by Rudyard Kipling
Character Role Analysis
Kim and the Babu
At first the Babu actually seems like Kim's mentor, what with all the advice he gives him about school and everything. What is more, the Babu also gives Kim a box filled with little vials of medicine—different dyes to use for disguise, quinine pills, and bouillon cubes for food—to help Kim out when he begins to travel the roads of India as a potential employee of the British Indian Secret Service.
But the reason we're putting the Babu here as a foil for Kim rather than as a mentor is because the Babu cannot do what Kim can. So when the Babu brings Kim to the Himalayas to go on his quest against the Russian agents, the Babu says that he needs Kim there as a witness because he is too afraid to go up against the two men on his own. What is more, the novel often makes the Babu seem kind of ridiculous, with his huge weight, his awkward manners, and his uneven, slightly odd English (which we discuss further under "Characterization Tools").
The Babu's supposed cowardliness (even Kim admits that he's much braver than he says he is) and his clumsiness totally set him apart from Kim, who is always graceful in social situations.
What seems to us to make a big difference between Kipling's portrayal of these two characters is their race. Kim is able to speak freely with white men and to rise in white society because he is white. While the novel admits that the Babu is brave and resourceful, it also makes him appear, frankly, kind of ridiculous—his love of English manners and formal education only emphasizes that he is not English and never will be.
The horrible thing about Kipling's logic here is that Kim is allowed to pass freely as any kind of person he wants to be, even going so far as to dye his skin dark to run away from school in disguise as a Hindu boy in one scene. Meanwhile, the Babu cannot change his skin color, and so can never pass in Sahib society the way he seems to want to.
Kipling assumes that, in British India, the height of power and influence attaches to white skin. While he includes some complex characters of color—the Babu included—there is always a limit to how much they can achieve in the book because of their race. Kipling's pro-colonial, imperialist ideas definitely rear their ugly heads in this contrast between the novel's treatment of Kim and the Babu.
Creighton and the Babu
Here's an intriguing plot detail: Lurgan tells Creighton that the Babu's greatest wish is to become a member of the Royal Society. The Royal Society is Britain's national Academy of Science, and it invites members, called fellows, who represent excellence in science in Britain. Lurgan finds the Babu's ambition kind of funny, for subtly racist reasons that we get into in our "Character Analysis" of the Babu and elsewhere in this section. Specifically, Lurgan introduces this goal of the Babu's by saying, "Babus are very curious" (10.43), as though it's bizarre for an Indian man such as the Babu to want official British recognition for his anthropological work.
But what's really striking about this information about the Babu is what Creighton doesn't tell Lurgan after hearing this news: "deep in [Creighton's] heart also lay an ambition to write "F.R.S." [Fellow of the Royal Society] after his name" (10.51)—Creighton dreams of the Royal Society because it is filled with men "who know nothing of the Army" (10.51). To Creighton, this scientific life seems pure and removed from Creighton's own everyday business of colonialism. So Creighton keeps submitting papers "on strange Asiatic cults and unknown customs" (10.51) because he is looking for something other than his own life.
Even though Creighton and the Babu occupy really different positions in the text, the two characters have this much in common: they dream of the Royal Society as a place to receive recognition from others and to escape their own, more dangerous experiences in India.