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Identity: Literature to Life

posted Apr 10, 2017, 11:23 AM by Ruth Mitzel

I was honestly intimidated when introduced to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Not only is it a multicultural novel set in India that focuses on the lives of those facing identity issues, but it is also set in the late 1800s. Needless to say, there are a lot of factors going into play here that triggered by ability to comprehend the novel’s plot and meaning. While beginning this novel, I was immediately struck with the relationship of the main character, Kim, and his “mentor” if you will. Kim’s mentor is a lama that is on a journey to reach enlightenment.

The reason this caught my initial attention is because of how their relationship set a basis for the journey they would take together through the novel. They began to support and encourage each other while they are both on their way to defining themselves. What I brought away from this relationship is that if you are struggling to establish and define your identity, like Kim is by trying to decide if he belongs to his English heritage or the Indian culture he was brought up in, it is important to have a figure you can turn to while going through this. Not only college students and preteen high school freshman, but human beings in general are also just trying to find a place in this world and figure out who we are. While being surrounded by political, familial, cultural, and societal influences, it becomes harder to find just how we belong to this world that is obsessed with identity. With someone there to guide you and struggle with, it makes that task even the slightest bit easier. That is what Kim made me think about because Kim himself is also surrounded with the struggle to answer the question, “Who is Kim?”

Kipling does a spectacular job with the end of this novel. Many scholars have debated if Kim finds his identity and if the lama reaches his enlightenment. For me, I find that the end as a moment of clarity for both of them. After sleeping for thirty-six hours, Kim has this moment where everything in the world clicks into place and when nothing is blurred to him anymore. In addition, the lama meditates for two days and two nights without food or water, thus reaching a point where he has  found the River of the Arrow, which is how he determines his achieving enlightenment. Because of these moments, I conclude that they both have successfully fulfilled their goal of creating their identity. Without these sincere moments of clarity, it would be hard to say that they have.

Even more importantly, I think Kipling is trying to stress the idea that it doesn’t matter if other people think they have done this. Who are we to judge if someone has created an identity for themselves? If they think they have, then that is all that matters. Kipling’s intertwining of cultures has redefined the process and expectations surrounding an individual’s quest to answer the big picture question. And let’s be honest, the more we grow up, the less we feel the need to answer “Who am I?” for someone else’s benefit.