Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Danny Deever” captures the irony, comradeship, and demands of military life in a single ceremony. Those who serve in the military are expected to endure hardship, face death, obey orders, and do all these things willingly even though they may not have the experience to understand what is being asked of them.

Danny is the focus of the poem, but the stories Kipling tells are of the three other characters. In civilian society, the state carries out the trials, sentencing, and punishment of those who do wrong. In the military, all those functions are performed by the same organization of which the accused is a member. In Kipling’s time, life in a regiment in India was arduous, but for many soldiers the army was the closest thing to a family they had ever known. The unit was hierarchical, to be sure, even castelike, but the business of fighting and protecting the empire was for many an adventure. Men relied upon one another, and on their shared experience, to enjoy the few things they could and to survive in battle.

Imagine then, the shock of finding a murderer in the midst of the regiment—and then realizing the irony that those who have put others to death must now do the same thing to a soldier who was once a friend. Hanging Danny is just as much a requirement, a mission, as fighting in battle, and it must be carried out in the same professional manner. From the inexperience, fear, and insecurity of Files, to the experienced and wiser...

(The entire section is 433 words.)