Kim finds himself torn between the Indian and British worlds which existed side by side during the days of the British Raj. His Irish blood and his Indian upbringing have created within him a crisis of identity as he approaches manhood.
Thirteen but wise beyond his years, Kim meets a Tibetan lama (holy man), and decides to lead the lama across India in search of a sacred river. At first, he considers the quest only another escapade, but soon he becomes a devoted disciple.
Filled with comedy, sadness, danger, and excitement, their wanderings span some six years. The compelling narrative paints vivid pictures of the infinitely varied Indian landscape, customs, and day-to-day life. When Kim encounters the British, who want to make him a gentleman, the imperialists are depicted with equal precision. All action points, though, to the lama’s discovery and Kim’s maturity, the foremost themes of the novel.
Both Kim and the lama have set out on a quest. The lama seeks the sacred river whose waters will deliver him at the end of his pilgrimage from the physical world and carry him to a state of spiritual bliss. Kim, on the other hand, desires to find himself in order to become a whole person. That realization of selfhood is the river he seeks.
To find their respective rivers, the lama and his disciple travel on the roads of India, which form an endless river of physical life. Sometimes they ride trains, but more often they follow the Grand Trunk Road that crosses the vast land or climb up the steep paths of the Himalayas. The roads and the sought-after river represent the two levels of man’s existence: the physical and the spiritual. For the lama, the wandering on earthly roads has almost ended. For Kim, it has just begun.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. An excellent introductory source gathering a cross section of essays providing extremely useful criticism. Analyzes character and theme, discusses Kipling’s views on India, presents revisions from an earlier draft, and compares Kipling’s views on the British empire with those of E. M. Forster and George Orwell.
Page, Norman. A Kipling Companion. London: Macmillan, 1984. Helpful introductory source providing a brief biography, chronology, and discussion of Kipling’s world. Identifies historical figures and gives clear, insightful analyses of the novels, short stories, and verse. Helpful annotated bibliography.
Rao, K. Bhaskara. Rudyard Kipling’s India. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. Evaluates Kipling’s place as a writer about India and compares with other British writers. Provides historical background and analyzes theme, setting, and character in Kim.
Shahane, Vasant. Rudyard Kipling: Activist and Artist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. Excellent introductory source. Provides chapter-by-chapter summary illustrating the novel’s thematic unity and charting Kim’s inner growth as he deals with his two separate worlds. Helpful in following the complex action in the novel. Clear analysis of major symbols, setting, and character.
Sullivan, Zohreh. Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A detailed analysis that stresses the quest of the lama and Kim, discusses theme and symbol, and provides detailed character analysis. Clear explanation of religious background.