Analysis of The Crocodile and the Monkey by Vikram Seth

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Critical Analysis: On the surface a children’s poem, But at its heart The Crocodile and the Monkey by Vikram Seth is a well spun tale of friendship, kindness, betrayal and subsequent estrangement. Rewriting the moralistic tale of not trusting those who are untrustworthy, from the Panchatantra, Seth presents this story in a poetic form with a nursery rhyme-like tune with humanised animals conversing and imparting values. Kuroop the crocodile is a character whose major objective is to impress his wife and cater to all her needs. For this purpose he brings her carcass of his prey and also agrees to sacrifice his own friend, the monkey to satisfy her appetite. His wife, Felicity is shown to be greedy, manipulative and selfish as she wants to devour the same monkey’s heart, who had been providing her with sweet mangoes through so many years. Her concern lies only with her own well being as she put her husband, Kuroop’s friendship with the monkey on the back burner and demanded that he betray his friend and satiate her greed. The monkey’s presence of mind and shrewdness was identified when he outsmarted Kuroop after knowing about his evil intentions and managed to save his life.

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Written in a humorous, witty manner, The Crocodile and the Monkey stands out from other traditional poems mainly because of its length and because of the inclusion of dialogue within the poem. A ballad, it not only narrates a story, but also gives a very honest picture of human interactions. Narrated in a racy, yet bantering manner, one notices the difference between the crocodile’s attitude of a predator towards his prey and his docile nature towards his wife. Though the poem is written in an impersonal tone, but it explores human relations in a relatable manner. You might be interested in Summary of The Crocodile and the Monkey

It also shows how the victims sometimes turn into the perpetrator and victimise the ones who had earlier meant harm to them. Using his wit, the monkey turned the tables and the crocodile ended up on the losing side in the end. The moment deceit and greed enters the scenario, friendships come to an end. Vikram Seth proves himself to be a master of words and narration as he keeps his writing edgy, engaging and entertaining. A part of Seth’s compilation, Beastly Tales from here and There, The Crocodile and the Monkey narrates a story with a moral.

Poetic Devices 

Alliteration:

  • Ganga’s greenest
  • Kuroop the crocodile
  • Gentle grin
  • Scaly skin
  • Fatter fish
  • Swam single
  • Prime pleasure
  • Special summer
  • Something sweeter
  • Sugarcane or sugar root
  • Pore and part
  • Started sinking
  • Death by drowning
  • Double dunce

Adding rhyme and rhythm to the poem, it makes the read more engaging and appealing because of the similar sounding beginning of words.

Anthromorphism:

Both the crocodile and the monkey have been given human characteristics. ‘Gentle grin’ and ‘stubby legs’ give Kuroop the crocodile a human air. Also, the relationship that has been shown between him and his wife is not one that is usually seen in animals. His devotion to his wife is again a human characteristic. Kuroop and the monkey’s friendship is rare as two such polar opposite animals do not share such a bond. Friendship, feeling of betrayal and estrangement occur in human interactions and are not seen in animals. The monkey showers the crocodile and his wife with fresh, golden mangoes which shows his love for them and his kindness. Also, when Kuroop invites him over to their place the monkey feels delighted. Gullibility is another human trait that is seen in humans, but here is seen in Kuroop when the monkey successfully tricks him to save himself. Felicity, Kuroop’s wife is shown to be greedy and self-centered, which depicts the darker side of humans. Also, she blackmails Kuroop to get her the Monkey’s heart by saying that it is necessary for her to consume it to save her life.

Repetition:

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  • Isle to isle
  • Limb to limb
  • Nearer, nearer
  • Mangoes, mangoes
  • Monkey, monkey

Repeating words work in emphasising a particular object or point in the poem.

Simile

“Silent as a polliwog”

The crocodile is compared to a polliwog or a tadpole here as he is as silent as the tadpole while stalking his prey.

“You are no heavier than a sack”

The crocodile, Kuroop says this to the monkey to tell him how easily he can carry him across the water to his wife. The comparison with a sack has been done on the basis of weight.

Metaphor

The mango has been referred to as the “golden treasure” and the mango tree has been called “the tree of life”. These metaphors have been used to highlight the importance that has been vested in the fruit in this poem. The mango not only is a treat for Kuroop’s wife, but is also the main link of friendship between Kuroop and the monkey.

Hyperbole

“When she takes you by paw
Something at your heart will gnaw.
When you gaze into her eyes
You will enter paradise”

Kuroop uses exaggeration to convince the monkey to come over to his place and meet his wife. By saying that her eyes will transport the monkey to paradise he is trying to say that she has a very and heart touching charming personality.

“Noble lady! How she’ll freeze,
Dumb with sorrow”

The monkey doesn’t mean that Kuroop’s wife will literally freeze. He is trying to say that the horror of not finding his heart will put her in shock.

Rhyme Scheme:

Following an AABB rhyme scheme, the poem is written as couplets which give it a melodic tune.

Central Idea of The Crocodile and the Monkey:

The central idea of the poem revolves around the moral of not trusting those who are not trustworthy. A friendship between a monkey and a crocodile is extremely unlikely. So when Kuroop, the crocodile asked the monkey to accompany him to dinner, something seemed fishy and it turned out that the crocodile had planned to murder him all along. Hence, shady and dark characters like the crocodile or his sinister wife are not to be trusted.

Themes of the Poem

The crocodile and the monkey explore themes of friendship, betrayal, estrangement, greed and also has a moralistic edge to it.
The monkey generously plucked ripe, golden mangoes for the crocodile and his wife and threw them down to him daily, without the expectation of anything in return. Such form of a pure friendship is very rare in this world of quid pro quo. On the other hand, the crocodile’s wife, felicity symbolises greed as she wasn’t just satisfied with the mangoes and also wanted the monkey’s heart. She wanted Kuroop to take undue advantage of his friendship with the monkey and exploit him.
Kuroop betrays the monkey’s trust for satisfying his wife’s appetite and this causes estrangement between the two of them.
On reading the poem, the reader can reach the conclusion that one must only trust those who are trustworthy, and not trust the ones who are untrustworthy.

Tone of the poem:

The poem is written in a racy, yet bantering tone and successfully holds the interest of the reader. It is written in a witty, humorous and playful manner that engages the reader and also effectively narrates the story.

Conclusion

Written by vikram seth in a simple, yet impactful language, the crocodile and the monkey is a poem which is for children on the surface, but has a deep rooted meaning. Through animals it has portrayed some of the most popular, yet intricate human relationships. From unlikely friendships to betrayals, a monkey and a crocodile express it in their own way. Even the wicked, greedy wife of the crocodile expresses traits of greed, lust for more and manipulation. To the young readers, the easy melody of the poem because of its AABB rhyme scheme will leave an impression, and to the more mature reader the themes of the complexities of human interactions will appeal to. Overall, the poem is a light read with an underlying deep meaning to it.


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