Cultural Contact in Kipling’s Stories of India

Kipling depicts India as a fragmented social order. While England, Anglo-India, and native India are theoretically united under Queen Victoria’s empire, Kipling sees fundamental discontinuities between these three communities. Their way of life is shaped by different customs, religions, laws. They speak different languages of social order and identity. Enough interchange exists between the three communities, yoked together in the idea of “Empire”, that identity becomes problematic. Identity becomes a problem mostly for the Anglo-Indian community, given their unique position within the Imperial system. They are Englishmen in heritage, but must live with and rule an overwhelming native population. England is far away geographically, yet native culture is far away sociologically.

Kipling was born in Bombay and into the difficulties of identity faced by all Anglo-Indians. For the early years of his life, he spoke more Hindustani than English, having spent most of his time with the family nanny. After attending school in England. Kipling returned to India a man shaped by several cultures. The hybrid nature of his own cultural contacts isreflected in Kipling’s pre-occupation with characters who attempt hybrid existence. These characters attempt to bridge the discontinuities in the social order of India with an exertion of strong individualism. Some of these hybrid characters are Anglo-Indians who maintain, relationships with girlfriends in England; others are Anglo-Indians who try to “turn native” by adopting all the native ways of life; others are native Indians who try to join the Anglo-Indian administration or family life; and finally, there are Anglo-Indians who try to maintain meaningful love relationships with native Indians.

Regardless of the hybrid configuration of these character relationships, Kipling finds horrific plot conclusions for each of these characters. One ends crucified, another gets a knife thrown in his groin, others die or are widowed with absolutely nothing left. Indeed, the predictability of these characters’ failures, led me to ask why Kipling kept exploring this scenario. It seems almost as if he has a need to continually play out this drama in his work. I believe this recursion has its source in a desire within Kipling to be able to assume a hybrid existence like the characters he creates. Yet, something at the same time holds him back, even violently thwarts him from achieving this.

The barrier, quite simply, appears to be knowledge. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation develops almost immediately in these plots. These misunderstandings set into motion a chain of events that finally triggers the catastrophic conclusion. Knowledge of the other cannot be superficially obtained. Sooner or later, those characters who attempt these hybrid relationships will reach a limit to their comprehension of their counterpart’s social order. It is at that point that the hybrid characters will commit the.fauxpas that unravels their tenuous rope bridge. A corollary to this axiom says that the farther these characters transgress the boundaries of their social community, the farther they will be from the social order that protects them and gives them identity. Thus, at the plot conclusion, often each character finds themselves in an adversarial relationship with all social communities and social orders. They have no recourse to any social order and its protection. These characters become what Kipling terms ‘without benefit of clergy.’

While Kipling finds no escape from the repetitive failure of the drama of the individualistic hybrid identity, he does attempt to construct alternative social orders with his pen. Indeed, Kipling organizes Plain Tales in order to create a feeling of community. Characters from one story are alluded to in another. The narratorial frame creates the imaginative scenario of an Anglo-Indian narrator bumping into all those individuals within his everyday social life. The narrator’s social circle can be imagined by the reader to be his own, and thereby feel that Kipling’s imagined community” (Anderson) is his own. The mix of the native and the Anglo in Kipling’s Plain Tales begins the process of imagining a community with greater hybridity than before. Kipling depicts Mithraism and Freemasonry as other communities which can allow native India and Anglo-Indians a space to share. Kipling consciously undermines the one-sided smugness of his narrators, in an attempt to ultimately destabilize his own confining knowledge/language. Ultimately, Kipling seems to resolve his repetitive struggle in his last piece of writing on India, Kim. In Kim, Kipling’s vision of Empire is developed the furthest and finds enough solid ground to build a lasting bridge between native India and Anglo-India in the hybrid character of the boy Kim.


I devoted in an inordinate amount of space in the annotated bibliography to making connections between my thesis idea and my methodology. Therefore, if this section appears abrupt, realize that the annotated bibliography is quite in-depth. I envision my focus to be on the text, the author, and to a lesser extent, the reader. I see these three focal points as inextricably linked. When considering the author’s identity questions I begin to see Kipling’s texts as hybrid creations, and his readers as his imagined hybrid community, When doing close reading of Kip)ing’s ironic narrator(s) and narrative gaps, I see Kipling portraying miscommunication between the author and the reader.

I want to involve the theoretical work of Psychoanalysis, Postcolonialism. and New Criticism. New Criticism stands out as incompatible with the first three, so I will start there. I want to apply New Critical methods of close textual reading and consideration of irony in order to understand the author’s relationship with the narrator. Since my understanding of cultural interaction in Kipling is closely linked to issues of identity, it becomes important for me to clarify the identity of the narrator and point out the author’s adversarial relationship with the narrator. By choosing to use some of New Criticism’s hallmark methods, I do not endorse closing my examination only to matters of aesthetics. My understanding of Postcolonial theory is that it tries to draw more focus on the colonized subject. I am looking primarily at the Anglo-Indian in my thesis. Despite this, many of the concepts developed by critics in this field help identify and ask questions of the social imnagination undertaken by the British during colonialism and imperialism. Hybridity, knowledge as power, the Other, imaginative communities, are all prominently in my thinking on Kipling.

In Kipling, the social imagination is directly tied to questions of identity. Kipling portrays the social order through the stories of individual character. Kipling seems to be writing out of a personal concern about his own vague and hybrid identity as an Anglo-Indian. Lacan’s psychoanalytic narrative provides a model for depicting language as a schismatic barrier between counterparts who are curious and desirous of each other. In Kipling, the schismatic barrier exists both in the realm of personal identity and in the social realm. Therefore, my study combines the history and sociology of the colonial social order, as well as a psychoanalytic approach.


  1. Does Kipling view the social order (“The Law”) in India as unitary and hegemonic, or does lie see It as fragmented and full of discontinuities? If it is disconnected, can the fragments be identified as Anglo-Indians, native Indians, and Englishmen? Do class, race, and gender play a role in the fragmentation?
  2. If Noel Annan is correct, namely that Kipling is fascinated by sociology, what are “the forces of social control” for Kipling? How and by whom are these forces wielded in the stories?
  3. Why does Kipling write characters who transgress cultural gaps and groupings? What reasons are given for each of the hybrid characters’ voyage into the Other? Why does Kipling write about violent failures for nearly all of them? And if there is such a predictable plot trajectory in these stories, why does Kipling continue to create these hybrid characters only to destroy them?
  4. In the novel, Kim, a resolution of the recurring drama of the hybrid character? Is it significant that it is Kipling’s last major writing on India? If Kim is a hybrid character who succeeds, why does Kipling deviate from his repetition with this particular character? Why should Kim succeed? What sets him apart from the other hybrid characters?
  5. Why is Kipling fascinated with Masonry and Mithraism? Which themes are constructed with the ie aid of these portrayals? Do these groups help Kipling’s hybrid characters? Can these groups be seen as “imagined communities” which allow for a space and a language for diverse peoples to come in contact? If so, to what extent are Masonry and Mithraism metaphors for Empire? Does the organization within each of Kipling’s collections of short stories help create an imagined community? Is this imagined community intended to be Anglo-Indian or Indian or British?
  6. Is there one of the multiple narrators in Kipling’s short stories of India? Does Kipling treat this narrator as an authorial mouthpiece or an ironic character? If Kipling’s narrators are ironic characters, why does Kipling problematize voicing in his work?
  7. What should we make of the smug, knowing narrator that many critics have lambasted? What role does knowledge play in Kipling? What are the ramifications of misunderstanding and misinterpretation? Where in the text are their plot gaps? Are these plot gaps to be taken as gaps in narratorial understanding?
  8. How is the Other, as embodied by native Indians, presented in Kipling? What seems to be Kipling’s relationship with the Other?
  9. How, if at all, is Kipling’s identity as an Anglo-Indian significant to his short stories about India?
  10. What are the ideologies of the empire operating in Kipling’s historical moment? What is his relationship to these? Does Kipling use ideological debate as a way to delineate differences? What seems to be his attitude towards empire and the social order he depicts?


Althussar, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” Lenin and Philosophy (1971).

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. rev. ed. New York: Verso, 1991.

Annan, Noel. “Kipling’s Place in the History of Ideas.” Victorian Studies, Vol.III (1959-1960). Rpt. in Kipling’s Mind and Art. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964. 97-125.

Bhabba, Homi. “Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism.” In The Politics of Theory. Colchester: U of Essex, 1983.

Kemp, Sandra. Kipling’s Hidden Narratives Oxford: Basil Blackwell Inc.,1988.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: a selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, (c)1977.

Lohman, W.J. Jr. The Culture Shocks of Rudyard Kipling. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1990.

Metcalf, Thomas. Ideologies of the Raj. The New Cambridge History of India. III. 4 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Moore-Gilbert, B.J. Kipling and Orientalism. London & Sidney: Croom Heim, 1986.

Orwell, George. “Rudyard Kipling.” Collected Essays. London: Heinemann, 1966.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1978.

Schwarz, Henry. Writing Cultural History in Colonial India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, (c) 1977.

ed. & Richard Dienst. Reading the Shape of the World: toward and international cultural studies. Boulder: Westview Press, 1996.

Stokes, Eric. English Utilitarians and India. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.

Trilling, Lionel. “Kipling.” The Liberal Imagination (1951). Rpt. in Kipling’s Mind and Art. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964. 85-94.

Wurgaft, Lewis D. The Imperial Imagination. Harper & Row Publishers: Scranton, Penn., 1983.

Annotated Bibliography

Kipling Criticism

NOEL ANNAN: Noel Annan sees Kipling as one of the first authors who focused on Sociology. “[Kipling] was fascinated by the problem of the social order” (101). Annan applies some of Durkheim’s insights to Kipling’s works. From this reading, Annan identifies Kipling’s central anxiety to be the question: “What then prevented such a society from going over the precipice? Kipling answered: religion, law, custom, convention, morality – the forces of social control – which imposed upon individuals certain rules which they broke at their peril” (104). I agree that Kipling is focused primarily on the social order and emphatically believes that man is the sum of his social surroundings. I depart from Annan when he uses the phrase ‘a society’, as if to suggest a unitary rather than a fragmented system. Kipling, in my reading, is obsessed with discontinuity between the three communities of England, Anglo-India, and native India which are all ostensibly bound together under the social order of “Empire”. As much as English Utilitarians hoped to transform it, the ‘religion, law, custom, convention, morality’ of native India remained distinct from that of England and Anglo-India. Yet, enough overlap existed in this fragmentary social order to create confused identities, some degree of hybridity, and a significant desire for unification. This desire is played out in Kipling’s characters that seek a hybrid existence, such as Trejago (“Beyond the Pale”), Peachy Carnahan & Daniel Dravot (“The Man Who Would Be King”), Lispeth (“Lispeth”), and John Holden (“Without Benefit of Clergy”). All these attempts fail in Kipling’s stories, and it is at this point which Annan re-enters the analysis. These characters are thwarted by the “the forces of social control” of the community into which they’ve attempted to enter. Their own community also “outcastes” them, leaving these characters in the predicament Kipling aptly described as being “without benefit of clergy.” There is no habitable space lor the romantic individualist, as Annan’s analysis affirms.

SANDRA KEMP: Sandra Kemp sees irony in Kipling’s narrators, a central argument to my thesis. She points out that Kipling removes plot chunks so that “[w]hat is left unsaid in Kipling’s narratives become as important as what is stated” (7). She also recognizes that Kipling problematizes voicing in his works: “His early stories do define India as an unknown other in the terms established by a European racism which ignores process and history. But ambivalent or multiple perspectives undermine their assertion of a colonialist will to power and knowledge” (6). I am claiming that “the multiple perspectives” and “the unsaid portion of plot” are products of a fragmented social order and social identity. If Kipling’s narrators are not ironic, then Kipling’s stories are not searching for hybrid possibilities, but are hopelessly supremacist. Kemp’s work will be invaluable in my analysis of Kipling’s narrators and his methods of irony.

W.J. LOHMAN: Lohman applies the psychological term ‘culture shock’ to a study of Kipling’s life and works. Lohman presents a biography of Kipling, focusing on the diverse places where he lived, in order to argue that the author’s personal battle with ‘culture shock’ was played out in his work. He offers some analysis of Kipling’s identification with the Anglo-Indian community when lie lived in India, which is the point of overlap with my thesis. The historical and biographical information will help when I integrate a psychoanalytic perspective on Kipling’s work. Lohman does not address Kipling’s hybrid characters, however, some of his insights into culture shock could be applied to understand Kipling’s harsh conclusions for these characters.

B.J. MOORE-GILBERTE: Moore-Gilbert critically wrestles with Said’s Orientalism in relation to Kipling. He, too, is frustrated by Said’s brief (approx. 2 pages!) and dismissive treatment of Kipling, and therefore is a useful source for furthering thoughts on the implications of Said on Kipling. Moore-Gilberte points out where Said’s insights are not applicable to Kipling’s presentation of India. He will be a useful source for reshaping Said in areas where Said addresses some of the Postcolonial issues in my study of Kipling. These areas include the connection between knowledge and power, and the purposes of otherness in cultural representation.

GEORGE ORWELL: Orwell must be addressed, if for no other reason than his claim that Kipling is “a jingo imperialist … [and is] morally and aesthetically disgusting.” He will provide mostly colorful contrast to my arguments, which are admittedly something of a resurrection project from the grave of Modernist critics. In this essay, Orwell coherently summarizes widespread critical opinion that Kipling presents himself in his narrative voice as a bit too smug and knowing. I will be attempting to show that Kipling problematizes voicing in his works, particularly to point out the limitations of knowledge in a fragmented social order.

LIONEL TRILLING: Trilling’s piece, like Orwell, fits perfectly within the body of harsh criticism of Kipling in the Modernist period. He takes issue with Kipling’s voice, which he identifies as “swagger and swank, with bullying, ruthlessness, and self-righteousness” (92). Orwell and Trilling’s similar attack on the narrator necessitates that I spend a significant section of the thesis on Kipling’s ironic narrative techniques and problematization of voice. I will argue that Trilling and Orwell are reading the narrator, not the author and that such a distinction is significant in the case of Kipling.

LEWIS D. WURGAFT: Wurgaft applies Freudian psychoanalytic theory to Kipling’s works. He attempts to mirror Annan’s sociological ideas into a psychoanalytic focus on identity. This approach is in fact quite close to my own. We of course differ on our choice of psychoanalytic narratives, he choosing Freud and myself choosing Lacan. This difference in choice is rooted ill a definite difference in our understanding of Kipling’s relationship to the native Other. Wurgaft sees the Other as connected to Kipling’s own repressed subconscious. Wurgaft writes: “Kipling’s identification with the Anglo-Indian community has this same air of imperious necessity. He does not so much associate it with his own values as see in it a place of last resort from the oppressive – often appalling – the darkness of native life that threatens the sense of self’ (130). In this vision, native culture represents for Kipling the portion of his psyche that must be repressed, but nevertheless continues to knock at the door. To open the door would be to sacrifice identity to chaos. I think that this argument cannot account for Kipling’s pre-occupation with knowledge and misunderstanding. The primary reason for the failure of Kipling’s hybrid characters is a limitation of knowledge resulting in a misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the Other. Therefore, merging with the Other is unattainable for Kipling because he is trapped in his own language. Subsequently, Kipling’s relationship to India is less antagonistic than Wurgaft imagines, and more a source of frustration and tension. Nevertheless, there is much for me to emulate in Wurgaft’s methodology.

Postcolonial Theory

BENEDICT ANDERSON: Anderson argues that a nation is an “imagined community” which owes a good portion of its creation to the rise of print culture. Literature, therefore, plays a central role in imagining national allegiance and communion. I want to argue that in his writing, Kipling attempts to imagine communities that could unite the fragmentation in the social order of India. His three major communal imaginings are Empire, Mithraism, and Freemasonry. All three of these groups can have a hybrid membership consisting of English, Anglo-Indians, and native Indians, and, through their various rituals, share a common language. This idea allows one to understanding the peculiar use of Freemasonry in “The Man Who Would Be King” as the necessary foundation on which Dravot based his rule.

HOMI BHABHA: I am told that Bhabha is a key Postcolonial theorist who has written extensively on hybridity. I am anxious to get my hands on Bhabha’s work. since my study of Kipling focuses on hybrid characters. Since this area of Kipling has been mostly overlooked by critics, Bhabha hopefully will be my chief source to spur thinking on this phenomenon in the context of colonialism.

EDWARD SAID: Said allots a disappointing 2 pages to Kipling in Orientalism. And within that brief space I encountered a fundamental disagreement with this “granddaddy” of Postcolonialism. Said claims that it is ridiculous to see Kipling’s narrators as ironic, which lies at the foundation of my thesis. So, discarding those 2 pages, there are models of thought in Orientalism which interlap with my own thought. Specifically, Said points out the connection between knowledge and power in colonialism, as well as exposes the political project in cultural representation.

HENRY SCHWARZ: These readings are highly recommended by Prof. Fisher. I am excited by the possibility of learning my advisor’s stance on issues that I will be tackling in the thesis. And I am even more interested in the opportunity for discussion and debate which a familiarization with his work would allow. I think Schwarz’s work will have much to say about the project of imagining India and Empire, and therefore will have models for viewing Kipling’s imagination of the community.

Psychoanalytic Theory

LOUIS ALTHUSSAR: This essay links sociology and psychoanalysis by using Lacanian theory to explain the power of social ideologies on individuals. This promises to provide a lot of insight into how Kipling’s hybrid characters are “blocked” by the discontinuities in ideology between the communities in India.

JACQUES LACAN: Lacan’s psychoanalytic narrative provides a model for depicting language as a schismatic barrier between counterparts who are curious and desirous of each other. According to Lacan, we all began in a pre-linguistic state where our self did not exist since it had not yet been differentiated from others. We develop beyond this stage, forming a differentiated self that is constructed through language. Language allows us to formulate a discourse of “the Other”. There lingers a nostalgia, however, for the pre-linguistic unity. We cannot return to this state though, since our language, which was used to build identity, cannot be gotten beyond. Even if language could be left behind, identity would be annihilated, which is a choice few people would want to make. I hope to use Lacan to understand Kipling’s presentation of native India as the Other and his preoccupation with characters that try to unite with the Other. The large question of why Kipling writes his hybrid characters into violent failures I hope can best be understood through Lacan’s narrative. Lacan may also answer why Kipling problematizes voicing in his work. Kipling could be attempting to escape the language that is trapping him.

Historical Analysis

THOMAS METCALF: Metcalf recounts the ideological shifts in the historical period preceding and contemporary to Kipling. In the 19″ century, there was a substantial split among Anglos as to how to rule India. Generally, the difference can be classified as “Orientalism” vs. “Anglicism”. Anglicism combined Utilitarian theories, Christian Evangelism, and Free Trade to form an activist agenda “to transform Indian society upon a European model” (Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt, 3). Orientalism attempted to learn the roots of native customs and culture in order to adapt a government model that would best suit England’s needs while minimizing disturbance to native ways of life. After the Mutiny of 1857, Anglicism became generally discredited, especially among Anglo-Indians. Orientalism’s desire to minimize resistance to native culture became the primary concern of the imperial government. Yet, rather than using Orientalism’s method of scholarship and replication, post-Mutiny governments tried to bolster their connections to native landowners who were seen as “traditionalist”. Kipling wrote during this post-Mutiny period, and his works reflect an awareness of this ideological debate. In stories such as “The Enlightenments of Pagett, M.P.”, Kipling this ideological debate embodies the differences between the English and Anglo-Indian communities. The lingering Utilitarian dreams of some Englishmen continued to make Anglo-Indians feel disconnected from England. Metcalf’s historical analysis will therefore play a role in understanding the discontinuity Kipling depicts between Englishmen and Anglo-Indians, as well as how Anglo-Indians in some ways occupied a hybrid position between native Indians and Englishmen.

ERIC STOKES: Stokes covers much of the same territory as Metcalf, but provides further insight into Utilitarian ideas and their influence on the Indian government.