What Are the Qualities That Have Kept Kim Constantly In Print For a Century?

Authors Avatar


First of all to examine the qualities of this book we should approach it as an adventure story probably aimed primarily at adolescent boys. In this book the main character Kim is seeking to find his place in the country in which he was born, while at the same time struggling to find, or build, an identity for him. 'Who is Kim?' 'What is Kim?' Kim asks himself at several points in the novel, and although the plot has a loose picaresque structure, being held together by a journey, making it a kind of road novel, the theme of Kim needing to find himself seems to be the backbone of the story. The quest for meaning of existence is called existentialism.


Kim has also been seen as the best of a genre among 19th century schoolboys, the historical adventure story. These stories normally involved a boy-hero travelling around the empire. It is common that they revolve around wars against ‘native people’ in remote colonies. It was normal for a schoolboy to perceive a ‘native’ as a cannibal. Kim can be seen as different from the majority of these novels as it is not racist or one-sided. Kim maybe British but is influenced almost entirely by his upbringing into Indian life. Kim also has complex personality, which matures as he learns from other personalities, such as the lama.  

By birth Kim is a white, Irish boy, Kimball O'Hara, whose father was a soldier in an Irish regiment. But, as we see in Chapter 1, he has grown up as an orphan in Lahore, 'a poor white of the very poorest', looked after by a half-cast woman, probably a prostitute. Both of kim’s parents died when he was young.

Kipling immediately engrosses you with the character of Kim. He is such a fascinating character: young and even naive but yet razor quick and perceptive. White, a sahib, and yet wrapped up in his adopted land's culture and customs he is ambitious and bold yet somehow faithful and obedient. Kipling in this way adds an interesting twist to the character of kim and more importantly to the story. Understanding this book and kipling you can easily draw close comparisons and differences. Reading kipling’s biography it is easy to understand why he wrote this book. Kipling had a happy early childhood in India that stopped when he moved to England.

Join now!

Kim displays Kipling's fascination with and also kipling’s nostalgia for the exotic India of his childhood; Kim's facility for language and disguise models Kipling's interest in "putting on" various aspects of Indian culture in his narrative.

The story begins when Kim teams up with an old Tibetan lama, who wanders into Lahore to look at the Buddhist relics in 'The Wonder House' (Lahore museum) with the 'Keeper of the images' (the curator). From then on the plot develops two strands that run in parallel, and to a large extent overlap. One strand concerns Kim's discipleship to the lama, ...

This is a preview of the whole essay