Kipling was an Imperialist, and Kim embodies attitudes towards British rule in India which these days are wholly unacceptable and unpalatable. Perhaps we can accept that Kim, like Kipling himself, was born in India under British rule and so, as a child, would have encountered this situation as a ‘given’, something which was just there, with no obvious reason why it should be questioned. It isn’t even possible to enjoy some aspects of Kim while putting Kipling’s unacceptable attitudes on one side, because his attitudes are embedded in every facet of the novel.
We cannot excuse or defend Kipling’s attitudes, but we can acknowledge the historical fact that they were no different to those of many of his Victorian contemporaries, and be glad that the fact is a historical one. In spite of this the novel does not deserve to be forgotten, because as a work of fiction it does have fine literary qualities, and it and deserves its unique place in the history of English Literature. Kipling’s love of India The novel is not overt propaganda, and on the surface what comes across above all else is Kipling’s tremendous insider’s knowledge of India as it was in Victorian times, and his love and admiration for the country and its people. The readership would have been British, and they would probably have been impressed and fascinated by Kim as a mysterious and exotic tale of adventure overseas.
To examine the themes in the novel we should approach it as an adventure story probably aimed primarily at adolescent boys, in which Kim is seeking to find his place in the country in which he was born, while at the same time struggling to find, or create, an identity for himself. By birth Kim is a white, Irish boy, Kimball O’Hara, whose father was a soldier in an Irish regiment. From then on the plot develops two strands which run in parallel, and to a large extent overlap. Kim readily accepts the role and joins him on his journey, with the intention of also following his own quest, to find the meaning of a prophecy that was made by his father, that ‘Nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim’. Kim and the lama begin their journey together, with the cunning street-wise Kim taking on the role of the lama’s protector and guide in the complicated hustle and bustle of Indian life, with which the ethereal, nave lama is unfamiliar, and it is this journey which gives structure to the story and enables Kipling to display his abundant knowledge of India.
Male friendships The friendship between this unlikely pair is one of the main attractions of Kim, which is a novel about male friendships, primarily between Kim and Teshoo lama, but also between Kim and Colonel Creighton and his colleagues, particularly Mahbub Ali and the Babu Hurree. One of the bonds uniting Kim and the lama on their respective quests is that both reject relationships with women. How can a man follow the Way or the Great Game when he is so-always pestered by women? Kim is a male-orientated novel, as we might predict from the phallic image with which it opens – Kim sitting astride a canon – and Said comments that other critics have ‘speculated on the hidden homosexual motif’. Women do play a role in the novel, but not as objects of romantic or sexual attachment.
Essays on black skin white masks
Women feature as prostitutes, or providers, though some respect is shown for the two principle women characters, the woman of Shamlegh, and the widow of Kulu, the latter taking on something of a motherly role towards the end, healing Kim when he is ill. The two quests These two quests, the lama’s for the ‘Great Soul’ and Kim’s to play the ‘Great Game’ of spying, seem as different as can be. One could hardly imagine that two such contrasting ambitions could be yoked together.