What kind of story is "They" by Rudyard Kipling?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"They" is a short story by Rudyard Kipling from his 1904 collection Traffics and Discoveries. It is a deeply personal story about the loss of a child and the pain of mourning and yearning.

"They" reflects a personal incident in Kipling's life: during a trip to New York, he and his daughter became sick, and she did not recover. After returning home, he felt that he could see her out of the corner of his eye, in shadows just out of sight, and hear her around the corner or up the stairs. He wrote the story to attempt to cope with the emotional trauma of losing his daughter. It is, therefore, partially biographical, although the actual narrative is fictional; the emotion of the story and the feelings both the narrator and the blind woman feel are both true.

From a technical standpoint, the story is almost a Gothic tale, using first-person narration and no symbolism or metaphor, instead stating descriptions and facts as they occur, allowing unusual events to dictate feeling. The spiritual aspect of the story also reflects the times, as science was working to disprove the existence of ghosts, while many people still believed in them; Kipling's spiritual or religious beliefs are vague at best. The most important theme in the story is loss, specifically of a child but also of any loved one, and in fact the story covers the loss of missing something one never possessed.

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