Study Guide

Kim Tone

By Rudyard Kipling


Lively, Exotic, Epic

Most of the story of Kim unfolds through dialogue. The novel features a big range of characters who are constantly talking to each other with their own personal, unique accents and modes of expression. Since there is so much darn talking in this book, the tone of Kim has to be lively—all of these characters just keep chatting together in surprising, often funny ways. But when the text takes a step back from its characters to discuss landscape or action, the tone of Kim changes a bit. Let's take a look at this description of the Kashmir Serai where Mahbub Ali lives in Lahore for example:

Here were all manner of Northern folk, tending tethered ponies and kneeling camels; loading and unloading bales and bundles; drawing water for the evening meal at the creaking well-windlasses; piling grass before the shrieking, wild-eyed stallions; cuffing the surly caravan dogs; paying off camel-drivers, taking on new grooms; swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square. The cloisters, reached by three or four masonry steps, made a haven of refuge around this turbulent sea. (1.147)

Check out the sense of constant activity in this passage—there's a lot in here, what with all the ponies, camels, dogs, and people doing various things, all in the space of one paragraph. Even in this description where no one is talking, we get the sense of the vitality of Kipling's overall tone: there is always a lot of stuff happening all at once in Kipling's prose.

In fact, this sense of quantity is the reason why we find the tone of this book epic. One meaning of the word epic is something big or grand. Kipling's descriptions of India often emphasize the large scale of the country, with its many inhabitants, all living out their lives in ways that Kipling describes in great detail.

In addition to the sheer number of things taking place in this paragraph, we also have to notice what Kipling is taking the time to describe. By pointing out all of the work involved in setting up camp among horse traders at the Kashmir Serai, Kipling is assuming that the readers do not know how a caravan works or what it looks like. The details that he includes makes this place seem intriguing and unfamiliar to us, and this slice of life in the Kashmir Serai is only one of many similar descriptions throughout Kim, of people living their lives in different parts of British India. All of these descriptions combine to give Kim an exotic, epic, and definitely lively tone.