Mowgli Has an Identity Crisis

 [Warning: Spoilers]

This past weekend my wife and I were delighted to discover that the new Jungle Book movie was already on Netflix. As children, we grew up watching the 1964 cartoon. I’m, generally, not one to embrace remakes of movies, especially ones from my childhood; but I gave it a shot since I love the story so much.

Mowgli has always been an interesting character to me. A young boy, orphaned as an infant, raised by wolves, who ends up killing the tiger who killed his parents. Along the way, he has to wrestle with the fact that he is a human in the animal jungle. It becomes clear, early on, that he does not belong and is often ostracized for being a “man cub.” Aside from social adversity, he also has to deal with animals who are bigger, stronger, and faster than him. The more he tries to emulate other animals, the harder his journey becomes.

Mowgli feels like a real person to us.

The main character of the Jungle Book is well written and Mowgli feels like a real person to us. The audience knows they are supposed to root for him instead of Shere Khan or Baloo. One way this is accomplished, and the theme of this Friday Fiction Breakdown, is that Mowgli has to accept his identity.

Stephen King in his book, On Writing, talks about the inner and outer struggle of the character. In order to write a good, complex, dynamic character, that character needs to suffer, and overcome, an inner conflict and outer conflict. In the case of Mowgli, he must deal with the inner conflict of discovering and embracing who he is, a human, while overcoming the external conflict of surviving this monstrous tiger who is determined to kill him.

This duality of the character makes him feel more real. Much like humans in real life, we struggle with things on the inside and outside. Inside, you may struggle with having the courage to talk to someone at school, or handling a bad memory from your past the still haunts you, or accepting your sexuality. Externally, we deal with things like standing out amongst out peers at work for a promotion, being a good parent, or traffic.

I doubt that anyone reading this article will ever have to deal with a tiger hunting them. The real connection we have to Mowgli is the internal struggle of identity. Everyone reading this at some point has struggled with their identity. Some internal struggles are trivial like do I prefer tea or coffee; but some can be serious like working up the courage to propose to your significant other. Let’s see how the movie ended.

The Jungle Book concludes with a battle between Mowgli and Shere Khan. At the beginning of the battle, Mowgli wanted to fight with the wolves. Raksha, Mowgli’s adopted wolf mother, stopped him from joining the wolves and told him to fight like a man. Then Mowgli took his first steps into accepting he was a man by running to the forest fire. Mowgli defeated Shere Khan in the burning forest by acting like a human with cunning ingenuity, using vines to swing away to safety, while the Shere Khan fell to his fiery death. In one swoop, Mowgli overcame his internal conflict, accepting his identity as a human, and his external conflict, killing the tiger who wanted to kill him.

The takeaway:

When you’re writing your character, give them complexity with internal and external conflicts.

The dual conflict in the lives of your characters will make them feel more real to your reader or audience. It will also make them more fun to write. When properly executed, the main character will overcome both hurdles in a single leap, i.e.: Mowgli defeating Shere Khan with the intelligence of a human.

Thank you for reading this first installment of weekly Friday Fiction Breakdowns. Please like, follow, share and comment below.

Question: How would you write internal and external conflict in your characters? Please comment below.

Happy writing!

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