Kimball O’Hara (Kim)
Kimball O’Hara (Kim), the son of an Irish mother, who died in India when he was born, and an Irish father, who was color sergeant of the regiment called the Mavericks and who died and left Kim in the care of a half-caste woman. Kim grows up on the streets of Lahore, and his skin becomes so dark that no one can tell he is white. He attaches himself to a Tibetan lama as a chela. Kim is caught by the chaplain of the Maverick regiment, who discovers his real identity. The lama pays for Kim’s education, and Kim finally distinguishes himself as a member of the British Secret Service.
A Tibetan Lama
A Tibetan Lama, who becomes Kim’s instructor and whose ambition it is to find the holy River of the Arrow that would wash away all sin. The lama pays for Kim’s schooling. After Kim’s education is complete, he accompanies the lama in his wanderings, though he is really a member of the Secret Service. In the end, the lama finds his holy river, a brook on the estate of an old woman who befriends him and Kim.
Mahbub Ali, a horse trader who is really a member of the British Secret Service. Mahbub Ali is largely responsible for Kim’s becoming a member of the Secret Service.
Colonel Creighton, the director of the British Secret Service, who permits Kim to resume the dress of a street boy and do Secret Service work.
Hurree Chunder Mookerjee
Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, a babu, and also a member of the Secret Service. He is Kim’s confederate in securing some valuable documents brought into India by spies for the Russians.
Themes and Characters
Kim meets a wandering Buddhist lama whose disciple or chela has died. Because Kim makes himself so useful, the lama sees him as his new divinely appointed chela. The lama is seeking the River of the Arrow, which came into existence at the spot where an arrow shot by Buddha landed. The lama believes that if he washes in that river he will find his salvation. Kim joins the lama and both use the quest to seek their destinies.
Early in the story Kim meets his old friend Mahbub Ali, a Moslem horse trader who is also an agent for the British Secret Service. Mahbub Ali tells Kim he must send a message to the British at Umballa, which is on Kim's route. He entrusts Kim with a message and a scrap of paper with five holes in it. When this paper is placed over a map of the mountain region of India, the holes reveal which Indian princes plan to betray the British to the Russians.
If it is our fate to find those things we shall find them—thou, thy river; and I, my Bull. . .
Kim's character is a composite of many cultures. His tanned skin, dirty appearance, and command of the language enable him to pass for a poor Indian boy. He even claims at one point to be a Hindu. He is deeply touched by the lama and his religious quest. He is also friends with the Moslem, Mahbub Ali, who works to perpetuate British rule. But at the same time Kim clearly has a Christian European background. Through Kim, Kipling is showing the complexity of colonial Indian society. The lama is as important a character as Kim, and Kipling shows great respect for his religious quest. The lama is trying to model his life after Buddha's by living in poverty while searching for salvation. Despite his age, the lama undertakes an arduous journey and relies on Buddha for his protection. His life is a model of purity and gentleness.
The novel explores the theme of learning and growth in both the young and the old. While they are traveling, Kim begins to learn about the richness and complexity of India even as the lama tries to discover the means of his salvation. After delivering the message at Umballa, Kim sees some British soldiers carrying a flag with a red bull on a green field. He is caught by the regimental chaplains who discover his amulet and realize he is a British citizen. Surprised at his Indian manner and appearance, they decide to send him to school to rediscover his European heritage. The lama is frustrated in his search...
(The entire section is 2,852 words.)