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by Rudyard Kipling

Kim Theme of Duty

If you think about it, a lot of Kim is about acknowledging the duty that all of the characters owe to Kipling's idealized British Indian state. After all, Kim starts out the novel with many of the skills he needs to be a spy already in place. All he has to learn is a sense of duty towards the Empire (this one? Oops, wrong Empire — we mean this one). Once Kim's talents are directed toward information gathering for the British Indian Secret Service, he suddenly feels as though his life has meaning and shape that it was lacking before.

Questions About Duty

  1. How does Kipling portray the Indian Revolt of 1857? How does his representation of this historical event relate to the themes of duty and loyalty?
  2. We've talked a lot about Kim's duties to the British Indian state, but how does Kim conceive of his duties to his friends? What duties does Kim feel he owes to the lama? How does duty influence the interpersonal relationships in this novel?
  3. Several characters or groups feel a sense of responsibility to house Kim and the lama over the course of the novel. Not only does Father Victor feel a duty toward Kim to make sure he is taken care of, but the lama also finds ongoing shelter at the Jain Temple in Benares. Why do these characters feel a sense of duty toward Kim and the lama?

Chew on This

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

By portraying the sense of duty that the ordinary people of India feel towards Kim and the lama as they travel to look for the lama's River of the Arrow, Kipling depicts Indian society as a whole as both charitable and religious in Kim.

While Kipling is very explicit about the loyalties and duties that he feels the Indian characters owe to the British Empire, the novel remains much more vague about what the British characters owe to India in return.

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