Three-Act Plot Analysis
In Chapter One, we meet Kim and his complete, total opposite, the Teshoo lama; together, the unlikely duo hits the road and their whole roundabout journey begins.
On the one hand, we have a kid named Kim who is mostly out alone, doing his own thing… which mostly involves teasing and mischief-making; Kim is a great manipulator and imitator, and he uses his skills to get things that he wants. But on the other hand, we have the Teshoo lama.
Where Kim is great at blending into crowds, the Teshoo lama stands out as unique in this novel. No one dresses like him, no one looks quite like him, and no one else can participate in the quest that he has chosen: finding the River of the Arrow (for more on the lama's quest, check out our analysis of the River of the Arrow in the "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section). Yet even though these two people should go together about as well as orange juice and toothpaste (and trust us, if you've never brushed your teeth and then had OJ, don't) they actually really work together as a duo.
The lama is too spiritual to notice much of what's going on around him. Without Kim's care, who knows what would happen to him—he would starve or be robbed or something—and without the lama's presence, Kim might not learn how valuable and sustaining it can be to look after someone else for a change. And of course, without the lama, Kim might never have left Lahore in the first place or found the tuition to go to St. Xavier's. He might never have run his first, fateful unofficial mission for Mahbub Ali, thus winning the attention of Creighton the Englishman.
They both help each other, is our point.
In Chapter Six, Kim goes off to start his formal English education at St. Xavier's. The lama decides to visit various Buddhist holy sites in India and to continue his study of Buddhist manuscripts—he believes that he can't find the River of the Arrow until his faithful follower, Kim, comes back to him.
Kim doesn't exactly love his new school, St. Xavier's (though he doesn't hate it, the way he loathed the regimental school that was going to transform him into a disciplined soldier). Sometimes he gets bored with the rules and regulations of institutional life, but he recognizes the long-term value of learning to make maps and charts and of studying the habits and manners of British men, since he wants an official job someday.
What's more, thanks to Kim's entry into formal education, Colonel Creighton can start thinking about hiring Kim as a Secret Service agent for the British Indian government. Kim has all of the talent he could ever want for this job—he's got no problem forming connections with people and finding information.
What he needs is a sense of the larger picture, of what all of his information gathering could contribute to. Once Kim can combine the skills he has been learning with Lurgan, Mahbub Ali, and the Babu with everything that he has gained at St. Xavier's, he will be a perfect field agent—a proper James Bond (or Austin Powers) in the making.
In Chapter 11, Kim rejoins the lama to find the lama's River of the Arrow and to undergo a six-month test run for his employment with the British Indian Secret Service.
Kim may be thrilled finally to escape School, but he seems to be struggling a bit throughout the last third of the novel with his new adult life. Honestly, we can sympathize—it's like how when you graduate from high school or college, you often feel a slight sense of anxiety about going on to the next stage of life. Like, what's it going to be like? Will it be as good as (or better than) what you just left behind? As Kim sits in the Benares train station, about to meet the lama, he suddenly wonders, "Who is Kim—Kim—Kim?" (11.4)… and he can't answer. He feels that post-school existential crisis with which we are all too familiar.
So, Act Three of this book is about getting Kim an answer to that question of "Who is Kim?" As he looks after the lama, fights off Russian agents, falls sick in the Himalayas and recovers at the Kulu woman's house, Kim realizes that he suddenly understands what his place is in the world. His job is to wander India finding information—that's what he is good at, what he likes, and what he was born to do. And once he realizes that, Kim feels a freedom similar to what the lama experiences when he finds his Salvation.