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Kim by Rudyard Kipling Essay

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Updated: Dec 5th, 2019

What the Story is All About

The novel “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling is an adventure story revolving around a young man named Kimball O’Hara. The story begins by highlighting the young boy, Kim, meeting Lama and deciding to follow him in quest of his religious fulfillment as a disciple. On page 14, “…Kim followed like a shadow” (Kipling 14).

What Lama is talking about has totally mesmerized Kim as he sees Lama to be totally different. He (Kim) decides to investigate him (Lama) as he would for a strange festival in Lahore city.

Lama is searching for the River of the Arrow, which he believes will provide him the salvation he wants and cleanse him of his sins (Kipling 29). Kim is an Irish boy living in India, born to a father who was a soldier. He grew up as an orphan as his father and mother died when he was at a tender age.

Kim wanders with Lama into Lahore where they look at the Buddhist relics as Lama seeks to get off the ‘Wheel of Things’. Kim is fascinated by Lama while Lama, on the other hand, feels that Kim is sent to him as a disciple or ‘chela’ (Kipling 29).

As Lama seeks the prophecy made by his father, this quest leads Kim into another strand of the novel – His recruitment in the British secret service. Besides some interruption of their friendship, Lama and Kim remains friend even when Kim is attending school. However, the recruitment in the secret service allows him to participate in the ‘great game’ of spying to fight Russians.

The Novel is mainly about friendship of Teshoo Lama and Kim, also between Kim and colonel Creighton. Women also play a crucial role in the novel, but they feature as providers and prostitutes though there is some mention of respectable women, the widow of Kulu … “Kim’s mother was Kulu” (Kipling 288), and there is also Shalegh.

Kim is captured when he found some secretes. Kim holds the native culture and the soldiers have British mentality. There is a unique way of showing clash of culture as used by the author. Even as he thinks of escaping back to Lama, Kim is imprisoned and forced to wear what he describes as “Horrible stiff suit” (Kipling 288), the form of clothing he says “rasped his arms and legs” (Kipling 288).

Kim finally meets Colonel Creighton, a man he can revere, a father-figure and a man similar to Lama. The colonel recognizes the intelligence and exceptional skills Kim had, and he markedly influenced Kim’s life as he seeks to define himself. Kim trained as a spy.

Kim and Lama are interdependent since that was an excuse for Kim to travel around India and an ideal cover up to spy, whereas Lama mostly depended on Kim to solicit shelter and a shoulder to lean on literally. The climax of the story is when Kim sets to intercept two foreign spies, one French and Russian, working in Himalayas.

Kim and Babu both secret agents are crucial in preventing the spies. Lama brings the espionage mission to success because as Kim fought one of the spies who had provoked Lama tearing his diagram, Kim stumbles into the spies secrete documents. The fight ends Lama’s quest as he finds the river of the Arrow and Kim hands the secret documents to authorities.

Levels of Meaning in Kim

Kim is a novel that can be described to have had multiple levels of meaning. The novel is a drama about Kim who is ambitious and having his way. The book is also an adventure tale of Kim following Lama and finding himself in espionage activities. The book is also a mystical exegesis of a certain way of behavior. Kim presents different sets of meaning related to cultural imperialism and colonial dispossession. These factors foreshadows Kim’s ending.

In the story, Kim, the Kipling developed the phrase Wheel of things to describe the religious symbol (16). Lama says that people are usually held up in their lives and struggle to get freedom from the wheel, or the routine of events. The wheel of things has a number of Buddhist connotations, the routine way of conducting their day to day activities.

Human beings are deemed to have a destiny; to live and work as they live on earth and life after. Buddhism provides humanity an escape to cycle, the wheel. Religion provides spiritual guidance and renunciation of earthly delusions and attachments.

This level of meaning by symbolism makes use of the wheel to represent time. In fact, Buddha has a Jain concept which is its emblem. Lama believed that by finding the river of the arrow, he can bath in it and his soul would be cleansed and then set free.

The novel describes the journey of Lama and Kim through India. They experience a marvelous spectacle of different landscapes, peoples and works. The world is experiencing notable works that seem to be continuous – the book describes it as the world is going and coming. Kipling also brings in the experiences of different people, – “bankers and tinkers, pilgrims and potters, barbers and bunnias…” (63).

Among these people, there are those with long hair, those with a strong scent and food sellers etc. all these different descriptions of people were symbolically “bound on the wheel” – they are bound from life after life. Lama says there are some things that have not yet been exposed to these people. “They strive through mile upon mile… they are journeying through Samsara” (Kipling 34).

The Author’s Attitude to the Government of the British Raj

Rudyard Kipling foregrounds the way the non-western countries were colonized and dispossessed by the imperialist capitalist British. Kipling throughout the novel portrays himself as intelligent though unusually sensitive. Despite that, he shows Kim, equally intelligent been treated as an inferior person by the British just because he is not white as he follows Lama. The western civilization regards itself as superior to other both culture racial and culture wise. This is a belief that Kip Inadvertently internalized while he was living India.

Kipling uses Kim to present his feeling for the old traditions imperialist forces. The Britons colonized other countries while stating that it was a way of giving their colonies proper civilization. While doing this, the British deprived the Indians of their ancestral land and cultural inheritance.

Kipling seems to be an imperialist, and his novel exemplifies attitude towards the British government ruling India. Today, the British rule is wholly undesirable and disgusting. Kipling seems to believe that the Britons have the right to own India and that it was proper for them to do so as they rule the Indians.

This stance as questionable did not cross his mind when he was writing the book. During that time, there must have been a substantial uproar of rebellion among Indians against British rule. This is obvious, in chapter three of the book as an old soldier making comments on the 1857 downright mutiny; he dismisses it as madness.

Kipling says, “The madness that was eating into all the army and they turned against their soldier’s” (100). In the following chapter, justice is overseen. They understand the land and know its customs (Kipling 124). These are just some of the ways Kipling’s Imperialist attitude towards British penetrated his story.

Like many other people who were born in India under colonial rule, he thinks that the situation should be unquestionable. The adult Kipling should, however, not look at it that way and hide in his past viewpoint or preconception as a child.

There are some instances of patronizing comments like “…the curator smiled at the mixed traditional piety and modern development that are not of the modern India” (Kipling 59). This is only his opinion and not that of Kim in the story. There are several other harsh and biased generalization regarding India and its citizens. Kipling also narrates that British way of the rule was superior (28-29).

Despite having an attitude against India, he also has some love. The author has incredible insider’s knowledge of Indians in the colonial period. He hence admires the culture and the people. The novel hence celebrates India, describing its landscapes as magnificent, superb rural and urban scenes as well as many fascinating native characters.

Author’s Perception of Human Nature

The author presents a range of human characters like religious beliefs and seeking for love and satisfaction in life. As Kim and Lama travel, Kim is highly social, which is human nature, and he makes acquaintances with the people they encounter. For instance, Kim could talk to Kulu, a widow who was also a traveler with her daughter. Kim was able to use his charm to get her to help them in exchange for prayers from Lama to bless her future grandsons (Kipling 129).

With exceptional expedient knowledge of the human nature, Kim gets many of the things he and Lama want for their survival. In their journey, Lama continues to preach to people, impacting their emotions, actions, attachment to earthly materials. Human beings constantly seek to attain enlightenment.

Kipling’s story has been prose of shallow kind. There are many wishful thoughts, particularly about human nature, and they end in multicultural insistence that British culture was superior to other cultures like Indian culture in this instance.

The Requirements of Being an Intelligence Officer, a Spy

The upbringing of Kim was quite unusual as he was an orphan; he needed a father figure and a mother. He also sought to get to define himself as an important member of the society. Besides that he wanted to fulfill his spiritual duty. It is through his journeys with Lama that he meets Colonel Creighton. In him, he finds the father figure he had been looking for.

This part brings out the requirements of an intelligence officer as wisdom, experience, and education. This is contrasted to the drummer boy, Bennett. Colonel Creighton identifies Kim as intelligence and having exceptional skills.

These are requirements best fit for a spy. This is the highest ranking personnel of the British government to be mentioned in the novel, he influences Kim’s quest to define himself. He takes Kim for training to be a spy. He trains when he is not in school. However, Kim trained under Creighton’s associates after he completes school.

Kim is social elite who can make friends and acquaintances unusually fast (Kipling 16). This element is seen when he is used by Lama to get shelter. His zeal to make it successful in life sees him jump into the great game of espionage like a duck in water (Kipling 98). This character is perfect for spying.

He developed his inquisitiveness and adventurous personality from his childhood, as he ran secret missions across rooftops in Lahore. Kim renounced his normal life to follow Lama and cover up to work as a spy. He led a life of camouflage and deception where no one understood his motives, which were ulterior.


In conclusion, the novel, “Kim” underscores the life of Kim coupled with his adventures with Lama, a religious icon. However, the story highlights different meanings of Kim. Moreover, the author plays up his attitude towards the British Empire and sheds some light on his perception of human nature before giving some qualities of a spy.

Work Cited

Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. London: Macmillan & Co Ltd, 2009. Print.

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