Rudyard Kipling is a much remembered British author. He was a poet, novelist, and journalist, who spent time growing up in colonial India. Though his works are much about Indians, his works are critiqued to have a colonial justification in them! His tales, chiefly for young readers, celebrated colonies and told the story of how “great” the British empire was.
Among the most famous fiction stories are The Jungle Book and Kim, and poems like If and The White Man’s Burden.
Rudyard Kipling was born to John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald, in 1865, in the city of Mumbai. His father was an artist and scholar, and later became curator of the Lahore Museum. His childhood is generally described as an “unhappy” one.
He was an Anglo-Indian, and was brought up by native Indian servants or the ‘ayah‘. He also learnt the vernacular Hindi from them. However, he was sent to England for schooling at a young age. After his education he returned to India, more specifically to Lahore, where his father secured him the post of journalist on an English newspaper called the Civil and Military Gazette.
It has been largely said that his childhood has directly affected his works as an adult author. The question of identity- of his familiarity with the “native” culture of the colony, but his social compulsion as the ‘colonizer’ to celebrate the superior British race, has been a much critiqued part of studies on Kipling.
“The White Man’s Burden”
Kipling, as an author, chose to believe that the British race was a superior one. He subscribed to the view that the British colonization of the world was a justified one, and the “civilizing mission” was a “burden” of the White Man.
The burden of the white man and more specifically of the British man means the burden of looking after “weaker” nations and peoples. Kipling believed his country to be a superior one because it was so generous and selflessly willing to pick up the thankless, but necessary task of imperial rule and with imperial rule came the duty of taking care of others.
This ideology is most distinct in the following poem:
“Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child”
The Jungle Book first was published as a series of short stories, written by the author, Rudyard Kipling. The stories are based on a young boy called Mowgli, who has grown up under the care of a wolf-mother, who has adopted him into her wolf-pack.
In the fictional jungle, based in India, Mowgli experiences exciting challenges while growing up with the wild animals. However, once Mowgli has reached a certain age, he must make a choice to go back where he belongs- the “man village.”
This story is one that was written essentially for Victorian boys, who would read the stories, and one day, be inspired to be adventurous soldiers of the British empire. Mowgli was to be an idealized character who was looked up by young British boys- and learn to struggle, explore, and always acknowledge his superiority as a Man.
The Jungle Book was later adopted by Baden-Powell’s Scouts Movement, where the youngest boys would play games based on the stories. This made their world of adventure, and the British zeal to “discover” the wild world more exciting.
Rudyard Kipling , as an author, was thus greatly read, for his brilliance of literature, but today, in the postcolonial world of academics, is known for his celebration of Imperialism, and his pride in the British race.