How the Leopard Got His Spots | Summary and Analysis

Summary of How the Leopard Got His Spots by Rudyard Kipling

 ‘How the Leopard got his Spots’ by Rudyard Kipling is a story taken from his “Just So” collection published in 1902, considered one of Kipling’s best-known children’s literature. True to its title, the author with the vividness of his narratology recounts how the Leopard got his spots. The story talks about how a leopard and an Ethiopian hunter changed colour. 

How the Leopard Got His Spots | Summary

The leopard lived in a large open land, in ‘High Veldt’ which was ‘seclusively bare, hot,’ with sandy-coloured rocks, and tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Leopard had a yellowish coat and so did everything around him. The Giraffe, the Zebra, the Eland, the Koodoo, and the Hartebeest lived there. They were all ‘sandy-yellowish all over.” But the colour complexion was however advantageous for the Leopard as it was easy for him to hunt down the animals, by hiding behind the yellowish-coloured grass or the stones. There was also an Ethiopian who was a ‘greyish-brownish-yellowish’ man who used live with the Leopard at the High Veldt. The two used to hunt together. The trapped animals were perplexed about where to jump and escape the hassle.

Getting used to the ever so circumstantial disastrous episodes, the animals learned to avoid anything that resembled a Leopard or an Ethiopian. The animals scuttled off to a place that can provide them protection. So but by bit the Giraffe began it, as his legs were the longest. They went away from the High Veldt. Finally, they found a great forest, ‘seclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blotchy shadow, and there they hid. After a long time of hiding, the Giraffe grew blotchy, the Zebra grew stripy, and the Eland and the Koodoo grew darker. And one could smell them, hear them, but hardly could locate them or see them at all. On the other side, the Leopard and the Ethiopian were in search of the animals and wondered what happened and where all their breakfasts and dinners ran off to. They were so hungry that they ate beetles and rats. 

At last, they went to see the Baboon, the wisest animal everyone knew of. The Leopard asked, “Where has all the game gone?”

The reply came, “The game has gone into other spots; and my advice to you Leopard, is to go into other sports as soon as you can.”

The animals decided on a change and that they should also be subject to and accept the change. 

The Leopard and the Ethiopian to fill their stomachs set off to look for their breakfast. They saw a great, high, tall forest full of tree trunks all ‘seclusively speckled and sprottled and spottled, dotted and splashed and slashed and hatched and cross-hatched with shadow.’ It was the very shadowy forest they came across. The Leopard is very confused as he says, “that is so seclusively dark, and yet so full of little pieces of light?” To which the Ethiopian replies that he can smell and hear the Giraffe but cannot see the Giraffe. The Leopard is facing a similar problem. He can smell the Zebra, and can hear the Zebra, but cannot locate the Zebra. A sudden confusion occurs in the Ethiopian’s mind as he says whether they might have forgotten what their preys look like since it’s been so long since they hunted. They were fed up and decided to wait till it gets dark. At night, the Leopard heard something and so jumped on it. It smelled like a Zebra. The man too caught something and said it smells like a Giraffe and sat on its head till the morning. 

In the morning they looked at what they caught and were confused with their senses. The Ethiopian was surprised because it was supposed to be a Giraffe, but the creature was covered all over with chestnut blotches. The Leopard met the same problem, as the animal that was ought to be a Zebra was covered all over with black and purple stripes. And asks, “What in the world have you been doing to yourself, Zebra?” The Leopard expressed its frustration of finding it hard to locate the animals so far. 

The Zebra said, “Let us up, and we’ll show you.” They followed the Zebra and the Giraffe to some little thorn-bushes where the sunlight fell all stripy, and the Giraffe moved off to some trees where the shadows fell all blotchy. 

All the Leopard and the Ethiopian could see were some stripy shadows and blotched shadows in the forest. As if there was no one, not even a sight of the Zebra and the Giraffe. They finally realized that both the animals just walked off into the forest and hid and the shadowy forest protected them. Amused the Ethiopian says –  

 “That’s a trick worth learning. Take a lesson by it, Leopard. You show up in this dark place like a bar of soap in a coal-scuttle.” 

To which the Leopard replies – 

“Would it surprise you very much to know that you show up in this dark place like a mustard-plaster on a sack of coals?” 

They kept calling each other names. The Ethiopian man finally decided that they don’t match their backgrounds and that he is going to take the Baboon’s advice, that is, to change. He got nothing to change other than his skin. He decided to change his skin then and there “to a nice working blackish-brownish colour with a purple in it, and touches of salty blue.” The Leopard was the most excited as he had never witnessed a man changing his colour. The Ethiopian then advised the Leopard to do the same; to change. The Leopard after much consideration decided to go with spots. The Ethiopian put his five fingers close and pressed all of them over the Leopard’s skin, which left little black marks. Then when it’s done praises the Leopard, “Now you are a beauty.” And being happy with the newfound identity they went away and lived happily ever after. They are quite contented as they are. 

How the Leopard Got His Spots | Analysis

In ‘How the Leopard Got His Spots,’ by Rudyard Kipling, the theme of change is put forth as the primary priority. According to Thomas Hardy, one is powerless to change as it is the sole factor of fate and can alter man’s destiny. Whether it be a man or an animal, change is something every being is subjected to, and something unavoidable. Change is required for survival. How in the story, the animals decided to be away from the open land to a shadowy forest. They agreed to be subject to the change because it was needed for their survival. The Ethiopian and the Leopard finally realized that they need to change to feed themselves and not die of hunger.

 The story ends on an optimistic note of how they accepted the change and then lived happily ever after. But this optimism was met in the climax with the underlying pessimistic note of every creature’s life; “a race for survival.” The Leopard and the Ethiopian are just two creatures like any other being subjected to malevolence in contexts. The story hence points out the necessities of living. It is depicted by how the Leopard and the Ethiopian were unable to hunt when the appearances of the Giraffe and the Zebra changed. It also employs the advantages of camouflage and how the animal’s colour helps them to survive. It is when they decided to flee from the hazards of life. No animal would want to die at the hands of another creature. But is the law of nature, and life. That is why in the end the Leopard and the Ethiopian are also fitting to the change. 

It is a fact that one cannot take sides in the story. Because it is vital to fit into nature and for that survival is necessary. And at the end of the story where the Ethiopian and the Leopard change their skin, it is all a matter of following the norm, in this context, to meet their needs. But by this change, nothing will alter in case of their behaviour. They will continue to hunt animals for their hunger and would continue to be the enemies and ferocious beasts to the ever-known prey or those living on the lower grounds. Even the friendship between the Ethiopian and the Leopard could not be commented as based on trust. It is simply an acquaintance that occurred due to their bloodlust. And when time suggests another change, and during the course of it, this acquaintance as the story suggests with no change in behaviour even when subjected to change can alter all the dimensions. The infamous tale of a ferocious beast and a trapped man, or the hunter and the prey can be repeated. 

The story follows a simple narrative technique where the reader can picture the scenario and comprehend the situation. The descriptions are very embellished, and artistic, and give a closer touch to nature. Another notable point is how certain words are spelt uniquely; ‘sclusively for exclusively, and ‘member for remember. But the different touch to the spelling did not bring any particular change to the feel of the story, as it flows smoothly, and no confusion would rise while reading the story. 

How the Leopard Got His Spots | Literary Devices

Anthropomorphism is the major literary device that was very vividly used in Kipling’s “Just So” collection. Anthropomorphism is the feature of human attribution, or behaviours to animals, plants, objects, etc. Here in the story, the Leopard is an example of an anthropomorphic character. The usage of this style is particularly and most often seen in children’s literature, fantasy, mythology, etc. One could interpret the heavy use of personification in the story, but the literal usage of animals portraying human characteristics makes the story focus on anthropomorphism hugely than figurative aspects. Stories like “The Lion King,” “The Beauty and the Beast,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Winnie the Pooh,” etc.  

About the author | Rudyard Kipling 

Kipling was a prolific, very versatile writer. He was born in Bombay but soon moved to Lahore, when his father, was appointed curator of the Government Museum. From Sea to Sea is a collection of articles that records his voyage to England which took him through China, Japan, and the United States. His painting of the Anglo-Indian and the native life is extremely to the point and good; his portraits of soldiers, natives, and children are also vividly drawn, though the characterization is not deep, his background is clearly visualized and realistically presented with concrete images and structurization. His ability to create an atmosphere of mystery is top-not. His stories are expertly constructed with lucid narratology that has the aspect of luring the reader through every bit the story has to present. His works speak for attention which every reader would eventually give in to. He was more than a mere popular writer.

His literary fame brought him many honours; the Nobel Prize for Literature (1907), and the Rectorship of St Andrews University (1922-25).  




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