Rudyard Kipling: Poems

Class Inversion in Kipling’s Poetry College

Rudyard Kipling was regarded by his peers as a fine satirist. Many of the leading wits of his day, including Mark Twain, met him in person and acknowledged him as a peer. One of the things Kipling subtly criticized through his poetry was the traditional association of higher class with superior knowledge. This essay will examine Gunga Din, Tommy, and Gentlemen-Rankers to show how Kipling inverts the class hierarchy by presenting a character at or near the bottom of the human social ladder as having a superior level of insight, enlightenment, or basic human decency relative to those who are conventionally regarded as being “above” him. Kipling does not present the irony overtly and relies on specific literary techniques to accomplish it. This essay will present examples of the techniques Kipling uses to establish and then undermine conventional class assumptions.

In all three poems, Kipling begins by letting his readers know who is speaking. He does this by narrating in the first person singular and by altering conventional English spelling to reflect the speaker’s accent. This is not a technique unique to Kipling; Dickens used it also in Oliver Twist. When the text is read aloud exactly as it is written, the accent sends a very...

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