Monday, October 8, 2012

"The Overland Mail" by Kipling

Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Overland Mail is just one example out of thousands that concerns the idea of colonial mimicry. The poem is fashioned in a way that makes the reader really feel what is happening as well as get a good sense of the environment in which the poem takes place. Colonial mimicry, defined by Bhabha in its simplest terms as "the desire for a reformed, recognizable other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite.” This poem by Kipling has captured that idea by telling the story of the way mail is delivered in India. Kipling creates an environment in which colonial power is not directly indicated, but from reading we can understand. Kipling uses the surroundings of the subject to give readers an impression of the colonial power at work.In the poem, the environment of the subject is so strongly Indian that we as readers can create a picture of what is occurring. The opening stanzas of the poem explain that the colonized people have been exiled and are waiting for their “letters from home.” It is asking the “Lords of the Jungle” and the robbers to safely let the mail runner pass so that the people may have a piece of what was once theirs.The runner himself represents an even stronger idea of colonial mimicry. The poem describes him as having “soft-sandaled feet” and a “brawny, brown chest.” Here, Kipling is showing us that the runner is an Indian man, who is stereotyped to be a “runner” because he seems strong and he “knows” his way around the jungle in order to get the Overland Mail. These stereotypes are common in Colonialism as they represent the idea of what the colonized people are. An idea however, is not necessarily the truth. From reading our book Beginning Postcolonialism we have learned that the stereotypes that the Colonizers portray of the colonized are often opposites of what the colonizers are. For example, the French, black man is someone who speaks and acts English. However, from the point-of-view of the English, he is not accepted as “one of them.” We spoke in class about how he was allowed to “walk apart from the white man, but not beside him.”Colonial mimicry is threatening to Colonial Authority because it essentially “makes a fool” out of Colonialism itself. Colonial mimicry allows the colonized writes to portray themselves in a way that is their own, while still using the colonial language and ideas to do so. This kind of writing is also a threat to Colonial Authority because it is a sort of “uprising” that can ultimately demolish the authority itself.

While it was difficult to find multimedial aspects that applied to Kipling's writing, I have found a few articles that have described Kipling as a racist. Through this poem, now that I think about it, I can see why people would view him as such. He describes the runner in this poem racially, having "soft-sandaled feet" and a "brawny, brown chest." Kipling stereotypes this man as a runner. Through subsequent research, I learned that Kipling also wrote the popular childrens story The Jungle Book. As a kid I loved it, it was probably one of my favorite movies. However, looking back on it now, I can also see how Kipling portrayed the main character is a racially specific way. He was a young boy dressed in a loin cloth for crying out loud! He lived in the jungle and acted like an animal. Was this simply a cheerful tale for children, or was it a racist depiction of the Indian culture and people? We will never be able to ask him specifically, but I think that it is best to formulate our own opinions. I believe that yes, it COULD be a satirical representation of "otherness" in reguards to Indian people, because as a child and at the time of the movie, I had never once seen an Indian person. All I knew was about Indians were my ideas of Native American Indians. However, if people DO judge that film as racist, I would argue that it is not Kiplings doing persay, but perhaps the doing of Disney who made and created the story in this filmic representation. I have never read The Jungle Book, so for me it is impossible to come to a conclusion of whether or not Kipling was a racist. In other research however, I did learn that he used to put images of Swastikas on his book covers. While this may be a racist thing to do, I also learned that Kipling's swastika was viewed as a symbol of good luck until the Nazi's began using it as their sign. However, Kipling's swastika pointed one way, while the German swastika pointed the other.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Lea. Firstly, allow me to say that I found your posts on post colonial texts insightful and coherent. So cheers to that. :) Secondly, I confess that while I have only skimmed through the prevous ones, I did read the bit on Kipling word to word.

    On that point, I'd like to clear that bit on the "swastika". I'm a Hindu and I've seen the image being drawn near the entrance to the house, specially during auspicious occasions. It's an invitation to Goddess Lakshmi(the goddess of wealth)- talk about being greedy for prosperity. -_- This swastika, the right-facing one dates back to ancient civilizations all over the world with the basic significance of being a good charm.

    Now Hitler's swastika or sauwastika is the left-facing one and carries on its shoulders the burden of the Holocaust. Remember Plath when she calls her Daddy "Not God but a swastika"? Yes, that's the Nazi reference all right.

    So, my point is that the swastika still has its positive connotations. Just depends on the context that is all.

    And, The Jungle Book was written in 1894. Hitler's reign of terror began post 1930's.

    And Indians have NOTHING to do with the Red Indians. We are Asians who were suppressed by the colonisers in our own country. The native Americans were supplanted.

    Sorry about the rant.
    Ankita. :)