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Grandpaternalism: Kipling's Imperial Care Narrative

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jacob Jewusiak


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The significance of old age in Kipling’s work has gone largely unacknowledged by critics who attend to the many youthful protagonists who sail, hunt, and explore their way across the plots of his fiction. This essay argues that the relationship between grandparent and grandchild in Kipling’s Kim serves as a representational strategy—at the level of character and narrative form—for obscuring the didactic tension at the heart of colonization’s “civilizing” mission. The reciprocity, rather than competition, between grandparents and grandchildren symbolically reconcile the seemingly insurmountable ideological differences between the English and Indian people. Age serves as the catalyst for imaginatively removing those markers of difference coded onto the skin and manners of others. The patriarchal model of empire posits the father as European and the child as Native—in this vertical relation, power flows down as a means of controlling subject populations. Yet in Kim, a Tibetan lama occupies the position of elder, while an Irish boy fills that of youth. This inversion of the hierarchy of age and race attests to a larger rethinking of the networks of dependence between the metropole and the colony. Despite the gulf of time that separates the poles of grandparent and grandchild, the relationship models a horizontal distribution of power flexible enough to control the currents of violence erupting from within India and radiating outward from the encroaching Russian empire. By doing so, his novel posits an intergenerational form of colonial governance that goes against the grain of patriarchal retrenchment following the Indian Uprising of 1857 and endorses a model of indirect rule based on the principle of play.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jewusiak J

Editor(s): Barry E; Skagen MV

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Literature and Ageing

Year: 2020

Pages: 87-104

Print publication date: 27/10/2020

Online publication date: 27/10/2020

Acceptance date: 05/12/2019

Series Title: Essays and Studies

Publisher: Boydell and Brewer

Place Published: Martlesham, Suffolk


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781843845713