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How The Leopard Got His Spots Summary

Summary and Analysis How The Leopard Got His Spots by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling’s How the Leopard Got His Spots” is a short story from his collection ‘Just So Stories’. As the name indicates, the story chronicles the events that lead to the leopard getting its spots. How the Leopard Got His Spots explores themes of companionship, trust and survival.

How The Leopard Got His Spots | Summary 

The story opens by telling the readers about the High Veldt, the “bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy- yellowish grass.”, as it was the place where the leopard lived. Though the animals that lived in the grasslands were sandy yellow coloured to aid in camouflage, the leopard’s fur was the most suited for blending into High Veldt, combined with the fact that he used to hunt with the Ethiopian, who too was ‘sclusively greyish-brownish-yellowish man” that blended into the grass and the sand and used to hunt with bows and arrows, gave the leopard and the man immeasurable power much to the anguish of the preys. This leads to a mass migration of herbivores into the forests spearheaded by the giraffe as it had a long neck that could see very far. This change of location has a remarkable impact on the animals, the damp and dense forest that casts shadows onto the animals triggers a change in them altering their fur, ”the Giraffe grew blotchy, and the Zebra grew stripy, and the Eland and the Koodoo grew darker, with little wavy grey lines on their backs like bark on a tree trunk” now though the animals could be heard and smelt it was seldom that they could be seen.

 The Ethiopian and the leopard, oblivious of this migration run around in the grasslands without any progress in finding food. Now without food, they tire out and are forced to eat bugs; which upsets their stomach. They finally consult “Baviaan—the dog-headed, barking Baboon, who is Quite the Wisest Animal in All South Africa” who tells them that the animals have migrated into other spots, and he ends with an advice for the duo “advice to you, Leopard, is to go into other spots as soon as you can.” and to the man he advises” change as soon as you can.’’ Though confusion overcomes them at first they leave to seek out the “aboriginal Flora” where the animals are supposed to be. After days of travel, they finally reach the forest and are dumbfounded. As they could now sense the presence of the herbivores through smell and sound but never through sight. The leopard declares daylight hunting to be a scandal and asks the man to wait till nightfall.

 At night they independently find a zebra and a giraffe, but though the animals have a smell, make sounds and can be touched they appear to have no form, after a brief conversation the hunters decide to wait till sunrise. The morning arrives but the animals they have caught are completely strange to them, confused they ask the preys for information, the preys reminded them that it is not the High Veldt, the preys were willing to give information if they were free. The hunters let the herbivores o free and marvel at the sight of the animals vanishing in front of them. The human declares it to be a trick worth learning and tells the leopard how badly he stands out, the leopard hearing this grows annoyed and follows suit teasing the Ethiopian for standing out too much. After several back and forths the Ethiopian resolves to change his colour into a “working blackish-brownish colour, with a little purple in it, and touches of slaty-blue.” that would help him lend into the surrounding shadows and hide behind trees. The leopard stares in wonder as it has never seen a human change colours before, later the human uses the excess colour on his body to add spots onto the leopard according to the leopard’s taste. The story ends with the question, why did the leopard and human not change their colour afterwards, and the answer is that they are content with the colour they have.

How The Leopard Got His Spots | Analysis 

The story is a tale of survival, desperation and trust. The story begins by telling the readers about the status quo with herbivores unable to deal with the combined forces of the Ethiopian and the leopard. When the more farsighted of the herbivores, the giraffe, pioneers the mass migration it was fuelled by necessity and desire to live. The animals adapt to the new situation and find themselves in a condition far better suited to them than the Veldt. This transformation would have been impossible if not for the animal’s willingness to head out into the unknown, rather than being stuck in an unfavourable matchup in an area that they were familiar with. It should also be noted how the animals were at first not suited to the new environment due to their adaptions and habits from the grasslands, but they accepted the changes and made a new home for themselves.

The man and the leopard too, find themselves in similar situations, they occupied an area that gave them absolute dominance and easy meals due to their cooperation and skill. When suddenly they find that their food is gone, they try to adjust by eating bugs and it gave them stomach aches. Confused they look for guidance, the advice they got was vague and incomprehensible to them, but they resolve to heed it and move out in search of animals to eat. When they enter the forest they are shocked, now in this foreign land they can trace familiar elements but they too now occupy different forms, though altered colour and appearance. They persevere and at night finally get their hands on food that again they can’t identify or understand when they wait till sunrise they finally gleam the truth, and realize what had happened. Here they finally decide to accept changes themselves to adapt better to the situation, and change was needed for survival. They finally change themselves in a way that suits the situation better and set off to hunt.

One major condition for the hunters’ success was their cooperation and friendship though they had very different natures, they do not even think of turning their partner into food even during hours of desperation and trusted each other. While the zebra and giraffe, in their attempts to escape, have provided the hunters with the knowledge that made them more formidable and would prove to be a threat to all the herbivores in the future

How The Leopard Got His Spots | Literary Techniques  

The story is narrated from a third person and is written to mimic the style of storytelling, and appears to be a story told by a person to their “Best Beloved” is probably a child. The story is highly symbolic of the struggles that people go through, their desire for betterment, and the need to venture into the unfamiliar for personal growth, while also reminding us how it might be hard to acclimatize and adapt to a new environment. The story speaks to the modern reader about the universal struggle to survive and stay relevant in a fast-changing world, and it is at times important to change scenes and environment to survive. There is also the repetition of the word “ ‘sclusively” which adds to the style of a story being told by mouth. 

How The Leopard Got His Spots | Title of the Story 

The title of the story is self-explanatory, as the story describes how the leopard got its spots, but it is deceiving in its sheer simplicity. As the reader goes deeper into the story we realize the complex interplay involved in the situation, which can be against the expectations of people who took the title only at face value. The leopard had its spots bestowed upon him by his friend and that action was irrefutably the result of the actions of the prey and the mentor, Baviaan, and though the title would make us believe its the story of a leopard, it becomes much more than that when it explains the story of multiple characters as if answering a complex question rather than telling a story.

How The Leopard Got His Spots | About the Author

Rudyard Kipling was a British writer and journalist, born in India, known for his poems and short stories. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1907 and was the first Englishman to do so. His works include “Just So Stories” a collection meant for very young children, “Jungle Book”, another collection of short stories inspired by Indian forests, and “Rewards and fairies” which was also a work meant for children. He has also written travel sketches two of them being “From Sea to Sea” and Something Of Myself”. “The Days work”, “Life’s Handicap”, “Actions and Reactions” are his famous prose works.  




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