Kim, a young Irish boy living in Lahore, India, decides to accompany a Tibetan lama on his search for the River that washes all sin. Kim’s canny street smarts and gift for disguise protect the gentle lama along the Grand Trunk Road, bustling with the peoples of various races, castes, and creeds who make up India’s complex culture and history. Kim’s abilities also inspire Mahbub Ali, an Afghani horse-dealer, to ask him to deliver a coded message to the spymaster Colonel Creighton, who taps Kim to help the British in their Great Game against the Russians for control of the northwest territory of India.

When Kim is discovered by an Irish regiment and nearly sent to an orphanage for soldiers’ children, the lama and Creighton intervene to send him to St. Xavier’s school instead, for training in mathematics, map-making, and other skills of the Great Game along with a classical education. Kim visits Lurgan Sahib for memory training and assessment of his potential, and journeys with the Bengali Hurree Babu to steal survey information from two Russian spies in the Hills bordering Tibet.

When Kim succumbs to exhaustion, uncertain whether to follow the lama’s vision of paradise or to join the Great Game for good, an elderly Sahiba nurses him back to health with traditional remedies. The lama, having discovered the River, invites Kim to bathe in it as well, to attain freedom from all worldly cares, although Mahbub waits for Kim to accompany him on another expedition for the State. The novel ends without Kim’s reply.


Kim is an orphan with too many fathers. As he develops deep bonds with both the lama and Mahbub Ali, these male characters symbolize Kim’s struggle to choose between his Indian and English ancestry--for although both of Kim’s parents were Caucasian, he was raised by a "half-caste" woman in a "native" setting and does not feel at home as a white "Sahib" at first. The reappearance of his biological father, symbolized by the appearance of his father’s Irish regiment, in fact threatens to interfere with Kim’s duty and desire to assist both the lama and Mahbub/Colonel Creighton in their apparently conflicting projects.

Kim displays Kipling’s fascination with and nostalgia for the exotic India of his childhood; Kim’s facility for language and disguise models Kipling’s interest in "putting on" various aspects of Indian culture in his narrative. In particular, the novel stages several occasions for comparing traditional Indian treatments to Western medicine, setting a romantic narrative against a realist one.

Besides the Sahiba’s "mysterious Asiatic" teas and Hurree Babu’s pose as a doctor peddling Western pills, Kim himself becomes a healer of sorts, several times curing others, literally and figuratively, using ordinary resources from both cultures like quinine and opium, ash and bouillion. Kipling thus advocates tolerance for non-Western customs and peoples, but his text is saturated with what now seem to us clearly orientalist stereotypes about the "Oriental’s" slowness or Kim’s innate sense of honor, prompted by his "white blood."


First published :1901



Place Published

New York




Edward Said

Page Count