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Themes

Kim seems to spend about 90% of his time watching other people and trying to figure out what their game is. And when Kim isn't watching other people, he's coming up with his own schemes to deliver secret messages or to run away from school and see the world. Except when he's hanging out with his spymaster mentors (Lurgan, Creighton, and Mahbub Ali), Kim is pretty much guaranteed to be the smartest person in the room—and by the end of Kim, we get the idea that he might outpace even Lurgan and Mahbub Ali in his skills with observation and manipulation.

Most of Kim's character development over the course of this book focuses on the turn of his natural cunning and cleverness toward the greater good: Kim is an amazing cheater and liar, but as he continues on his adventures, he learns to manipulate people on behalf of the British Empire. And apparently, that makes all the difference to his moral fiber (at least, according to Kipling).

Questions About Cunning And Cleverness

  1. What examples of cunning and cleverness do we get from characters in this book besides Kim? How does the cunning of these other characters compare to Kim's? What kinds of characters tend to be cunning in this book, and what kinds of characters tend not to be cunning?
  2. How does Kim's cunning compare to the knowledge and learning of the lama? How is cunning different from intelligence or wisdom in this book? Why might Kim find cunning more useful than wisdom for his particular job? Does Kim gain wisdom over the course of Kim?
  3. What tone does Kipling use in portraying Kim's cunning? Does he play on Kim's cleverness for laughs, or does he treat Kim's adventures more seriously? How can you tell?

Chew on This

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

While the first half of Kim emphasizes the humor of Kim's clever tricks, as when he sneaks out of school after being disguised as a Hindu boy by a prostitute, the second half of Kim takes on a more serious tone toward Kim's adventures. This shift from comedy to drama emphasizes the higher stakes of Kim's later adventures with the Russian agents, as opposed to his earlier childhood schemes.

Kim's cleverness in interacting with people strongly contrasts with the lama's abstract, philosophical wisdom; while both characters are intelligent, the different ways that they apply their knowledge emphasizes their distinct world views.

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