The representation of colonial rule in kipling’s 'Beyond the Pale'

Seminar Paper 2007 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Kipling and Imperialism

3. Beyond the Pale
3.1. Levels of Narration
3.2. Representation of Colonial Rule
3.2.1. The Imperial Character
3.2.2. Reflections of Empire

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

There has been manifold discussion among Kipling critics, as far as his attitude towards imperialism is concerned.[1] Not only that – the author’s political involvement has been conceived as a disturbing factor in enjoying his literature,[2] even complicating the appreciation of his artistic talents.[3] Why is this so? Why do some critics find it harder to forgive Kipling his political commitment than other writers?[4] And why is it important to scrutinise this matter at all in the first place? It looks as if the motivation here – which is probably the case with any serious enquiry of significant literature – is rooted in the desire to understand the hidden force behind the deep impression Kipling’s work has obviously made on so many of his contemporaries and to come up with an answer as to whether this force is something to approve of or not. It is around this point the whole imperialism[5] dispute seems to circle. Thus, an explanation for the controversy with which Kipling’s accomplishments as a writer are discussed might to a certain extent be found in his strongly debated political attitude and his perception of reality connected with it.

The following study presents a brief investigation into the question of Kipling’s stance on colonialist rule as it appears in his short story Beyond the Pale. It goes without saying that only a few aspects of relevance in the context of the issue at hand can be touched upon here for the limited available space does not allow a more thorough examination.

2. Kipling and Imperialism

Kipling has been criticized as a crusader of colonialism,[6] but whether this short story allows such a reading remains highly questionable and will have to be examined more closely on the following pages. Did he actually consider the work of Britain in India a “huge, macabre joke” and only use the idea of imperialism as a kind of garment to cover his personal philosophy with[7] or is it rather as Schefold proposes that Kipling’s writing is peppered with racist and imperialist allusions, implying the notion of British racial superiority over – amongst others – India?[8]

Only a closer look at the story itself can be of help in gaining insight on the matter and provide indispensable evidence to find a justifiable conclusion. However, before the narrative is interrogated about its representation of colonial rule a few remarks shall be made concerning the difficulty of actually coming up with Kipling’s personal position on colonialism at the end of this analysis. A study focussing on such an objective would necessarily have to include far more material to generate satisfactory results, i.e. all of his works, furthermore, private and maybe official correspondence, testimonies of friends, relatives and colleagues, etc. Apparently an effort of this kind has to be reserved for a project of different dimensions. Nevertheless, the text at hand will contribute useful information in the context of this issue.

3. Beyond the Pale

The short story to be examined in the following is part of a collection that was published under the title “Plain Tales from the Hills” and belongs to Kipling’s earlier works. It deals with the encounter of two different cultures during the era of colonialism – the British and the Indian. The protagonist – an Englishman by the name of Christopher Trejago – follows his daily work routine during which he gets into contact with a native widow at the age of “about fifteen years”.[9] This is the beginning of a double life that finds Trejago keeping up his regular work during daytime and leading a secret relationship with the Indian girl called Bisesa at night. The liaison ends tragic, leaving Bisesa handless and Trejago limping “for the rest of his days.”[10]

Difficulties arise when it comes to fully appreciating the communicative effect of the narrative. This might to a considerable degree be the result of a specific technique applied by Kipling to deal “with life’s complexity and ambiguity”.[11]

3.1. Levels of Narration

Petzold speaks of a significant style of narration in Kipling’s early productions and notices several distinct narrative instances telling his stories.[12] Cornell calls the narrator of Kipling’s Plain Tales their “nameless hero” and points out that his utterances must not be confused with the author’s views.[13] Stilz also draws attention to the necessity of distinguishing Kipling from the narrator of his tales and additionally hints at the unreliability of the storyteller in Beyond the Pale.[14] Bauer remarks that many of Kipling’s “Anglo-Indian stories employ a complex narrative line and an ironic tone that make it difficult to determine exactly where their author’s sympathies lie”.[15] Finally, McDonald points out that the story (Beyond the Pale)“shifts up and down a hierarchy of discourses, which move from the authoritative narration of one who “knows” the scenes of action and the customs of both White and Black […] to the subordinate […] dialogue of the characters”.[16]

All of these statements hint at a peculiar manner of story telling and imply that special attention needs to be paid to different levels of narration which have to be clearly distinguished. This has to be kept in mind when approaching Kipling’s short story Beyond the Pale, which is a good example of his specific narrative technique.

3.2. Representation of Colonial Rule

A first quick glimpse at the text already reveals a striking feature: A kind of introductory phrase precedes the actual story:

Love heeds not caste nor sleep a broken bed. I went in search of love and lost myself.[17]

It is indicated as a “Hindu Proverb” and kept separate from the following lines. Immediately the question arises who says “I” and “myself”? Kipling? The narrator? Which one? Is it the same who expresses the following opinion, another mysterious statement uttered before the story eventually begins?

A man should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race and breed. Let the White go to the White

and the Black go to the Black. Then whatever trouble falls is in the ordinary course of things – neither

sudden, alien, nor unexpected.[18]

Is this Kipling announcing his personal creed as Schefold suggests or is he using somebody else’s point of view towards life and putting it into the context of his story in order to communicate something different?[19] Petzold draws attention to the problem of associating the voice of the narrator with that of Kipling here. He puts forward that only a superficial perception of these lines supports a reading in favour of a colonialist undertone and recommends seeing an application of irony instead.[20] Stilz argues in a similar manner, stating that the quoted lines reflect a position of an Anglo-Indian majority, but whether this view is shared by the author remains to his mind very doubtful.[21] McDonald sees two different discourses in operation and speaks of “love” as the „dynamic of the anti-ideology”[22] that is contrasting the imperative of the story’s first paragraph.


[1] Cf. Mertner, Edgar (1983): Rudyard Kipling und seine Kritiker. Darmstadt. Here: 1f.

[2] Cf. Mertner 1983: 58 and 142f.

[3] Cf. Gilbert, Elliot L. (1972): The Good Kipling. Studies in the Short Story. Manchester. Here: 123.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The terms „colonialism“ and „imperialism“ are not going to be clearly distinguished in this paper since

both refer to the complex whose impact on Kipling’s work is dealt with here. For further information on

the matter cf. Löffler, Arno / Späth, Eberhard (eds.) (2005): Geschichte der Englischen Kurzge-

schichte. Tübingen [e.a.]. Here: 129.

[6] Cf. Löffler / Späth 2005: 132.

[7] Cf. Mertner 1983: 145f.

[8] Cf. Schefold, Fabian (1999): Koloniale Mythenbildung und ihre literarische Dekonstruktion.

Britische Kolonialliteratur von Kipling zu Farrell. Göttingen. Here: 59f.

[9] Kipling, rudyard (1890): Plain Tales from the Hills. Leipzig. Here: 167.

[10] Ibid: 172.

[11] Bauer, Helen P. (1994): Rudyard Kipling. A Study of the Short Fiction. New York [e.a.]. Here: xv.

[12] Cf. Löffler / Späth 2005: 133.

[13] Cornell, Louis L. (1966): Kipling in India. London [e.a.]. Here: 130f.

[14] Stilz, Gerhard (1980): Die Anglo-Indische Short Story. Geschichte einer Kolonialliteratur.

Tübingen. Here: 149f.

[15] Bauer 1994: 28.

[16] McDonald, Robert H. (1986): Discourse and Ideology in Kipling’s „Beyond the Pale“. In: Studies in

Short Fiction 23. Newberry, S.C. 413/418. Here: 414.

[17] Kipling 1890: 166.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Schefold 1999: 59.

[20] Löffler / Späth 2005: 134.

[21] Stilz 1980: 168.

[22] McDonald 1986: 415.


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Free University of Berlin – Institut für Englische Philologie
Beyond Pale Century Short Stories