Kim: A Bildungsroman

Kim is a novel about a young boy named Kim and his maturation into an adult. He goes on many adventures all the while playing the “Great Game” and tying to help the Lama attain “freedom from the Wheel of Things” (Kipling 12). A bildungsroman is a novel that shows the development of a child maturing into an adult where the protagonist identifies their role within the world (Bedford Glossary 39). Rudyard Kipling uses characterization, themes and setting to develop the idea of Kim being a bildungsroman. Though we do see Kim maturing throughout the novel he still questions his place in the world. Therefore, Kim is an incomplete bildungsroman.

The way in which an author “describes and develops” (Bedford Glossary 56) a character is known as characterisation. Kim is an incomplete bildungsroman and Kipling uses characterisation to develop this idea. Kim faces many challenging situations that are “largely adult in their form and significance” (Kaul 427). At the beginning of the novel Kim discusses the Lama with Mahbub Ali stating, “I tell thee he does not know how to lie – as we two know” (Kipling 20). This shows how Kim, though a child at the time, does not possess the innocence that we relate to childhood. He has dealt with difficult and adult situations, forcing him to grow up early. However, he has not reached a level of maturity in the sense that he believes it to be a negative trait that the Lama does not know how to lie. As Kim gets older and matures he begins to question his existence, his role in the world. He says, “I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” (Kipling 234) This shows how the character of Kim is reaching maturity by posing this deep question to himself. Rather than telling us, Kipling uses indirect characterization to show the development of the character Kim through the things he says, thinks and does.

Kim discusses two key themes, loyalty and race. Kim has loyalties to many people including Mahbub Ali, Lurgan Sahib and most importantly, the Lama. His loyalties are personal, professional and at times are a combination of both. At the beginning of the novel, Kim is really only loyal to himself. This changes as he begins to develop a deeper relationship with the Lama. Kim’s loyalty to the Lama turns into love as can be seen in a conversation between Kim and Mahbub Ali when Kim says, “but that worth do I see, and to him my heart is drawn” (Kipling 122). Kim’s relationship with Mahbub Ali also grows throughout the novel into one of mutual respect and even admiration. As Kim’s loyalties change we see him maturing. Race is another theme discussed in Kim. Kim is white, the Lama is from Tibet, Mahbub Ali is from Afghanistan “that mysterious land beyond the Passes of the North” (Kipling 18) and we also meet characters who are Jat, Hindu and Sikh among many others. It is interesting how Kim treats people from other races compared to how the other characters treat people from other races. Though Kim does differentiate between races, he does not treat people any differently if they are of a different race, hence his nickname “Little Friend of all the World” (Kipling 5). Kim’s acceptance of people from other races shows his maturity, even as a child he was accepting a feat many adults struggle with. Kipling uses themes to develop the bildungsroman of Kim.

Kim is set in colonial India in the 1880’s and 1890’s (Kling 297). The “Great Game” is at the center of the Kim. It involves the struggle between Britain and Russia for control in the Middle East and Central Asia (Kling 302). It was a difficult time to live in India where deception was a constant part of life. This is evident in Kim by all the secrets different people are keeping, though a lot of the time it is out of necessity. Mahbub Ali says to Kim “wilt thou some day sell my head for a few sweetmeats if the fit takes thee?” (Kipling 123). This “Great Game” of deception is an adult situation that Kim, once again, has been thrown into though not altogether unwillingly. It emphasizes Kaul’s statement about Kim having to deal with significant adult situations. Though in the current cultural context we would not find deception a characteristic of a mature person when evaluating the historical context of the novel, deception was a necessary and common tool for most adults to ensure their survival. It is evident through the novel that Kim is exceptional when it comes to deceiving people and he gets better the more he plays the “Great Game”. The Lama is about the only character that does not use deception but rather draws upon his spirituality to get things done. The Lama though has reached a stage past maturity which is self-actualization. Kim says to the Lama “ I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela” (Kipling 225) though afterwards he still questions who he is, making Kim an immature bildungsroman. When the Lama finally reaches the river, Kim must choose to follow in his footsteps or continue playing the “Great Game”. Kim shows maturity in the context of the setting through his actions.

Kim is an incomplete bildungsroman. Kipling uses characterization, theme and setting to show us the journey Kim takes on his way to maturity. Though Kim does become mature in the novel through his actions, he is still immature in that he does not know exactly who he is and what is role is in the world. Therefore, making him incomplete in the terms of a bildungsroman. Kim shows the development of the character Kim into a mature person who lacks a sense of self.

Works Cited

Kaul, Suvir. “Kim, or How to Be Young, Male, and British in Kipling’s India.” Kim. Ed. Zohreh Sullivan. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. 426-36. Print.

Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. Ed. Zohreh Sullivan. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. Print.

Kling, Blair. “Kim in Historical Context.” Kim. Ed. Zohreh Sullivan. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. 297-309. Print.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.

Kim as a Two-Sided Man

In Kipling’s Kim, our protagonist fills the role of a hybrid: He is Irish, but born in India. As a result, his life is split in two by the different influences. His duality allows him to fill the various roles that are requested of him. Kim is a versatile boy, able to handle several difficult tasks beyond his age. Indeed, it is apparent that he is a “two-sided man.” This theme is introduced in the poem “The Two-Sided Man,” by Kipling, of which a section can be found in the introduction of chapter eight. It emphasizes the character’s duality in the phrase, “And praised be Allah Who gave me two / Separate sides to my head!” For Kim, it seems that each of his sides is separated into two separate worlds, one of being a chela and one of being a sahib. One world, in which Kim lives, is the world created with the Lama. After he joins the Lama’s journey, he gets sucked into the world of the spiritual. In the poem, there is a reference to the “side” of the spiritual, as it says, ““Wesley’s following, Calvin’s flock, / White or yellow or bronze, / Shaman, Ju-ju or Angekok, / Minister, Mukamuk, Bonze.” This implies that all walks of the spiritual life are good, creating an equality reflected in Kim’s ethnic background. Although he is Irish, he is on the same level as any Indian. He fits the role of being an Indian, which helps him while doing his duties as a chela. Being the Lama’s chela, he is taken on to aid the old man in his basic needs, and he works to guide him to the river that he seeks. They get by together, often with the bare minimum. The poem makes reference to this, as well. It says, “I would go without shirt or shoe, / Friend, tobacco or bread.” Being an orphan, living on the streets, has enabled him to deal with such conditions, and thrive. His background, of an Indian street rat, comes in handy. It helps him to procure the needs of the Lama, as well as helping him to interact with the people. He knows the customs of the native people and takes advantage of this; also, his contacts are valuable throughout the novel. Although it does not aid the Lama, being the son of a soldier helped him obtain an education and St. Xavier’s. All his interactions with the Lama, and the native peoples, can be lumped into one section, which is his life as a chela. On the other hand, however, Kim is also a sahib, or white. This side of Kim obviously strongly relates to colonialism. As the British Empire has a strong presence in India, Kim’s whiteness reflects the role of the British Army in the novel. As Kim is recruited as a spy for Colonel Creighton, he falls into the world of the British. Everything that is British is separated from that which is Indian. His background, as a white, helps him to accomplish his tasks as a spy. He is clever, to start with, and his whiteness affects how people receive him. He enters into a world where Indians were generally not accepted. He fits comfortably in the world of Colonel Creighton. It even seems that Kim takes him on as a father figure and role model. Indeed, it seems that Creighton takes on a stronger role, as a father figure, than Mahbub Ali. But it is Mahbub Ali who says to Kim, “Once a Sahib, always a Sahib.” There is a certain permanence in Kim’s state. He cannot change his skin color, nor his heritage. He will always be a sahib to the native people. Even if he saw a role model in Mahbub Ali, he is of a different world. In the end, they will always be on other sides of the spectrum. Even his Indian friends are separate from him, regardless of his wishes. Once his whiteness is established, it prevents any further strong sentimental interaction between him and the Indian world. Even in the end, without the Lama, he seeks out more people like himself. He further immerses himself in the world of the sahib. Kim’s hybridity makes him an ideal match for the duties he takes on. Being an Irish in India, Kim does not seem to have his own place. He is neither British nor Indian. For most of the story, he cannot fit in either world, so he takes on his own mix of the two. Being a chela, he utilizes the skills that he learned from the Indian streets. He knows who to beg from and how to act towards them in order to get the most out. He makes a great guide, being that he knows the land fairly well. Furthermore, he is familiar with the religious associations with the Lama, and he acts appropriately towards him. At the same time, being white, he assimilates perfectly into their world. He slips in and out of various social circles virtually unnoticed. He knows of their customs, and uses that to uncover information as a spy. He also fit in at his school. The men of his dead father’s army treat him kindly, almost looking after him. Thus, he has all the opportunities of not only an Indian boy but an English boy. It is appropriate, therefore, that throughout the novel, he is referred to repeatedly as, “The Friend of all the World.” He has the ability to be a friend to everyone he meets, even if he is spying on them. At the same time, this seems to give him an identity crisis. He does not know where he fits in. Even the poem, “The Two-Sided Man” goes back to the same theme. He lacks any strong religious association. As the poem says, “Much I reflect on the Good and the True / In the Faiths beneath the sun, / But most to Allah Who gave me two Sides to my head, not one.” He simply thanks Allah and hopes that any god will be there for him. While in the story he follows the Lama in search of the river, he is not wholeheartedly interested in his spirituality. This is clear because he is a spy: The act of eavesdropping and stealing secrets cannot be approved of by a deity. Hence, he is stuck in the middle of religion, too. All along, however, he respects the Lama for his devotion. It seems he may even envy how the Lama is so driven and has such strong direction. Being a hybrid, he does not have a strong drive to anything in particular. Until he found his niche with being a spy, he had little else to do. Being a white Irish boy in British colonized India, there is little he could be devoted to without sacrificing who he is. Kim seems undecided of what “side” he would like to live on. As he fits into both worlds, it is hard for him to commit to one facet or the other of his life. It raises a question about the author. Being that Kipling was British and born in India, what influence did this have on the novel? Perhaps some of his feelings are transferred into Kim’s character. It seems he may have felt disconnected with England, while still feeling some loyalty to the land he was born into, just as Kim feels attached to his non-native Indian culture. At the same time, there is a point in chapter three when the Lama says, “There is no pride, there is no pride among such as follow the Middle Way.” The term “Middle Way” throughout the book refers to the Buddhist principle avoiding all extremes. Is it relevant then, that Kim does avoid all extremes? As a hybrid, he is neither white nor Indian. Hence, he does travel on the Middle Way. Unknowingly, he and the Lama travel the same path.

Magic and the Occult in Kim

In order to unpack Kipling’s complicated stance toward English imperialism in his novel Kim, one can begin with an investigation of the role of the occult in the novel. Some critics have read Kipling’s use of the occult as fantasy, a tool for bridging the gap between his limited experience as an Anglo-Indian and the multiplicity of voices, religions, and traditions in India. Problematically, then, the world of magic (like youth) must be guarded and secured by the way of the gun or imperialistic paternity. Kim, as a spy for the British Raj, is protector of the magical, Orientalized East. But how much of that magic is simply illusion? As the Lama’s “chelaâ€? or guide, he is both spiritual subordinate and protector, necessary to the Tibetan Buddhist’s physical survival. Kim is superior to the Lama in the ways of the world—obtaining food, managing money, and, later, after he is given a Western education, in mathematics and penmanship. It is Kim, not the Lama, who is the hero of Kipling’s book; and it is through his perspective that we, as readers, are allowed to experience India. From an Orientalist standpoint, the most effective colonial rulers are those who, like Kim, know India, and are thus able to appropriate mystical knowledge in order to support the machinations of Empire.Following from this idea, how do Kim’s encounters with magic help determine his ultimate position as a British spy? It is by probing the connection between magic, colonialism, and modernity, that we can interpret Kim’s several important magical, or occult, experiences in the text2E First is his encounter with Lurgan Sahib, and the incident of the conjuring up of the smashed jar. Kim, terrified, finds that he can resist Lurgan Sahib’s magic by controlling his thoughts and meditating on the multiplication table in English. Lurgan Sahib asks him, “And then what did you do? I mean, how did you think?â€? Kim’s response is: “Oah! I knew it was broken, and so, I think, that was what I thought—and it was broken.â€? (207) The multiplication tables are a symbol of Western rationalism; following Descartes, Kim knows that he saw the jar break and thus it must be broken. Or, only when one allows himself to believe in magic, can one be swept away by it.Another moment in which Kim encounters the occult is when Mahbub Ali brings him to the spiritualist, Huneefa, whose task it is to put a protective spell on him. Again, West is pitted against East, as Mahbub Ali says (of Kim), “Allah! How he fought! We should never have done it but for the drugs. That was his white blood, I take it…â€? (239). In other words, according to Mahbub Ali there is something about the Westerner that makes him naturally, biologically impervious to the occult. Phrases like “white blood,â€? a paradox, are typical of 19th century scientific racism, classifications of character based on so-called “race.â€? Following this logic, Huneefa and Mahbub Ali must drug the Irish Kim in order to make him susceptible to the occult ritual—and even then, the question of how susceptible he really is remains at stake.As many critics have noted, Kim makes comedy out of the often tragic consequences of colonial rule in India. In this sense, one can see the way in which Salman Rushdie perhaps takes Kim as his point of departure in Midnight’s Children, another tragicomedy in which the comedy half arises from deflating and pin-pricking at what are seen as Eastern superstitions and often resultant culture clashes between East and West. Kim, a great huxter, impersonator, and spy, succeeds in passing himself off as having spirital powers, such as when, thanks to insider knowledge, he informs a regiment that war is breaking out in the North and is mistaken for a prophet, or when his Western medical kit allows him to have the “magicalâ€? powers of healing. And, yet, even as the occult is deconstructed or, as critic Max Weber would have it, “disenchanted,â€? the failures of human rationality are so well-articulated by Kipling that one cannot help but consider the wisdom of finding an alternative to the Western overreliance on rationality through the five senses. Put another way, even though everything mysterious can be explained, human judgment often fails to perceive the truth, requiring in many cases a leap of faith.Finally, how does the very unspiritual Great Game of British Imperial spying relate to the Lama’s mystical Wheel of Life, both of which Kim seems to follow? Both the Great Game and the Wheel of Life are monolithic systems which encompass all worlds in order structure a worldview and confer meaning on one’s life. One can conclude with three questions, which are perhaps the most provocative and challenging aspects of interpreting Kim. What does it mean that the Lama glimpses the long-sought River of the Arrow at the end of the novel? What is implied by the last scene, in which the Lama claims that “the Search is endedâ€?? Why give the Lama the final lines of the book? (383) These are questions that certainly do not have easy answers but, in exploring them, we can begin to do justice to the role of magic and the occult Kipling’s work.

Kim’s White Blood

Throughout Kipling’s Kim, the protagonist, Kim, moves between the white and nonwhite worlds in India with the ease and skill of a chameleon. His unique ability to ignore caste divisions and experience true freedom of motion allows Kipling to render a vision of India unconstrained by typical limits of perspective. The motif of Kim’s white blood further provides a unifying theme for the portrayal of India’s struggle between British Imperialism and national pride.Kipling’s main goal in Kim is to show a nostalgic picture of India with a savory attention to minute details of its rich tapestry of cultures to readers in Europe. With sweeping views of the country from southern cities to northern mountains, Kim’s adventures explore the totality of the empire in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus. This clearly male novel focuses on men, leaving women in the margins because of their limited vision and inability to inhabit all worlds like Kim. “Seeing all India spread out to left and rightŠ[and feeling] these things, though [Kim] could not give tongue to his feelings” is the objective of the novel (Kipling 77). Kipling wants the reader to be so enthralled with India and so familiar with his love for the land that he can share the taste of Kim’s sugar-cane and the Lama’s snuff (77). This scene on the Grand Trunk Road typifies the sweeping view of India Kipling is attempting to render. Yet, the novel’s focus is not exclusively on a distant bird’s eye view of India from above, where it can be seen spreading out from a distance, but an intimate safari into places Englishmen cannot enter without the help of Kim, who can befriend anyone and pass unnoticed into the heart of India.Said, in his article, “Kim, The Pleasures of Imperialism,” argues for the need to discuss the novel with a focus on its extrinsic context. “We must not unilaterally abrogate the connections in it [history and political circumstances], and carefully observed by Kipling, to its contemporary actuality” (Said 41). Said’s main extrinsic connection is the Sepoy Mutiny, which was fresh on most English minds. He points out that most Englishmen perceived the rebellion as a localized confusion regarding cow and pig oils used in weapons of native soldiers. Kipling, he assumes, must have ignored the true drive behind the rebellion–freedom from English Imperialism–because he viewed British power as the logical and welcome goal in India.Assumptions aside, Kipling clearly recognized the social hierarchy in India and is meticulous in his attention to castes and their mannerisms. In this manner Kim is aware of contemporaneous social and political baggage, incorporating current realities into the core of his novel. “The division between white and nonwhite, India as elsewhere, was absolute and is alluded to throughout Kim: a Sahib is a Sahib, and no amount of friendship or camaraderie can change the rudiments of racial difference” (Said 30). Yet, despite this absolute sounding thesis, Kipling manages to disprove Said with Kim, who is both white and nonwhite. Kim remains subordinate to the Lama for the duration of the novel in the position of chela, begging for him, washing his feet, and carrying his baggage. It is precisely this ability to shrug off a Sahib’s niche in Indian society (and by extension reject all of British Imperialism) that allows Kim to enter the nonwhite world. Thus, Said’s racist judgment of British absolutes finds an exception in Kim. Race, nevertheless, plays a crucial role in the novel and is the focus of its main motif. Kim’s white blood is referenced in various places, despite the lack of necessity, because of its significance in the context of an Empire ruled by white men. The opening lines of the novel identify Kim without complication as “white‹a poor white of the very poorest” (Kipling 3). This is the centerpiece of his personality and several of his non-Indian mannerisms and instincts are attributed to his English heritage, despite his total lack of white nurturing. In chapter 2, for example, Kim swiftly picks up the dropped silver because “he was Irish enough by birth to reckon silver the least part of any game” (Ch 2). This explanation of his behavior seems illogical because Kim does not even know what “Irish” means, much less how such people supposedly behave. Clearly Kipling’s imagination wandered during this passage, but that hardly justifies other similar passages. For example, Kim claims to hate snakes and the narrator attributes this to “the white man’s horror of the Serpent” (Ch 3). Considering both his parents died before he can remember and his adopted mother was a half-caste, it is difficult to determine where such instincts arise from other than from a genetic Irish predisposition that cannot be erased with nurturing. Another scene shows “Kim’s white blood set[ting] him upon his feet” “where a native would have lain down” (Ch 3). Kim does not understand Sahib’s and cannot relate to them until he has finished his training at St. Xavier’s. After living with white people and learning their customs, Kim can understand the priest’s and Mahbub Ali’s assertion that “once a SahibŠalways a Sahib (Ch 5 and Ch 6). Yet, throughout the novel Kim rebels this labeling: “I do not want to be a Sahib” (Ch 6). To accept the priest and Mahbub Ali would mean his chameleon powers had vanished and he could no longer enter the nonwhite world. This is the key dilemma in the novel, and it is something Kipling never resolves in the end. How Kim assimilates his work for the British Government and his love for Indian culture is an issue Kipling either fears to face or neglects to perceive. The closest the novel approaches to addressing this issue is in Ch 7:”‘But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam, and I am a Sahib.’ He looked at his boots ruefully. ‘No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?’ He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate” (Ch 7).This existential passage faces Kim’s duality head on. He cannot be both Indian and Sahib according to the rules of society, but somehow he is exactly that dichotomy. Kim concludes that he is Indian, as implied in the title “insignificant person.” If he were a Sahib, he would not be insignificant and could not be mixed in the “roaring whirl of India.” It is a pity Kipling does not do more with this passage. Another passage showing Kim’s dichotomy is when he states his necessity to “be free and go among my peopleŠotherwise I die!” (Ch 8). Kim accepts the Sahib training as practice for another disguise and a necessary step to play the Game, but does not embrace the training as a connection to his born heritage. The possessive connection with the people of India and the desire for freedom of motion betray Kim’s true identity as an Indian at heart. “What am I? Mussalman, Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist? That is a hard knot” (Ch 8). The question he asks Mahbub Ali is the question of the novel and necessarily remains unanswered because Kim’s identity is unanswerable. The search for one’s identity is a common theme in novels and perhaps the theme of American literature. It is interesting to contrast this importance to Kipling’s rejection of it. Identity, as seen in Kim, is confining, thus the answer to Kim’s question of “who am I?” is resolved with a simple answer “not a Sahib.” Unfortunately, Kipling looses track of this and attributes special predispositions to Kim’s white blood. Toward the end of the novel, for example, Kim attacks the Russian spy with a “blow [that] waked every unknown Irish devil in the boy’s blood” (Ch 13). Such a reference to Kim’s blood is totally inconsistent with his true identity, which cannot ever be narrowed into one category. Other references, such as on the mountain when Kim “remembered that he was a white man, with a white man’s camp-fittings at his service” (Ch 13) also serve the same destructive end of weakening Kipling’s craft. Kim’s lack of definable identity challenges the notions of empire as applied to the novel. Extrinsically, Kipling denies the absolute power of race in social order. White superiority is debunked and asserted in Kim’s dichotomy. On the one hand, Kim is successful because he is not a British native and can view the richness of India because he is part of it. On the other hand, Kim is the only person in the novel who can see all the beauty in India and he happens to be a white man, thus implying that a nonwhite could not have the same vantage point. Thus, empire is in the back of Kipling’s mind at all times, even while attempting to flee from it in the most genuine settings in India.Kim’s blood and related identity dilemma is best resolved when he speaks to the Lama, reminding him of his blindness to race: “‘Now I look upon thee often, and every time I remember that thou art a Sahib. It is strange.” ‘Though has said there is neither black nor white. Why plague me with this talk, Holy One? Let me rub the other foot. It vexes me. I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela, and my head is heavy on my shoulders'” (Kipling 323).Kim is a morphing chameleon who can inhabit different castes and roles with expert ease. His success ultimately lies in his faith that he is “Friend of the Stars” and can be, not just play the part of, anyone in India.