Essay About The Gentleman of the Jungle

An analysis of the “The Gentleman of the Jungle” by Jomo Kenyatta

This story that looks like more like a fable is interesting not only because of its sense and aesop, but because of the personality of the author. Jomo Kenyatta wasn’t only a writer – he was a prominent politician, anti-colonialist activist and later the first Prime Minister of now independent Kenya. So the readers should look at the fable more like at the political manifest than at another African fairy tale, despite “The Gentleman of the Jungle” is heavily stylized to it.

For those who don’t know the plot, let me make a short summary of the story. The third-person omniscient narrator starts it from the depiction of a terrible storm, raging outside the man’s hut. Suddenly, a huge elephant (Mr. Elephant, no less. We are talking about the gentleman here) politely asks for refuge. Man, touched by his miserable condition, opens his door and lets the elephant enter. At first it is only the head of the huge animal, but gradually, the elephant proceeds further and further and soon fills the whole hut with its body, leaving the man no options than to go away.

The man tries to persuade the elephant to leave his hut after the rain is over, but the animal, though staying calm and polite, refuses to do so. In despair, the man goes straight to the Lion – the King of the jungle, to complain and to settle everything peacefully – he understands that he is no match for the elephant, considering the raw strength of the latter, but the man hopes that the elephant may listen to someone who is animal (e.g. white man) like him.

At first lion seem to treat the man like an equal. It listens with compassion and understanding and promises to resolve this issue according to the Jungle Law. But the investigation needs some time: the commission has to be gathered and the case shall be studied from every sides and very thoroughly. Until it is done, everything shall stay as it is, just for commission members to look at the situation. So the elephant can still live in the hut.

At first the man accepts the decision of the Lion. Its words seem very reasonable and wise and there are indeed the strong causes for the elephant to stay in the hut – so that the commission can see what exactly happened. But gradually, the man starts to hesitate. He sees that something is wrong with all the investigation process.

He looks at the commission members and see that there is no humans among them at all, so he asks the Lion to include at least one human into it, to fully represent his point of view. But the Lion, quite arrogantly, replies that no humans are educated enough to understand the Jungle Law, so the man shall trust in the wisdom of the skilled animal lawyers who have no reasons to scam him, because they all are gentlemen.

The man waits a bit longer, but then he understands that every hope is futile and the animals are just covering one another, politely acting against men, portraying it in a way when they can’t be blamed for the injustice. So the man decides just to leave it be and build a new hut to live in – after he sees that again, the Elephant refuses to leave and the Lion and other commission members are not going to do anything.

He builds another hut, but then the story repeats itself. One of the members of the “commission” enters, using the perfectly legal reasons and stays in the new hut, effectively taking it from its builder. The desperate man goes further and further, building new and new huts, just for animals to take them from him, using him as a free builder of their shelters and even persuading him that everything that is going on is legal and natural. The story ends with all the animals resting in their new huts and the homeless man who has no drive and strength to build anymore.

This tale is written in the style of the other national African tales – even the personalities of the animals are preserved in general. The aesop is also usual for all the tales from all over the world: the corrupted members of the government can use simple people for their own selfish reasons using the fact that the average folks don’t know the laws that good. But there is one huge difference that shifts the accent and makes the raised questions and answers to them much more acute and ironic.

“The Gentleman of the Jungle” uses the stereotypical images of the white colonists while portraying the animals, not just simply “evil powerful people”. They refer to each other as “gentlemen”, their laws are clearly the European ones, though comically exaggerated. Despite the main character is human, who usually is more intelligent than animals and definitely knows better about the huts and building, the animals behave like he is not able to comprehend Jungle Law at all.

This clearly represents the overall arrogance of the white people towards the native ones. Indeed, the colonists often considered Africans just not smart enough to understand the laws – so that they can use the laws as they please, just to take any resources they want.

As we see from the summary, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. But the real life does: the fight against this injustice brought Jomo Kenyatta to the position of the Prime Minister of Kenya.

He was one of the most successful defenders of basic human rights of the African people and he studied the “Jungle Law” very well, to oppose all the “lions” and “elephants” who tried to take away the resources of his country and his people. Of course, his literature legacy includes lots of much more serious and adult works he is famous for, but “The Gentleman of the Jungle” is no less important.

The form of a fairy tale where “good” and “bad” side are so clearly defined (humans and animals) and where all the symbols are similar to the other tales kids hear, is a perfect way to instill the basic understanding of human dignity and the necessity to oppose the oppressive colonial government into the minds of the children. By writing this tale Jomo Kenyatta created not only another fable to entertain the minor ones – he made the attempt to save the next generation from all the miseries he survived through himself.

The symbolism of the tale is simple yet powerful. Some pieces of the “Gentleman of the jungle” can serve as notes about the explaining the phenomenon of  destructive bureaucracy to the minor ones.

Despite the context of the story is very nationality-related, the images used are quite international: a big clumsy elephant who is too powerful to fight with, a lion, who looks magnificent and royal, but still can be no friend to the man, because they are just too different to comprehend each other… The man, despite his peaceful attitude, is very powerful by himself: he builds hut after hut after hut and gets exhausted only after all the animals take them.

We can easily suppose that he is able to defeat any of the animals through sheer determination. But the fact that he tries to be a law abiding citizen works against him. It raises a very logic question: why he tries to follow the law if it doesn’t benefit him? The answer is simple: he tries to follow the Jungle Law – the law of the white colonists – that is created specifically to oppress native Africans.

So fair play is good when the rules are equal for everyone. This concept seems very natural for adults, but the kids need such examples as this story to fully understand that not every set of rules, laws, regulations etc. exists to help people – sometimes it just legalizes the inequality.

“The Gentleman of the Jungle” can indeed be used when kids start asking questions about the authority, power and responsibility (and sometimes it happens much earlier than their parents expect). It requires the minimal explanation, the concept very easy to grasp.

The families all over the world, where the problem with national (or other) minorities still exists, can use it to safely and non-traumatically introduce the concept of the corruption to the kid. It is very sad that in modern society we still need such tales, but still, I think there is no better way for kids to learn about the hazards of the world.