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Finding Identity: “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling Essay

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Updated: Feb 23rd, 2022


Written by Kipling Rudyard, the masterpiece “Kim” describes the struggles of a teenage boy to survive and find identity in the Indian subcontinent, which was a British colony at that time. Kim, as a poor Irish boy, devises ways to survive in a tough economical and political environment.

Through description of Kim’s adventure in India, Kipling focuses on the people and culture of the Indians, especially during the imperial era. With much versatility, the author reveals his artistic and prowess in literature. When compared with other books in his time, Kipling’s novel stands out as a professionally written book.

Through writing his book, the author reveals his attitude towards the British government and at the same time gives a detailed description of the human nature including the characteristics of a spy. Featuring Kim as his main character, Kipling gives a vivid description of human nature, especially in relation to the secret service and at the same time reveals to the audience his perception on the British power.

In his masterwork, Kim Kipling describes the vicissitudes of an Irish boy in a British colony, India. After his parents abandoning him, in India, Kim not only turns out as a beggar but also adopts the way of life and culture of the Indians. Through assimilation into the culture, religion and ethnicity of the Indian’s Kim’s physique and character resembles those of the natives.

Although he lives under the care of a stranger, her addiction to opium, together with the careless living style, deprives him a decent life. During his adventures, Kim encounters Tibetan lama, a Buddhist who convinces him to be his disciple. Accompanying the stranger, the two set out on a journey to an unknown destination, but eventually Kim lands in the hands of the imperialists. Kim’s identification as an assimilated Indian motivates colonel Creighton to train him as a British spy.

His professional as a British spy together with his friend Lama Forces him to explore many places. Some of the adventures ensue into conflicts, but Kim’s secrecy and high-intelligence levels always saved him and his counterpart. Therefore, the story line is about an Irish cum Indian boy unable to decide on, which way is the best for him.

Kipling’s novel Kim falls in three levels. The first level is where the author describes the identification of Kim who is the main character. Both the origin and lifestyle of Kim seem to be unique, but he eventually finds a sense of belonging among strangers. The second level is where Kim sets out on a journey with Lama as his disciple. During his adventure, he undergoes training for about three years and eventually taken in as a spy of the colonial government.

The journey takes about four years and at this level, Kipling proves his familiarity with the way of life, culture, and the landscape of India. As a male-oriented book, the author outlines the role of women in the Indian society. Kim’s quest either as a British spy or a Lama follower becomes the third level.

Besides the wide range in their age, the two friends form an interdependence relationship and none of them can survive without the other. His role as a spy will force him to denounce his freedom and social part of his life turning him to be esoteric. Although at the end of the novel he is stuck on, which way to follow he says, “I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela” (Kipling 367), which means he might abandon Lama.

Through the description of the Indian cum British state, Kipling choice of words and use of a benevolent tone proves that he respects, loves and adores the British government. According to him British imperialism is powerful thus the decision for Kim to join the intelligence system as a spy.

Most of his characters have a strong support for the British rulers. Therefore, Kipling intention is to promote the superiority of the British government to his readers. Besides honoring the authority, he promotes the benevolence of the British rule thus; necessity of imperialism is among the author’s intended message.

A high level of intelligence distinct from the natives and morally upright British citizens is the picture Kipling draws about the Britons. Kim, Lama, the villagers and most of other supports assist the colonialism to spread its wings in India. The benevolent attitude that the author has towards the authority means that he celebrates the British government.

As he describes the adventures of Kim and his friends, Kipling also gives the features of human nature from a personal point of view. For instance, Kim’s suffering and struggle to survive in India as a foreigner shows that human struggle to survive is one of the characteristics of the human nature.

After his parents abandoning Kim lives on streets as a beggar, thereafter he ends up in the hands of an opium addicted woman who does not give him direction in live. Eventually, he meets Lama whom he sets out with to an unknown place, yet he is a stranger. The two friends struggle to make ends meet.

They have to beg, sleep in the cold and encounter hostile people as they try to accomplish their missions. During the journey, the colonialists take him in and train him as a spy. To work with intelligent unit not only requires queer characters in an individual but also disrupts his or her normal social of life.

Although he has a job with the government, his mind is not at rest because he is unable to pursue two contrasting missions at the same time. Thus, as the protagonist Kim life is not at peace because of his ambitions and missions that awaits him.

Secondly, superstitions characterize the human nature. Lama is a Buddhist and Kim blindly follows him as a disciple. The two believe there is a river, which is holy. Furthermore, Lama preaches to Kim giving him both spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Finally, aspiration is also a feature of the human nature.

Kim’s aim is to excel in life and find his biological parents while Lama’s dream is to trace the ‘holy river’. On the other hand, the British colonies aspire to conquer and rule all the Indians. Eventually, when Kim and Lama achieve their mission their hearts are full of happiness, love and triumph. The features of human nature motivate people to live, work, and move in a given manner, as it is evident with Kim’s life.

In his novel, Kipling gives Kim, the main character the role of an intelligence officer (spy) subsequently some of the desired qualities and qualifications of a spy become evident. Colonel Creighton observes some unique features in Kim, which prompts him to train him as an intelligence officer.

The first peculiarity about Kim lies in his background as an Irish thus originating from within the United Kingdom. Therefore, for an individual to qualify as a spy he/she has to have similar nationality with recruiting persons. Secondly exposure to the environment is also one of the requirements a spy has to posses as it is evident with Kim.

He was familiar with all corners of the subcontinent of India, their cultural practices, languages and the way of life. His poor background and struggle to survive in a foreign land motivated him to be adventurous. More over his assimilation to the Indian society enabled him to qualify as a spy. Both the natives, Britons, Russians and people from other foreigners could not easily trace his nationality. He spoke and conducted himself as an Indian, but in the real sense, he is an Irish.

The readiness to denounce normal life is one of the major sacrifices an individual has to make when joining any secret service unit, as it is the case with Kim. The next feature of a spy is the ability to be wittily inquisitive. Kim could intelligently retrieve information from the natives while concealing his identification.

Kim is deceptive and manipulates people to achieve his ambitions, which qualify him as a spy. Besides concealing and disguising his true nature to the public, he also hides his relationship with British government. Secrecy is also a crucial requirement for spy because the individual had to hide the information and items, which belonged to the agency.

For instance, during his missions, Kim kept mum about his movements and his whereabouts even his close friend Lama remained in the dark. The first mission for Kim was to disrupt the Russians’ mission in establishing their roots in India; he steals vital documents including maps without their knowledge.

Kim’s ambitious and independent character propelled the colonel to contract his service. He had no family or parents who could inquire about his job or whereabouts, which is one of the requirements of the secret service in the British government. Finally, education and vigorous training are also essential requirements of spy.

To qualify for his role in the colonial government, Kim had to undergo a three-year education in a catholic institution after, which the colonel trained him as an intelligence officer. Therefore, Kim was aware of his role as a spy before endorsement in the service.


In conclusion, Kipling novel Kim can fit both in the audience of children as an adventure book and to adults an as historical book. Categorically, the book is in three parts whereby, each section explains a given point. His experience in India during the 19th century compels him to give a detailed description of the geographical features, social, spiritual, political, and economic life of the Indian society.

Kim the protagonist of the story rises from being a street child to an intelligence service officer in the British government. As the author writes his novel, his positive attitude towards the British government becomes evident. Kipling also enables the reader to identify the features of human nature and the qualifications of a spy especially in the British authority. Finally, Kipling’s novel enlightens the society on the historical life of India especially as Britain territory.

Work Cited

Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. United Kingdom: MacMillan, 1901.

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1. IvyPanda. "Finding Identity: "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling." February 23, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rudyard-kipling-kim-3/.


IvyPanda. "Finding Identity: "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling." February 23, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rudyard-kipling-kim-3/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Finding Identity: "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling." February 23, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rudyard-kipling-kim-3/.


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