Identity in Kim, identity in The Son
I am surprised to find similarities between Kim and The Son.
Kim says 'At the Gates of Learning we were taught that to abstain from action was unbefitting a Sahib. And I am a Sahib.'
Eli says 'It was just that the whites were crazy for rules. And yet they were in charge. And I was white myself.'
Both Eli and Kim have dual cultures. Both are white and both are also Indian (ba-dum-tish). Both reach adolescence and become aware of their white nature, both are picaresque tales.
Eli was assimilated into the Comanche tribe but Kim, we feel, has always been Indian. Both (re-)integrate into white culture. We don't see Kim as an old man, but Eli as an old man wears Indian moccasins, and mopes after visits from his Indian friends. He has both feet in white culture. We cannot see that happening to Kim, because he loves India so. And India has no defeat, in its vastness it cannot be in danger, whereas the native Americans were vanishing like the grass of the plains, like the wild horses, and like the buffalo. There is none of this acute sense of loss in Kim.
Kim is a celebration of a native culture and in a way The Son is to. But The Son it is also about death and change whereas Kipling goes out of his way to ignore the coming disruption to the rule of the Britishers.
But ultimately, the stories of Kim and Eli have many similarities: Eli's ascent in the tribe, Kim's ascent to the Indian Survey; Eli's ascent to national fame, Kim's predicted escape from the Wheel of Life.
The stories come from different times. Kim has adventurers, and there is one scene of moderate violence by Kim, thoroughly justified by the threat of physical violence to his beloved lama. Eli is enslaved and witnesses numerous rapes and murders. The novel relishes this a little too much. But Kim underplays the gritty realism of the road; Kipling softens it. Kim is, of course, a lot more likeable. But that's not really what fiction is really for.