Literature and Life Lessons: Teaching Morals through Story

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Literature authors also base their stories on key themes that can aid in the comprehension of life lessons. If fiction or nonfiction, child or adult, stories bind us. Literature is more than just a way to read about great writers from the past; the magic of narrative inspires the discovery of both ourselves and the world around us. Many philosophers and authors of literature incorporate their perspectives on subjects and events into their works, often in subtle ways that generate deep context and self-discovery. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books is one such work that has been “variously applauded and condemned over the years as an apology for imperialism, a racist tract, a moral fable and a collection of simple anthropomorphic adventure stories” (Macintyre 25). However, Kipling’s stories do offer validation that books have had a profound influence on the lives of many children more so than any other book. Teachers, counselors and even Boy Scout leaders have used literature as a vehicle to teach, train and heal. Utilizing the works of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books, this discussion aims to demonstrate the significant role literature plays in teaching human beings essential moral values and life through the aspects of leadership, loyalty, and respect.

Living as Moral Beings

Just as the laws of the jungle expect adherence to the governing principles of its laws, human society also expects people to conduct themselves according to a standard of written and unwritten values. Even though the word “morals” does not appear in any of The Jungle Books stories, it is clear that every lesson Mowgli taught is suffused with unspoken moral understanding. Norma Greco, an educator who uses literature as a teaching tool in her classes, discusses her observations learned from her students. In her article “I think I’m Falling in Love with this Novel,” she discusses the benefits of using nontraditional literature and in class discussions to teach students lessons on how to live in the world as moral beings who can think and feel complexly (Greco 48). Students can learn from literature ways of interacting with compassion towards others. Greco used literature in her class to connect students with the stories through their own experiences. She found through the end of assignment responses that her method was successful and they had connected with the stories while growing as readers and writers. Greco tells of one response where a student reported that through reading the novel and writing, he was able to have a profound insight of himself and realize more about life (Greco 48).

Life Lessons through Leadership

Are leaders born or are they made? That debate will continue as long as humanity exists, there is no logical answer to prove one way over the other as evidence can support both claims; what is clear is that leaders possess traits that make them stand out. Most can win battles and navigate through life’s hurdles to bring order. One of the laws of the jungle teaches that “Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw, in all that the Law leaveth open, the word of the head wolf is law” (30). This is but one of the many laws of the jungle that Kipling introduces in his stories. It provides clear guidance and honors the role of leadership, thus inspiring the quality of youth. In The Jungle Books, Akela is the leader of the wolf pack, and it was his character in the story of Mowgli’s Brothers that inspired Robert Baden-Powell to form the cub scouts. Baden-Powell’s interest in the “crossover between human and non-human societies, the relationship between beast and man and the lessons that animals might offer humanity” (Macintyre 25) is what drew him to the books in the first place. Today, there are many references in the Cub Scout guidebook that are in direct connection to The Jungle Books. The group leaders are named Akela, the group is referred to as the den, and many of the laws of the jungle are present in the book (Wolf Handbook 10-151).

Life Lessons through Loyalty

The laws of the jungle address the importance of loyalty to pack and to the good of the jungle, “As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the law runneth forward and back — For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack” (30).This law of the jungle reinforces the strength and loyalty to one another. Mowgli is an outcast, but

Bagheera and Baloo are his loyal mentors and companions and come to the rescue of Mowgli on several occasions. Friendships, family, and helping each other in times of need are the things that make us human, but some of these lessons from the jungle animals can serve as a reminder that Barbara Guzzetti is an expert in the field of literature and its teaching practices. Her book Literacy in America: an Encyclopedia of History, Theory, and Practice serves as a reference for many educators. In her book, she tells of how literature can be taken out of the classroom and then transcended into our daily lives by identification of real-life experiences. For example, adolescent literature which is learned in class can be applied to out of classroom experiences by adolescents in their development of social and individual identity (13). Raksha, the mother wolf, is another example that many can identify with through her explicit loyalty to Mowgli. Even though he was not a wolf, he was taken in and treated as one as evident when Mowgli was sent away from the jungle to go live with humans, and Raksha tells him to “Come soon, little-naked son of mine. For, listen, child of man, I loved thee more than ever I loved my cubs” (Kipling 33). Mowgli’s wolf family stood by him in good and bad. If we translate this law into a human principle, it means our families “have our backs,” they are there to support us through tough times and celebrate with us in good times.

Life Lessons with Respect

The use of children’s literature, allows teachers to guide their class through difficult situations, enable individual students to transcend their challenges, and teach students to consider all viewpoints and respect differences. Respect for authority is a central theme in The Jungle Books and one if the laws of the jungle require that “When ye fight with a wolf of the pack, ye must fight him alone and afar, lest others take part in the quarrel, and war diminishes the pack” (30). Akela and Hathi were the two main leaders in The Jungle Books; Bagheera and Baloo, serve as guides who are with Mowgli every step of the way to teach him the ways of the jungle. Through their guidance, Mowgli learned to hunt and knew that hunting is for food, not for sport. He learned to obey and respect jungle customs and point, to their utter delight, even surprises Kaa and Bagheera with his knowledge during the fight with the monkeys (24). The stories of Mowgli’s sometimes misadventures help connect young people with the teachings of the work. Children and even the inner child of an adult can connect with the imperfections that Mowgli displays in some of the stories and those connections bring about thought and awareness.

Conclusion

Has literary fiction lost its power to affect this generation? Author and teacher David Schelhaas thought so, and has grappled with that question for some time, ultimately though, he concludes that it has not lost its power. It simply needs to be utilized, and it is up to educators and other professionals to do that (51); the new generation of learners are demanding it. The story connects us to the world; it can change behaviors and life paths, it teaches us about the way world is and the way it can be; story it is limitless. Schekhaas suggests that in a time where literature is becoming more institutionalized and offering little meaning to students, it is more critical now than ever for teachers and counselors to incorporate the timeless wisdom of story into the classroom. In The Jungle Books, Mowgli and many of the other characters are used as a teaching tool for the identification and practice of living a morally sound life.

Works Cited

Greco, Norma. “I Think I’m Falling in Love with This Novel.” English Journal, vol. 95,

no.6,2006, pp.48-51 ezproxy.brenau.edu:2040/login?url=search.proquest.com    

/docview/237303303? accountid=9708?accountid=9708. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.

Guzzetti, Barbara J, et al. “Literacy in America: an Encyclopedia of History, Theory, and

Practice.” 1st ed., vol. 1-2, ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2012. EBSCOhost,     

ezproxy.brenau.edu:2040/login?url

=https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.brenau.edu:20

40/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshlc&AN=edshlc.008972976-5&site=eds-live.

Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Books. Bantam Dell, 2008.

Macintyre, Ben. “How Mowgli gave birth to the boy scouts.” The Times, [London], 15

Apr. 2016, p. 25. ezproxy.brenau.edu:2040/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/

docview/1781102666?accountid=9708. Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.

Swanson, David. “Fictional stories with ethical content: Guidelines for using stories to

improve ethical behavior.” Ethics & Behavior 26.7 (2016): 545-561.

Wolf Handbook. Boy Scouts of America, 2009.

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