gaiman 71) and her strictness made Bod feel “unloved and underappreciated” (Gaiman 73). The author’s choice of the word, “unappreciated” indicates how he believes children should be valued and respected. On the other hand, Kipling’s tone of voice emphasizes the failures and naiveté of children who are in need of consistent punishment. After Bod is safe, Miss Lupescu tells Silas that she “also learned things” (Gaiman 98). Lupescu admits fallibility and shows that she may have regretted her teaching methods.  She begins to take Bod’s interests and feelings into consideration. She teaches him about the constellations (Gaiman 95) in response to his curiosity about them. Miss Lupescu shows that she cares about Bod and works on being a more effective teacher for him.

The Inevitable End(ing) and the Its Lessons

The endings of The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book describe a common lesson of growing up, one that does not change in the hundred years between stories.  The symptoms Mowgli and Bod have are linked to a common cause, which is something a young-teenage audience would soon experience.  However, the experiences between the characters have something to say about how growing up has changed over time.

For Mowgli, his coming-of-age happens at seventeen, when "the Time of New Talk is here, because then thou [Bagheera] and the others all run away and leave me alone" (318).  The experience, which is something to which an audience of that age could relate, suggests the use of the story as a book of life lessons for young people.  As Mowgli's family becomes more distant from him, he lashes out at Bagheera and Gray Brother in his sadness and confusion (330).  His experience of growing up around creatures unlike him, while more extreme than just growing up in a more "regular" family, parallels the outside world in such a way to cause recognition among older readers as well.  With such an ending, Kipling allows the audience to make an empathetic connection, showing how Mowgli's leaving the Jungle is similar to a person just grown up leaving home.

Instead of alienation, Bod experiences a fading.  At fifteen, he loses his dominion over the Graveyard similarly to how Mowgli loses control of the animals in The Spring Running chapter (Kipling 318, Gaiman 295).  While Mowgli's experience might have been more accurate for people in his time period, Bod's gradual growing-out-of his family suggests a different story for the present day.  Gaiman suggests that to youth, the experiences and stories of one's parents seem to change less than their own, much like Bod's recollections of the Owenses, as well as every creature in the Graveyard.  Even the animals "at Bod's approach...looked up, startled then fled into the undergrowth" when "if they were feeling friendly they even let [Bod] pet them" (295).  Ultimately, Mrs. Owens' final words to Bod, "I am so proud of you, my son," show how close the family still is, unlike Mowgli's drifting from his friends in the Pack.  Because of the relationship between the living and the dead, Bod knows he will come back to his family in time, just like many people growing up today come back to their families in the end.