112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Kipling's "The Mark of the Beast":  Cultural Intolerance in British India

Laura Macarewich, "California State University, Fullerton"

In this short story, set in nineteenth century British India, a disturbing and violent conflict occurs when a British soldier insults the Hindu religion, challenging the natives to respond according to the Indian proverb: “Your gods and my gods – do you or I know which are the stronger?” 


During the late nineteenth century, the name of Rudyard Kipling was synonymous with the British Imperialist tradition in India.  Through the discourse of his literature, Kipling helped to create an image of India for the British public at home.   Said writes in his book, Culture and Imperialism, that “Kipling not only wrote about India, but was of it,” because Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1865, of Anglo-Indian Parents, and grew up speaking Hindustani, and wearing native clothes.   As a young man he worked in the Punjab region of India as a professional journalist and fiction writer.  Because of this background, Said credits Kipling with possessing an authentic knowledge and understanding of Indian native culture which is reflected throughout his work.   In Kipling’s short story, “The Mark of the Beast,” a conflict between the natives and three British soldiers arises because the natives feel that they are not being treated acceptably by their occupiers:  In the story, a British soldier insults the Hindu religion as being heathen, and a disturbing and violent conflict ensues, resulting in the gruesome torture of an Indian sadhu, or holy man, by the British.  Does Kipling approve or disapprove of the Orientalist attitudes and violent behavior of the Anglo-Indian men portrayed in the story?  Does he regard their behavior as justified in order to maintain the stability of the empire, as essential to prevent the terrible power of the Indian “Other” from gaining the upper hand?  After all, a violent reaction to British religious intolerance had occurred before in India, during the Great Mutiny of 1857, in which thousands of Anglo-Indians had been killed before the revolt could be contained.  Should the reader consider the possibility that the unnamed narrator of the story is intended to be Kipling himself?  All of these possiblilities seem feasible in light of the Indian proverb which opens the story: “Your gods and my gods – do you or I know which are the stronger?”  This proverb emphasizes the great importance that the Indians of Kipling’s time placed upon religious tolerance.  But looked at deconstructively, the proverb also presents a subtle warning.  It suggests that when a native religion’s validity is challenged by another religious view, then that challenge will be answered.