agree with Edward Said that in Kim, “all women are debased or unsuitable for male attention”? If so, should this book still be an honored member of the English canon?
The purpose of the present paper is to discuss one aspect from Rudyard Kipling’s book “Kim,” namely the statement made by critic Edward Said according to which “all women are debased or unsuitable for male attention.” Establishing the value of truth of this statement will help us understand if the book deserves to be an honoured member of the English canon.
The English canon refers to those books which have been defined as important pieces of literature. These pieces are being taught by teachers and professors for years and they are generally recognized as being classics. Their importance is based upon two aspects. The first is connected to the educational dimension. It is safe to say that it would be impossible to teach pupils about all the books in the world. Therefore their selection will imply a selection of values to be taught. The value of the female sex is very important in shaping people’s role is society, hence the importance of a book which states that women are unworthy of men’s attention. The second one has to do with the very reputation of the English literature and the English people in general. The careful selection of the works which are decided to be part of the canon makes us understand that there is where the core value of English literature is to be found. Finding a book like this would make people wonder about the cultural values of the English and the position of the woman in the English society (and with what attitude the men relate themselves to their mothers and wives).
It has been stated that Kim is a man novel because the main characters are represented by man of various ages and social statuses. From this point-of-view it can be stated that a sort of linguistic as well as social code of behaviour is created between them in order to differentiate them from the women and keep their assumed secrets within their cast which they created on their own. (Said, 2010)
Said states that “The women in the novel are remarkably few in number by comparison and all are somehow debased or unsuitable for male attention: prostitutes, elderly widows or importunate and lusty women like the Woman of Shamlegh; to be pestered by women, Kim believes, is to be hindered in playing the Great Game, which is best played by men alone.” (Said, 2010)
It is interesting to notice that the contrast is made not between women ad men but between women and males. Women are considered to be the weak sex while men become the very representatives of the human species. Women are portrayed through their social status and only in roles of prostitutes, old widows and lusty persons. Their status is defined through their very sex and in relation to men. Life is considered to be a game and the players who know the rules of this game are men and men only. (Aydin, 2010)
The book may be about India, but the statement above is about women in general. Kim is not only a symbol of the English imperialism, but also of an attitude according to which the woman is not to be considered or treated as a human being with equal capacities and rights. Somehow Britain’s domination upon India becomes a sort of metaphor for the male domination upon the women. (Aydin, 2010)
The attitude towards women is not normal at all and it seems to be translating an attitude of hatred. The reasons for it might be sought in the Oedipal complex which was theorized by Freud. According to him our relationships with our parents during our childhood mark our adult relationships with the opposite sex. Therefore a boy as a young child will be extremely attached to his mother, will want her exclusive attention and will hate his father considering him a direct opponent and rival for the mother’s love. One consequence of this type of hatred is the fear of castration. Still according to Freud, normal people succeed in solving this complex, while categories such as homosexuals, narcissists and neurotics do not. Therefore if as a child Kim (and with him the author of the book who probably identifies himself with this character) hated his mother because she disappointed him or because she failed in giving him the desired love and attention, this will show in Kim’s attitude towards all the other women which he unconsciously identifies as maternal figures. (Said, 2010)
While the attitude of the character may be explained and understood through the perspectives mentioned above, one can not simply agree with his statement even if we base our decision on common sense. It is true that many women may be shallow, but it is just as true that there are superficial men as well. People must be treated and considered with respect, regardless of their gender.
However it must be stated that the book must not be banned from the English canon. It is a valuable book and it gives insight regarding a lot of issues about India and the domination of the British empire upon it, as well as the position of the women in a patriarchal society. It might include some views which are based upon prejudice but it is rightful for people to be aware that other people think in this manner. Freedom of speech and self-expression are sacred rights and those who know how to use their judgement will reach the just conclusion on their own.
Anglo/Indians and others in UC Press e-books Collection, 1982-2004, retrieved March 17, 2010 from http://www.escholarship.org/editions/view?docId=ft8s20097j&chunk.id=s1.3.7&toc.depth=100&brand=eschol
Aydin, K. A brief critical reassessment of Kim within the tradition of British colonial novel, retrieved March 17, 2010 from http://esbd.atauni.edu.tr/index.php/esbd/article/view/71/85
Said, E.W. “Kim by Rudyard Kipling,” in Google books, retrieved March 17, 2010 from http://books.google.it/books?id=kCGh86qTwoQC&pg=PA12&lpg=PA12&dq=”all+women+are+debased+or+unsuitable+for+male+attention”&source=bl&ots=JlVjDpfsd5&sig=oKRzpsXHcxMrri5rZdwJhtDlA68&hl=it&ei=9vGgS7z9CZClsQbMk_zJDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false
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