There are many scant descriptions of the lama throughout the book, but there are no really solid descriptions of the lama that form an accurate picture in you mind. He is more of a well-depicted character than a well described character. His character is well depicted through his lines of speech and others, ‘ these old eyes’, ‘old man’, etc, but even with the clues we get as to what he looks like through speech we still can only put together the fact that he is old and frail. While saying this though, we get a more accurate portrayal of the lama as the book draws to a close- the Russian said that the lama was ‘an unclean old man haggling over a dirty piece of paper’. The fact that he was described as ‘haggling’ means that he was acting in common with that of a common beggar gives us the idea that he was dirty, unkempt and as the Russian said, unclean.
The lama’s character is essential to the plot, without the lama the plot would be lost and there would be no need for Kim to travel. The lama gave the plot substance, amid all the confusion of the ‘Great Game’ that Kim is involved in, we are all well aware of the lama’s drive to find the ‘River of the Arrow’. It was the lama’s search that brought Kim into contact with the Russian and the Frenchman, which led to the spies (Mahbub and Hurree) getting hold of the incriminating evidence that they needed. The lama’s search for the River was a means to drive the plot forward- which was one of the lama’s roles- he was vital for pushing the plot along.
The lama is very naï¿½ve; he is sometimes too innocent to pick up on the events that are going on around him- such as when Kim and the lama first go on the train. The lama’s ‘immense simplicity’ was shown when he handed a bag full of rupees to the clerk to get on the train- which he called the te-rain. On the same page the lama’s naivety was shown again when the clerk tried to rip-off Kim and the lama did not notice. The lama and Kim were two very good main characters- they each showed up each other’s weak points. Kim’s worldliness contrasted well with the lama’s intense naivety, and the lama’s wisdom showed up Kim’s lack of common sense. The lama provided a stark contrast to the character of Kim.
The lama was the only character in the book that displayed the same freedom that Kim had, and I think this was why Kim was attracted to the lama. He felt that following the lama might give him more purpose. ‘He was led to speak harshly by the red mist of anger…he becomes courteous and of an affable heart’, the lama was the kind of person that is hard to dislike, his utter simplicity and good or bad nature made him a character that the reader couldn’t hate or take offence to. Kim displayed how much he had become attached to the lama, whenever anyone verbally came down upon the lama, such as when the Russian tore up the lama’s picture and struck him in the face- ‘The blow had waked every unknown Irish devil in the boy’s blood, and the sudden fall of his enemy did the rest’. Kim was not content to just assault the Russian- he did not stop even when he was ‘banging his breathless foe’s head against a boulder’; he did not stop attacking the Russian until the Babu reminded Kim of the kilta and the opportunity he had to take it.
The lama is a mix between wisdom and intense simplicity. He (and we the reader) cannot be sure of how he will react to the various stimuli throughout the book until we have read that certain passage, like when he went to the Wonder House of Lahore and saw a picture of Sakya Muni the lama ‘half sobbed’. He is awash with inner conflict- his moral beliefs forbade such a close relationship with another, and to harm any other. When the lama said that he ‘came near to great evil’ he told us of the inner conflict he was experiencing- he wanted to ‘loose the bullet’ but his religion and strict moral and religious codes forbade it. The lama had lived the whole of his life void of emotion, and suddenly becoming friends with a young rogue like Kim has allowed sin into the lama- ‘He is ashamed for he has made a child happy’. When the lama is upset at Kim’s detachment from him, he is upset at the obvious- because Kim has left him, and secondly for letting himself get so close to a person that he actually feels remorse. He had committed a great sin by loving and losing Kim was his redemption, the lama tells us that he had sinned by loving Kim when he said ‘The sin is mine and the punishment is mine’.
After the initial guilt and remorse that the lama felt for feeling such strong emotions for Kim, the lama’s guilt reaches it’s pinnacle when the lama and Kim are in the mountains- the lama realises the pride he was feeling when he was striding ahead of Kim and the lust for killing he had, and this upset him. He thought that he was better than Kim was, and by doing this the lama committed a great sin. The lama felt that being void of emotion meant being void of sin, and the only way to purge himself of this sin was to find the River. He said ‘it met evil in me-anger, rage, and a lust to return evil’, basically stating that for the lama to even feel the slightest hint of anger was evil, and this evil was in him even before the Russian struck him. This sin, and that of the anger he felt towards the Russian, was thus only washed away at the very end of the novel when the lama found his River and recovered his own holiness.
The main role of the lama was to push the plot forward- his quest for the River, as I have already stated, drove the plot forward from place to place. The lama’s search kept the plot moving throughout the book, the lama is constantly telling Kim to keep moving with quotes like ‘We got to Benares’ and ‘Let us go on’. The plot revolves around the lama’s search for enlightenment just as much as it revolves around Kim and his escapades as a spy. It was the lama’s search that educated Kim and gave him wisdom- travelling with him gave Kim a view to India that he had not seen before and the lama’s assault let guilt enter Kim’s life for the first time, when the lama said to Kim ‘the evil in thy soul working through to mine’, Kim felt guilty, he told the lama to sleep because he knew the lama was right and it was Kim’s fault that there was evil in the lama’s soul. This made Kim feel guilty. One of the roles of the lama was to make the reader feel guilty for what Kim had led the lama into.
The lama’s journey is Kipling’s reason for showing you India, without the lama’s arrival the story would not happen. Kim would not travel with the lama and find his father’s regiment and there would be no search for the River. The novel Kim was an opportunity for Kipling to show the reader what a great place India was, it was a means for Kipling to show us the various cultures and religions India contained. The lama’s search was purposely open ended- this was so that Kipling had free reign over where the lama went and who he met. Making the lama’s search for the River go from A to B would have seriously restricted where he could have taken the novel, and so Kipling left it open ended so that he could take the reader with him along a cross country trek through all the vibrant and bustling Indian towns, showing the reader all manner of peoples and their customs and religions along the way. The lama had a quintessential role in the novel, and the role of the novel was two-fold: to give the reader a thoroughly good story, and to educate the average person about India-it’s peoples, their customs and their religion.
The lama as a person stays constant throughout the book, whereas his role changes throughout the book. At the start of the book Kim uses the lama to help him beg for food, but as we progress through the book the lama changes from being used, to being Kim’s teacher, to friend to substitute father. Kim looks up to the lama for guidance, and is really at war with himself when he has to lie to him about being a spy for British intelligence. The lama was a guide for Kim. He paved the way for Kim to find his prophecy of the Red Bull. If Kim had not have gone with the lama he would have never have found his father’s regiment, never have been educated and probably would not have been made a part of the ‘Great Game’. The lama indirectly set up the distraction Kim needed to steal the kilta that contained the information the intelligence service needed.
The lama’s role as a Buddhist introduced us to the various aspects of Buddhism such as the Way, the Search and the Wheel of Life. It was therefore the role of the lama to also show us the various attitudes displayed towards Buddhism, and show up the social groups with little respect for religion, i.e. the Russian. If we analyse the book then it becomes apparent that, apart from the Muslims, the Europeans were the people with the least respect for the lama- and this was ultimately shown when the Russian assaulted him. The lama was a way for Kipling to show the respect people in India had for religion at the time. Kipling accurately depicted the way that religion influenced the way that various Indian cultures viewed each other, and the lack of respect people outside of India had for people who devoted their lives to being holy.
The lama’s character was one of intense simplicity and deep wisdom at the same time, a very peaceful man, wrought with inner conflict and marred by his own naivety. The lama’s role was quite complicated, it was made up of four main parts: to propel the plot along, to introduce the theme of guilt to Kim and also to the book itself, to show us India from the inside out and to act as a substitute father to Kim. In summary, the lama was a quintessential part of the novel, equally important as Kim himself.