Kipling wrote a lot of books for kids that still remain popular to this day, including The Jungle Book, the Just-So Stories, and, of course, Kim. He was really invested in the idea that the boys of his day were going to be the Future of the British Empire, and—obviously—he really wanted the British Empire to continue. So these boys should read books that celebrate adventures and fighting and surviving outdoors—all potentially things that young men might actually have to do in the British Army as imperial soldiers.
We can't think of any better proof of Kipling's focus on healthy youth than his friendship with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. Given Kipling's personal focus on education, it doesn't surprise us that Kim portrays youth (and specifically, boyhood—there aren't a lot of girls in Kipling's works) as a really positive part of life, as a time of courage, flexibility, cleverness, and creativity.
Questions About Youth
- In terms of his age, Kim is a youth in this book. But his manner and his approach to the world often appear surprisingly mature. What is the difference between being a child and being childlike in this novel? Which characters seem the most childlike? Which characters appear the most adult? How much do the behaviors of the characters correspond to their actual ages?
- Both Lurgan and Mahbub Ali insist that Kim has to get out there in the world to practice his spy skills while he is still a boy (10.25-9). Why do they believe that Kim will be a less successful spy if he waits until adulthood to get started? What are some of the advantages of youth to being a spy?
- What are some of the downsides of youth in this novel? As a coming-of-age narrative, what important lessons does Kim learn as he leaves his youth behind?
Chew on This
By insisting that only young people have the adaptability and creativity to be really successful spies, Kim suggests that all good spies have to continue in a state of arrested development where they remain childlike even into adulthood. This childishness is true not only of Kim, but also of grown spy characters like Lurgan, the Babu, and Mahbub Ali.
By emphasizing Kim's worldly sophistication in spite of his youth and the lama's childlike innocence in spite of his age, Kipling implies that age is a matter of outlook and point of view rather than biological maturity.