Kipling’s Kim and the Justification of British Imperialism
Kipling’s Kim and the Justification of British Imperialism

Kipling’s Kim and the Justification of British Imperialism

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  • Pages: 12 (3030 words)
  • Published: November 26, 2017
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Rudyard Kipling's Kim has never lost its prestige as a piece of adventure fiction, but, in the rise of postcolonial studies has been the subject of more and more critical study. In the course of this essay I intend to show that Kipling with Kim does indeed justify the British Empire's exploitation of India; not merely by not challenging imperialism, but by subtly reinforcing its racist values. I shall show that, although the author is certainly sympathetic towards Indian culture, he does eventually believe that their race is an inferior one and that race itself is something nonnegotiable.

I intend to show that Kipling believed wholeheartedly that it was the white man's duty to subjugate the darker skinned races because these races were not able to look after themselves. In order to support this theory, I will show that, time and time again in Kim,


the author displays natives to be helpless and childlike; more a danger to themselves than their British overlords. Fundamentally, we shall see that the author justifies imperialism through his anthropological assertions.I will then examine how these attitudes are emphasized in the author's assessment of education, Indian versus English, and how the latter's superiority supposedly validates colonial expansion.

Finally, I shall consider the character of Hurree Babu and discuss the implications of Kipling's apparent repugnance towards him. I do not wish to paint Kipling in a demonic light, however and I believe that his genuine enthusiasm for the Indian culture may have been unusual for it time. What we have then is a kind of ambiguity, the author at once asserts the expediency of empire while remaining sympathetic towards the conquered people.Kiplin

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certainly mythologizes the ordeals of colonial rule and he seems very reluctant to examine native grievances. But we must also consider the fact that the book is, essentially, an adventure story written for adolescent boys and was probably never intended as a political novel in the first place. Kipling was, without a doubt, pro-empire; he believed that the western world was obliged to annex its eastern relatives because these poorer 'second-class' civilizations could not hope to take care of themselves and needed direction from more 'advanced' cultures.

Its important to note that Kipling's imperialist attitude was not driven by economic incentive, he considered the conquest of India as the white man's duty. He thought that the English must enforce their education on others because it was a decidedly better form of education. Perhaps Kipling's exaltation of empire can best be seen in his controversial poem 'The White Man's Burden' (1899) where the author says "Take up the White Man's burden - Send forth the best ye breed - Go send your sons to exile/ To serve your captives' need".George Orwell, whose Animal Farm (1945) could be read as a particularly scathing account of self-righteous pomp, considered Kipling's imperialist outlook backward and idealistic but nevertheless considered him a great story teller. Of course Kipling's portrayal of India is to some extent fairly simplistic and we do well to remember that it was, at least in part, written as an adventure novel for teenage boys. It is my opinion that the author's justification of empire is most apparent in the power relations between characters.

Already in the opening paragraph, Kim, keeping his birth certificate (proof of his english heritage)

in a special amulet close to his chest is shown thwarting the attempts of the native Hindu and Moslem boys to take his position at the top of the cannon. Kipling seems to believe that Kim is subject to a Nietzschean will to power and that despite himself (at this early stage in the novel he is for all intensive purposes fully native) he is inherently a step above his truly native peers.In chapter nine, Kim goes to stay with Lurgan, and the older man repeatedly tests Kim with various games and charades. Lurgan at one point tries to hypnotise Kim into believing that a broken water vessel lying on the ground is busy reconstructing itself but the sharp witted Kim, uses the multiplication tables he has learned at St. Xavier to dispel his imagination and come to the rational conclusion that this 'magic' is merely a masquerade.

Lurgan, who as far as we can tell, has only had native apprentices until now, remarks that Kim is the only one who has ever withstood his test.Kipling's point seems to be that Kim's analytical western education, although initially a drag for the boy, is superior to the mysticism of the East; moreover he is showcasing western 'intelligence' and assuming Indian naivety. Revealingly, Kim, throughout the text, will use his education from St. Xavier to deceive and employ the unwitting natives.

It was characteristic of colonialist authors, in their attempt to justify empire, to describe their Indian subjects as intellectually irrational and emotionally disorganized; if they could show the Indians to be psychologically inferior then they would claim their right of dominion.Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) comes

to mind; Crusoe, shipwrecked on an uninhabited, untamed island salvages his decidedly western tools and equipment and constructs a residence reminiscent of a protestant estate. He keeps a diary written in English, and trains a parrot to say his name, in this way he instigates a home away from home and uses his language and culture to consolidate it. It is implied then that Crusoe, stranded on this unintelligible island, would either be dead or driven mad without his English education.Kim then is affirming his racial superiority by resisting the eastern mysticism practised by Lurgan and is thus validating the imperial conquest as far as Kipling is concerned. A more hard-line example of Kipling's attitude towards colonial conquest can be seen in Thomas Macaulay's Minute on Indian Education (1835) where he claims "I have never found one among them who would deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.

".Although Kipling was hardly as obnoxious as Macaulay (Kipling, I believe, was to some extent in love with Indian culture) we see more than one occasion of his insolence towards Indian education. In chapter one when the Lama meets the museum curator in Lahore, the Lama, who by all accounts is an exceptionally learned man, a revered Tibetan pundit who quotes parables and speaks in foreign tongues is largely disregarded by the white curator. The Curator, himself a foreigner, must elucidate the Lama through "the labours of European scholars, who [.

.. have identified the Holy Places of Buddhism" (Kim, 8). It seems then that according to Kipling, even on determinedly Indian matters, the English

know best; the Lama himself is shown to be in awe of the curator and both his subservient and naivety are on show.

The Lama does after all, despite the fact that he has merely a few rupees in his purse and only the cold rice provided by his temple for food, provide Kim with the 300 rupees a year necessary to educate him the British system.Kipling is obviously sympathetic towards the lama, but to some extent also undermines his feasibility as a father figure for Kim by making him increasing weak, vulnerable, and feminine as opposed to Colonel Creighton who is decidedly masculine. In fairness to Kipling, The lama does at one point tell Kim that the "The Sahibs have not all this world's wisdom" (Kim 189 ) but we cannot help but feel that the author thought that he was being particularly generous in these few assertions.Even when Kipling is criticising English characters, such as when the Lama remarks that the redcoats "do no harm except when they are drunk. " (Kim 78) he is really just criticising those uneducated, adolescent Englishmen or "uncurried donkeys" (Kim 86) like the drummer boy who calls all natives "niggers".

Kipling does think that the Imperial conquest is justified, but he associates himself only with those who have genuine understanding and appreciation of the Indian culture, however inferior it may be.The author asserts his own view in the character of Creighton, the colonel tells Kim that in order to be a good Sahib, he must understand and respect the Indian culture. Indeed, Kim's ability to pass as a native is one of the reasons why he is

such a prized commodity as a spy for the British secret service in the first place. To an extent , Kipling's book does mythologize the ordeals of colonial rule.

Indian dissatisfaction with British rule is almost completely absent; this is remarkable seeing as how nationalist feelings had been rising ever since the Indian Mutiny of 1857.We are shown a drunken Indian's anger towards the British Rajah because it "had forced upon him a white man's education and neglected to supply him with a white man's salary. He babbled tales of oppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseries of his land" (Kim 234), but then we have this same Indian apologising and rescinding his words only a little later. But neither is Kipling naive in his certainty of British conduct overseas nor foolhardy in its advertisement.

By comparison we should look at William Arnold's Oakfield (1853) which was a lengthy novel detailing the absolute integrity and moral conduct of the East Indian Trading Company's employees abroad. Moreover, the novel deals almost purely with Englishmen, leaving to the Indians themselves only dark and crooked caricatures (Something like Conrad's "whirl of black limbs"). In Oakfield India itself really only serves to corrupt the sincere motives of the white man, at least Kipling shows India to be a place of profit for little Kim, even if only so far as in it allows him to be a good Sahib. In the nineteenth century, British anthropological organizations had already amassed a great deal of alleged truths about India and the Indian character. Typical of conquerors, the English assumed that the subjugated peoples were pedomorphic and disingenuous,

unable to look after themselves and further their own interests. Although Kipling certainly pays attention to the fractured multi-layered facets of Indian caste and creed I cannot help but feel that he does consider the Indians themselves childish and subject to frivolous behaviour.

Looking then at Kipling's other books, Baa Baa Black Sheep (1888) and The Jungle Book (1894), we might attribute to Kipling a certain fondness for children and their affairs in general and so this might explain the author's apparent ambivalence towards the Indian natives in Kim. In this way, Kim does reserve respect for the natives and their traditions, but it is still a jingoistic product of its era. For Kipling, we must stress, race is inescapable and all-pervading.The novel almost immediately identify Kim as "a poor white of the very poorest" (Kim 8) and in chapter two Kim promptly picks up some fallen silver because "he was Irish enough by birth to reckon silver the least part of any game" (Kim 36). Despite the fact that Kim has never been in Britain or Ireland, despite the fact that he was raised by a local women and has no memory of his parents, Kipling assumes that his behaviour is, at least somewhat, characterised by his race.Likewise, Kipling believes that flaws in the Indian character are a result of birth; in chapter three he writes "Where a native would have lain down, Kim's white blood set him upon his feet" (Kim 46) and later in chapter five he writes "once a Sahib always a Sahib" (Kim 87).

Kipling then, justifies empire by assuming that the English race is fundamentally better than the Indian one

which is typified by childishness and naivety and therefore deserving of its annexation by Britain. We will look now at how Kim communicates this message.Most typical of the childlike native then is the Lama, although the Lama is a venerable Tibetan sage, we cannot help but feel that he is more needy of Kim, who is a mere child (but a white child) then Kim is of him. In fact if anything, Kim actually becomes the Lama's babysitter, providing him with food, shelter and encouragement. We can argue that it is hardly surprising that a city urchin is more cunning and streetwise than a Tibetan scholar whatever his age, but then we should ask why Kipling decided to have such an equal relationship at the heart of his text in this first place.What exactly is it that the Lama is especially good at? According to Kipling he needs a white boy for social direction and, as we have already shown, a white curator to teach him about his own faith.

If the Lama is merely good at being mystical and indiscernible, then might Kipling be suggesting that eastern spiritualism is in itself a hoax? Several times, the Author actually refers to the Lama as a child, in chapter 1 he writes "Simply as a child the old man handed him the bowl" (Kim 13) and later in the novel, after Kim has met the women from Kulu she describes Kim and the Lama as "Children together - young and old" (Kim 269).We will now turn our attention to Kipling's portrayal of the Babu which I find a particularly revealing account of his subtle racism. The

title 'Babu' referred to an Indian who mimicked the British customs and mannerism, one who dressed, behaved and generally emulated the British gentleman in so far as he could. Hurree Babu is a target of mockery and resentment by the author despite the fact that he has received a western style education at Calcutta university and is typically accommodating to the British regime.In fact the author's beloved Kim is in many ways very similar to the Babu, both have been educated in the English tradition and both are bi-cultural. Kim for his part is well acquainted with the ideas of Indian caste, custom and creed while the Babu is an expert on English literature and the arts.

But while Kim's education is shown to be something admirable and virtuous, the Babu's is shown to be some kind of pathetic travesty. Kim's Anglo-Indian education is revered, while the Babu, obviously an intellectual with many practical skills is portrayed as a clown.The Babu's education does not make him the equal of Kim but in fact some sort of piteous doppelganger. He is first presented in the text as a "hulking, obese Babu whose stockinged legs shook with fat" (Kim 156) and from here on, he is various shown stuffing his mouth with food and proving himself inadequate for any task at hand. Again and again, Kipling jeers the Babu's broken English, going so far as write the Babu's words phonetically when he writes "onlee" instead of only, "quiett" instead of quite and many more examples besides.

As I have already said, Kipling believes that race is nonnegotiable and his point here seems to be that if the Babu

can't even talk like an Englishman he can never hope to assume their natural authority. By showing the Babu to be preposterous regardless of his education, Kipling is describing the degeneracy of the native as he sees it. Moreover, not only is he describing the native as inferior, Kipling has the Babu himself admit as much "I am only Babu showing off my English to you.All we Babus talk English to show off. " (Chapter 179); the author, in no small terms, is attacking the very idea of the Indian intellectual. We might also speculate as Nandi Bhatia does in her essay 'Kipling's Burden', that Kipling to some extent recognises a kind of menace towards imperialism in the character of Hurree Babu.

She says that the author, in order to assert the empires infallibility, must relegate the Babu to the position of the 'other' in contrast with Kim, who is the privileged ruler and 'self'.Certainly Kim, in his relationship with the Babu shows racist tendencies, his whole manner is that of a ruler looking down upon on a mere servant and it is always clear that despite their significant age gap, the Babu is subordinate to Kim and always will be. Kim's bigoted manners are perhaps cute as a child but as Douglas Kerr mentions in his article about the text, "It is difficult to imagine an adult Kim in British India who would not be a diminished figure, as well as a less charming one" ('Kim' 2002).It is interesting to compare Kipling's portrayal of the Babu with the actions of the Priest of Dungara in Kipling's 'The Judgment of Dungara' (collected in The Man

Who Would Be King 1987). The priest contributes some white woven shirts to a Christian mission, only these shirt have been woven with nettles.

The priest then is sabotaging the mission believing perhaps that it is a waste of time to convert the natives in the first place.Kim then remains as a jingoistic product of its era despite its humanist sentiments and we might speculate that it represents a struggle between Kipling's theoretical beliefs on the one hand and his actual experiences in India on the other. Whether or not Kim really is a pejorative text is open to debate, we certainly see an energetic enthusiasm for all things Indian on every page of the text and often find surprising humanistic motifs. For example Kim and the Lama, despite the racial distinction Kipling emphatically makes, are remarkably similar.Neither has any family so to speak and their quests are both beyond the calling of ordinary men.

Thus the Lama on his typically eastern quest and Kim in his work for the British Secret Service are shown not to be wholly different. Kim learns to employ both western and eastern reasoning and is shown to benefit from this alliance. Nevertheless, I maintain that Kipling's view as expounded in The White Mans Burden is apparent in Kim and that he does believe the white man has a duty to lead and 'protect' the Indians which he has conquered.

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