Kim is a novel set in British colonial India during the rule of the Raj (British colonial rule of India). The author, Rudyard Kipling, was a British citizen who himself spent several years in India, though he wrote the book while in England. Kim is a white youth who has been raised by a 'half-caste woman, since his mother died of cholera and his father, a member of an Irish regiment, fell to drink and loafing. Though a boy, Kim is at home in the streets of India, sunburned and dark and comfortable passing as a native. He travels the country with his spiritual mentor, the lama, and gets mixed up in the 'Great Game' - Britain's secret spying war against Russia.


Kim is a wily young white boy who is tanned dark and can pass as a native. He lives by his wits, begging food and using his many connections to his advantage. He is befriended by a Tibetan lama who is seeking the river of the arrow, which will give him relief from the Wheel of Life. Kim confesses to having a dream in which he saw a red bull on a green field; in the dream, the vision preceded war.

Kim and the lama take to the road together, and Kim takes a secret note along from a friend who is a horse-trader and a spy. After delivering the note, Kim sees a regiment stationed; their flag is a red bull on a green background. He is caught trying to sneak around in their tents, and the men figure out that he is the son of an old Irish sergeant they knew (Kimball O'Hara). They insist on putting Kim through school, to give him the proper education of a sahib. Kim learns how to live the life of a sahib, the term used by natives in reference to Europeans. He makes more contacts in his schools, does well in mathematics, but yearns to be involved in his previous footloose lifestyle. He is introduced to some more men in the Great Game, and leaves school to travel with his friend the lama while simultaneously contributing to the British spy business by teaming up with Lurgan, Mahbub Ali, and Hurree Babu.

In the end, there is a pair of men traveling under the guise of being fur traders, though both of them are agents - one from Russia, one from France. Hurree gets to be their guide, evidently so that he can sabotage their trip and gain some knowledge about their spying activities. One of the traders strikes the lama, which incurs the wrath of Kim and all the natives. The traders - the Frenchman and the Russian - are left with nothing; and Kim makes away with all their maps and secret papers - a coup for British intelligence.

The lama becomes representative of the spirituality and native culture of the countryside, and Kim the link between that and the British colonial rule. Colonial rule began in 1757 when the British East India company took over, and changed a century later as a result of the Sepoy Mutiny: for the next century, the crown would rule India, not the British East India Company. In Kim, the British colonial system of rule wins out in a large way, as the invaders from the two rival countries are duped, fooled, and left with nothing - not even the rotting hides they could have sold to make a little money. Kipling wrote this book half a century before India, with the leadership of Gandhi, Nehru, and others, would finally gain its independence from England.

Rudyard Kipling grew to be very imperialist in his outlook, and was criticized for being a war-monger. Some anit-imperialist friends in England accused him of jingoism.

*** great page for learning the history of British colonial rule in India

** good information on the decline of the British rule in India


When considering the novel Kim, it is important to understand the situation of India at the time of the British Raj. Some more research would be helpful, perhaps in some of the included links.

The author, Rudyard Kipling, was British and quite and Imperialist in outlook and politics. When studygin Kim, how does this fact convey itself in the novel? How do you see Kim's relationship with the lama?



Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.


Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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