The Two Faces of Kim: An Investigation into Rudyard Kipling's Kim
"I would go without shirts or shoes,
Friends, tobacco or bread
Sooner than for an instant lose
Either side of my head."
The Two-Sided Man (Kipling 179)
To think of "the two-sided man" is to think of the self-searching protagonist of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. "Burned black" and yet white, Irish and yet 'Little Friend of All the World', British and yet native, ruler and yet servant, Kipling's multi-faceted Kim must find his place in the social order of a society that he resides in but is not truly connected to (51). Moreover, what he must also do is recognize that his two identities do not have to come together to form one; it may be more advantageous to keep the two separate from one another. Thus, his quest to find the "Red Bull on a green field" accomplishes two-fold: it allows Kim to find his identity and Kipling to convey his feelings on imperialist presence in India (49). It may be argued that Kipling chooses England over India, elevating the righteousness and appropriateness of British rule over the lowly and needy Indian nation. To say this, however, would be incorrect, for Kim also celebrates the beauty and exoticness of India, its native languages and culture, showing that as much as British customs are praised so too is the Indian way of life. Thus, the identity that Kim forges for himself does not value British over Indian ideologies or blend the two into one hybrid mixture. What he does do, instead, is hold each as a separate, equally important entity. To use the term 'postcolonial' in Kim would therefore suggest the need to develop British and Indian identities in a way that the distinct characteristics of each group are retained and yet equally represented. Kipling accomplishes this by molding Kim's quest and eventual self-discovery by the relationships he forms.
The first important relationship to the text is a familial one, where Kim's status is that of orphan. Though Kipling writes of Kim's father Kimball O'Hara, he introduces Kim without surname - as just Kim. Not having parents and a last name indicates that Kim is without an inheritance, a background and any titles of rank. Kim can therefore be seen as nameless and without social position, transforming his quest into a search for the parents he does not have and the legitimate social position he has been denied. One would think that his desire to assume the social rank of his father would coincide with the desire to shake off all Indian loyalties, but this is not the case. It is true that from the beginning, Kim takes on an authoritative rule. Atop the gun Zam-Zimmah, Kim takes on the role of king in "his king-of-the-castle game" (51). He even ranks players according to their race and nationality, setting up a hierarchy where white rules over Indian, Muslim and Hindu. What is more is that, around his neck, he wears an amulet that holds papers left to him from his father. However, as much as Kim's racial...