Study Guide

Kim Genre

By Rudyard Kipling


Adventure, Quest, Coming-of-Age

Everything about Kim screams adventure—from the stylized, exotic setting to the spy-heavy subject matter to the unpredictable and dramatic characters. What is more, this is a specific kind of adventure: it features not just one but two characters searching for something. The lama wants to find his River of the Arrow—which symbolizes ultimate wisdom for him—and Kim wants to find a job with the British Indian Secret Service.

Since the book structures its plot around these two journeys (instead of around adventure for adventure's sake), we think that it is fair to call Kim a quest story. And because Kim starts out the novel as a young teenager without any particular discipline or direction in life and then ends the novel knowing for sure that he wants to be a British Indian spy, we think that it is also fair to call Kim a coming-of-age novel.

We want to throw in one, last, much less common genre type for Kim: the picaresque. Picaresque novels focus on the adventures of a lovable rogue—think Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

This central character might do some pretty bad stuff, but he won't physically hurt people, and he's so gosh-darned charming that all of the lying, cheating, and stealing never seems to matter all that much to how much we like him. Picaresque novels also tend to be episodic, since they emphasize their anti-hero's funny encounters and adventures rather than an overall plot arc.

As with most picaresque heroes, Kim has a somewhat flexible sense of morality, and he is perfectly willing to lie and manipulate to get what he wants while he is out on the road. The novel Kim also includes a lot of smaller episodes of Kim and his friends outwitting assassins or leeching money from passersby. Between Kim's often-roguish nature and the episodic sections of the book as a whole, we are definitely going to call Kim a solid entry into the picaresque genre.