Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

This novelette, so suggestive in its theme, appears to be at variance with other works by Rudyard Kipling. In his celebration of the troops and administrative staff of the British Empire and in his adventure stories, the author seems at first glance an unlikely candidate for the authorship of THE BRUSHWOOD BOY.

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The tale does, however, contain some of Kipling’s special interests: the qualities of military leadership, the adventures of youth, and the commitment to the British way of life during the days of the Empire.

Essentially, THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is an intense, childlike fantasy based on the ambiguous device of a shared dream. It is never clear whether the children had shared experiences and fantasies in their young lives or only imagined they had. (This ambiguity at the end preserves Kipling from the merely supernatural.) Kipling’s device, however, is less interesting as “story” than as psychological examination.

In recent years, Kipling has come to be viewed more importantly as a thinker, or rather as the literary representative of a certain type of thought, than as a serious writer of fiction or verse. Although he wrote some memorable lines and phrases and created new rhythms in his poetry and although some of his books are still of great interest to children, Kipling’s heavy-handed treatments and moralizing have reduced his popularity.

THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is interesting, then, more for the psychological portrait of a military leader it offers, perhaps unintentionally, than for its plot or characterization. Georgie is an ideal leader of men, the type most admired by Kipling. A young man of the highest moral character yet able to relate to the most hard-bitten of his subordinates, he quickly rises in the military apparatus established by the British in India. He is loved and respected by his family, his commanders, and most of all, by his men.

What forms the central interest of THE BRUSHWOOD BOY, however, is Georgie’s continuing fantasies. These fantasies center around a pile of brushwood, which is a sort of imaginary touchstone; they consist of adventurous travels beyond the bounds of the known world and beyond the bounds of rules and regulations into a world of danger and irresponsible, malignant authority. (One of the recurring aspects of the dreams is a confrontation with an unfriendly policeman.) All these dream experiences contrast sharply with the external demeanor of such an exemplary soldier. In fact, THE BRUSHWOOD BOY appears to offer a sort of underground vision of the British imperial mentality or the mentality of its administrative stalwarts. Beneath the “stiff upper lip,” there is a residual, childlike world of wishes existing independently of the honor of Empire.

Kipling’s manner of narration, simple and full of wonder, is entirely appropriate for his subject. Though THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is not one of his better known works, its psychological insight into the functioning of a British “hero” of a bygone era remains interesting.

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