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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.2, 267 ~ 284, 2020
The Son Who Does Not Return: Displacement and Alternative Nationality in Kipling’s Kim
Soyoun Kim
As an Indian-born writer, Rudyard Kipling is characterized by his consistent interest in the problem of belonging. In the novel Kim (1901) he deals with the issue of feeling displaced and struggling to find a true home within imperial geography. Since Kim, the juvenile protagonist of the novel, is outside the familial and social structure as an orphan, he is able to travel across India while transgressing both social and geographical boundaries. Through the journey, he comes to invent his own identity in colonial India instead of passing through a rite of passage to acquire British masculinity. Unlike the Tibetan lama, who feels displaced because of his desire to escape from the men’s world, Kim begins perceiving himself as a part of the imperial structure. His getting into the imperial world does not cause him to become a white master, though. Comparing and contrasting him with other characters who occupy divided cultural location like him helps us to locate him in the empire. Just as in the case of Lispeth, the hill-woman who attempts to seduce him using her familiarity with the English culture, Englishness remains fundamentally foreign to him till the end of the novel. His alternative identity both empowers and disempowers him; while it allows him to feel at home in India, it also makes him physically and socially less mobile than English men. Either way, his character produces an unsettling effect through anticipating white men who would not return to the father’s home country.
Key Words
Kim, Rudyard Kipling, imperialism, displacement, the Prodigal Son
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