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Kim

Kim, Bildungsroman

kipling lama rule story

a novel by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1901. The story of an Irish orphan's adolescence in late nineteenth-century India, Kim is a rich blend of Bildungsroman, spy fiction, and boy's adventure story which is now recognized as one of the most important fictions dealing with imperialism. Initially brought up in the bazaar by a native foster-mother, Kim takes up with a Lama searching for enlightenment. Early in their journey Kim establishes contact with his father's former regiment and is taken on as a trainee in counter-intelligence. From then on Kim combines his role as apprentice spy with aiding the Lama. During their journey to the Himalayas, Kim foils an attempt by foreign spies to foment discontent with British rule. Kim's travels, and his relationship with the Lama, allow Kipling to celebrate India's spirituality, diversity, and vitality in a picaresque and strongly pictorial mode. Critics of Kim generally divide into two camps, according to how they interpret the ending of the novel. One group argues that Kim will take his place as a full-time member of the secret service, policing opposition to British rule. This implies that Kim betrays the Lama and that Kipling's apparently non-judgemental ‘anthropological vision’ of Indian culture is a façade behind which he reaffirms Britain's fitness to rule the sub-continent. The second group, by contrast, argues that Kipling leaves the novel unresolved (certainly it does not end in the manner one might expect of the stereotypical imperial adventure story). From this perspective, Kim is deemed to be unable to resolve his conflict of loyalties between India and Britain, or to attain the secure sense of cultural identity that would enable him to act effectively as a model member of the imperial class. In these readings, the Lama's mystical and compassionate vision remains an authoritative counter-weight to official imperial ideology. Such critics suggest that the ideological ambivalence of Kim is reinforced by both the unstable positioning of the narrative voice and Kipling's extensive borrowings from Indian vernacular narrative; these produce a text which is radically hybrid, both formally and thematically.

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