Two Sides of Kim’s Character

November 30, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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