Rudyard Kipling is an author that critics have a hard time making their minds up about. On the one hand, he provided generations of readers with captivating stories, but on the other his work contains a staggering amount of racism and imperialist rhetoric.
In his poem "Recessional," Kipling literally refers to people of other races as "lesser breeds." The racism in Kipling's writing extends beyond his poetry; even his renowned children's book The Jungle Book is loaded with racist ideology.
The collection of stories was written in 1894, and is set in British Colonial India. Many critics believe that the book and its sequel are filled with imperialist symbolism. The meaning of "The White Man's Burden," another of Kipling's most famous works, advocates for imperialism in a considerably less subtle manner.
Beware, after reading this you may never look at one of your favorite childhood movies the same way again.
Kipling's Work Throughout His Life Reflected His Hybrid Anglo-Indian Identity
Rudyard Kipling's experiences as a child were the foundation for his "Anglo-Indian" identity. Many British nationals living in India in the 19th century identified as Anglo-Indian; they were still fundamentally British, but India was their home.
Kipling saw India as a place of happiness from his early childhood, while England was "the dark place." Many critics believe that he re-created India as an "Eden" in The Jungle Book and Kim.
However, Colonial India could only be considered Edenic by the white colonizers that lived there. Many of the native Indians suffered horribly at the hands of the British; they lived with "poverty, malnutrition, disease, cultural upheaval, economic exploitation, political disadvantage, and systematic programmes aimed at creating a sense of social and racial inferiority."
Controlled by people like Kipling who viewed them as "lesser breeds," the native experience in Colonial India was most likely closer to Hell than Eden.
"The Jungle Book" Features Direct References To The British Presence In India
Despite it's fantastical plot, the world of The Jungle Book is unmistakably Colonial India. One exemplary sign of this comes from the story "The Undertakers" which features a conversation between a crane, a jackal, and an old mugger crocodile.
The crocodile explains to the other two that his size increased exponentially during the time of the Indian Mutiny, when the Ganges River had been filled with slain British bodies. At the end of the story, he is killed by a white man and his head is taken as a trophy. FYI, that's supposed to be a happy ending.
Mowgli Represents The British, While The Animals Represent The People Of India
In Kipling's jungle, every creature can be interpreted as a symbol. Some critics believe that Mowgli's prowess over the animal kingdom is representative of British's ability to control other "lesser" people.
In the story, the main divider between humans and animals is the "red flower," or the term the animals use to refer to fire. Because they are "lower," they never refer to fire by its correct name. Just as they fail to understand "modern, civilized technology," fire also remains a terrifying mystery to them.
Kipling paints animals in a positive light in many of his stories, but only when they are "serving" man, as in "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "Her Majesty's Servants."
Rudyard Kipling Was Born In Colonial India
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India (now Mumbai) in 1865. At that time, India was still under British colonial rule. He is reported to have happily spent his childhood years in Bombay with his mother and father, until they sent him and his younger sister back to England to live with a foster family.
It was a tradition among British citizens living in India to send their children back to the UK to receive an education. Unfortunately for young Kipling, he ended up in a household where he was not treated kindly. Overall, Kipling was deeply unhappy with his relocation to England, an attitude that influenced his later writing career, and may have been the cause of his wistful attitude towards colonized India.