Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

For success at satire, the writer must engage the interest of the reader in the narration itself, and then almost imperceptibly make an about-face from lightness to depth, from pleasant entertainment to pungent import. This is exactly Kipling’s technique; he tells a romantic tale set in the hills of Northern India that has the allure of distance and strangeness. Even a familiar name such as Elizabeth is changed to Lispeth in the hills, and names of places—Simla, Kotgarh, Narkunda—add to the romance. Kipling’s narrator takes on the easy, purposeful tone of the fireside storyteller, step by step piling irony on irony, up to the climax, when the reader feels the full thrust of the satire.

Apart from the skillful management of content and style, Kipling uses the two notable techniques of contrast and irony. Lispeth is the only character who is individualized. She is, therefore, the only one of the principal characters who is mentioned by name—and a distinctive one at that—to show how extraordinary she is in beauty and character. In contrast, none of the English characters is mentioned by name, and they accordingly share a stereotyped attitude of superiority. Lispeth’s depth of feeling, her forthright character and conduct, stand in ironic contrast to the superficial proprieties and deviousness of those who pride themselves on being her betters. The contrast helps pinpoint the irony that assumed superiority is pathetically hollow, altogether incapable of uplifting the so-called “savage,” who in this story is the only one possessed of redeeming nobility. Instead of helping to save her soul, her would-be benefactors reduce her to poignant...

(The entire section is 679 words.)