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by Rudyard Kipling

Kim Theme of Appearances

We've mentioned elsewhere that we are told the races of every single character in Kim. Race really seems to matter for Kipling, since he is portraying the deeply hierarchical, prejudiced society of British colonial India at the turn of the twentieth century. But while we as readers may get a lot of information about the different characters' races, the other characters don't necessarily get this same information.

Kim and the Babu often appear in disguise on their adventures for the Secret Service, as they pretend to be people of different ethnicities, religions, professions—whatever you can imagine. The irony of the importance of appearances in this book is that because these agents know that appearance can totally change a person's social status in this place and time, it can also be another way to manipulate the people around them. In a world where everybody judges other people based on how they look, all they need to do is change their faces to change their fates.

Questions About Appearances

  1. Which characters in this novel never change their appearances? What does this stability of appearance tell us about these characters?
  2. What makes Kim so particularly skilled at changing his appearance? Are there other characters in the novel that share Kim's skill? Why does it matter to the novel that Kim is so good at putting on other people's manners and characteristics?
  3. When do the characters in Kim judge correctly based on appearances, and when do they not? Among the major characters in Kim, who are the most skilled at judging based on appearance? What makes them so particularly good at it?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In contrast to characters like Kim, the Babu, or Lurgan, the lama's consistent, unchanging outside appearance indicates his continuing lack of worldliness and understanding of the social contexts around him.

Kim's great skill at assuming other people's appearances and customs demonstrates a lack of consistent, underlying depth to Kim's own character.

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