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Crossing and Double-Crossing Cultural Barriers in Kipling's Kim by Judith A. Plotz Kipling's Kim is arguably the greatest cross-cultural achievement ki children's literature, arguably, as Nkad Chaudhuri has called it, "the finest story of India' ever presented to Western readers (47). Yet as a frankly colonialist work, however loving, Kim embodies the dilemma of all cross-cultural works ki which one culture is normative, the other supplementary. Can the two cultures be presented as manifesting equal humanity? Must a colonialist fiction involve a diminution of humanity through what JanMohamed has called the "Manichean allegory" which "orientalizes" every member of the supplementary culture into a takitiy comic foreigner, into an "Other"? Both in its great successes ki presenting the fullness of Indian lfe and ki its failures of reciprocity between East and West, KIm is an illuminating example of cross-cultural colonialist fiction. KIm has been praised as the most richly kiter-cuitural of KipHng's works. To Kinkead-Weekes, Kkrt "embodies the urge to attain a deeper kind of vision, the urge not merely to see and know from the outside, but to become the Other" (217). To JanMohamed, the book "overcomes the barriers of racial difference better than any other colonialist novel" (78); to McClure, the Kipling of Kim "is able to see beyond the horizon of his times and portray a world of yet to be realized interracial harmony" (168). To Thompkins, Kim is doubly a "chain-man," for he is a link, "a bridge suspended for the passage of understanding between two territories of Kipling's heart" (24). Kimball O'Hare, as an adolescent inhabitant of the border territory between childhood and manhood, is a great crisscross«· of boundaries. In some ways he is deeply Indian-fluent in Punjab, eloquent ki Urdu, at home in Muslim and in Hindu dress-but of course he is not Indian: Kkn was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a dipped, uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white-a poor white of the very poorest. (3) Nor is he exactly English either. Not only was his first English teacher a German (162), but both Kim's parents were Irish, a heritage the narrator uses to explain the boy's curiosity ("Irish enough by birth to reckon sliver the least part of any game" [61]) and a heritage which marks his kinship to the colonized as well as the colonizers. Kim's father, the alcoholic sergeant turned opium addict, was also something of a cultural boundary crosser for he was both Roman Catholic and Freemason (4, 183). So flexible are the boundaries of Kim's identfty-'What am I? Mussulman, Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist?" (234)that he seems to don a new consdousness with each set of new clothes. Sometimes he appears in "Hindu kit, the costume of a low-caste street boy" (7) or moves invisible among crowds as "a Hindu urchin In a dirty turban and Isabella-coloured dothes" (27). Sometimes he is a young sahib in "a white driH suit" (204), sometimes "a Eurasian lad ... in badly-fitting shop-dothes" (240). With Mahbub Ali Kim is from the first, "externally at least, a Mohammedan" (214) and is eventually rewarded with a splendid set of Pathan dothes, appropriate border-garb with the explicitly Afghan, northern Indian, and even Russian elements: There was a gold-embroidered Peshawur turban-cap, rising to a cone, and a big turbandoth ending in a broad fringe of gold. There was a Delhi embroidered waistcoat to slip over a milky-white shirt, fastening to the right, ample and flowing; green pajamas with twisted silk waist-string; and that nothing might be lacking, russia-leather slippers, smelling divinely, with arrogantly curled tips. (279-280) Though he knows or seeks to know all the castes of India, he is bound to none and drawn to all. Kim carries conviction both as an "ash-smeared . . . wild-eyed" faquir and as the Buddhist lama's faithful chela. But even at his most Buddhist, with his "sad...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 61-65
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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