Alon Marcus On:
Through the Fire by Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling was born in India in 1865. He received his education in England, his parents’ homeland, after which he returned to India. He worked as a journalist for several years, a job that exposed him to a great amount of stories as well as people, and also helped shape his literary style. His language is succinct and precise, even in moments in which he allows himself to be poetic, and many times he passes the floor to speakers of his fiction, who engage in a dialogue with him and with the readers. In the story “Through the Fire,” he relies on a police report to tell an emotional love story full of pathos.
For many years, Kipling was viewed as a poet who glorified the British Empire and the white man’s superiority, as someone whose poems prompted the youth to enlist in the military. His protagonists are usually dedicated to some rule or principal order, for which they are willing to sacrifice themselves. His devotion to these principles resulted in a decline in his popularity after World War I. Kipling himself experienced a personal tragedy when losing his son in that war.
However, as time passes by, Kipling is revealed to have been a sensitive writer, who treated the “other” with a great deal of respect. His journalistic-reporter tone is a mask. His war poems are bitter and ironic (for instance, “The Widow at Windsor”). His most famous poem, “If,” is a remarkable summary of almost Zen-Buddhist-like principles.
His capability as a storyteller (which is evident in his narrative poems), has led us to keep reading him and being intrigued by him. Writers like T.S. Eliot and Borges expressed their great appreciation of him, and even George Orwell, who had positioned himself as Kipling’s political polar opposite, wrote about him with favor and warmth. According to Orwell, Kipling had sold out to the British governing class, not economically, but emotionally. He wholeheartedly believed in the values he wrote about. The responsibility, modesty and devotion that identified his characters also distinguished his writing.
We are familiar with Kipling mostly as a children’s author (“The Jungle Book,” “Just So Stories”), as well as the author of more serious books (“Kim”). Here is one of his short stories, in which we can witness Kipling at his best in the this genre.