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Kim

Kim

by Rudyard Kipling

Duty Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

'No. Punishment. When a man is bound by the action of his predecessor—'

'But C25 may have lied.'

'He bears out the other's information. Practically, they showed their hand six months back. But Devenish would have it there was a chance of peace. Of course they used it to make themselves stronger. Send off those telegrams at once—the new code, not the old—mine and Wharton's. I don't think we need keep the ladies waiting any longer. We can settle the rest over the cigars. I thought it was coming. It's punishment—not war.' (2.148-151)

First of all, what do you think is the difference between punishment and war? We feel like punishment implies justified force; a state (or in this case, the five rebellious northern kingdoms) has done something wrong according to its ruling government, and it has to be taught a lesson.

The Englishman's language here (we discover later that it's Creighton) implies that the rebellion by these states is not right, and that they need to be put down as a result. The novel clearly justifies violence against colonies that try to break free of the British Empire; Kipling is not ashamed about being pro-war (or punishment, as he hypocritically puts it) in the service of imperial order.

Quote #2

'The Gods, who sent it for a plague, alone know. A madness ate into all the Army, and they turned against their officers. That was the first evil, but not past remedy if they had then held their hands. But they chose to kill the Sahibs' wives and children. Then came the Sahibs from over the sea and called them to most strict account.'

'Some such rumour, I believe, reached me once long ago. They called it the Black Year, as I remember.' (3.132-3)

The "Black Year" that the old man is describing here is the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8. In fact, Mutiny is not the right way of describing what happened; as we discuss in our "Detailed Summary" of Chapter 3, it was really a legitimate military uprising against British political domination by British-trained Indian members of the military. But even though this rebellion took place only about two or three decades before the action of Kim, most of the novel emphasizes the "natural rightness" (in quotes because we completely disagree) of British imperial rule of India.

So this elderly Indian man who fought the rebels describes it as a "plague" from the Gods and "a madness" and an "evil." This rebellion is abnormal (rather than completely justified), and requires the British army to come and punish its participants. The fact that this old Indian man echoes the language of punishment that the Englishman uses about the five northern kings (2.148-151) indicates the universal sense of justice that Kipling is trying to add to his portrayal of these colonial wars to keep India under British control.

Quote #3

'A Sahib and the son of a Sahib—' The lama's voice was harsh with pain. 'But no white man knows the land and the customs of the land as thou knowest. How comes it this is true?'

'What matter, Holy One?—but remember it is only for a night or two. Remember, I can change swiftly. It will all be as it was when I first spoke to thee under Zam-Zammah the great gun—'

'As a boy in the dress of white men—when I first went to the Wonder House. And a second time thou wast a Hindu. What shall the third incarnation be?' He chuckled drearily. 'Ah, chela, thou has done a wrong to an old man because my heart went out to thee.'

'And mine to thee. But how could I know that the Red Bull would bring me to this business?' (5.135-8)

The lama starts out not knowing much about Kim's origins—because Kim spends most of his time in Hindu clothing with the lama, the lama just assumes that Kim is a Hindu boy. But in fact, under that clothing, Kim is a European; the lama is disappointed and hurt by what he sees as Kim's deception.

The lama's confusion over Kim's racial identity indicates Kim's great abilities with disguise, but it also raises questions about what kinds of knowledge friends owe each other. Should Kim have told the lama about his origins? Why does the lama tell Kim that he has "done a wrong to an old man"? Why might the lama's heart not have gone "out to [Kim]" in the same way if he had known that Kim's parents were British?

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