Rudyard Kipling: Poems Summary and Analysis of “Gunga Din”
Gunga Din is a poem written by an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist, Rudyard Kipling in 1890. This poem highlights the cruel colonialism in the subcontinent. Moreover, it highlights the prejudices of Europeans against orients. It also discusses racism and exploitation of the British in the subcontinent.
Rudyard Kipling: Poems Summary and Analysis of “Gunga Din”
It is a poem that revolves around a poor Indian water carrier named Gunga Din. He was mistreated at the hands of British soldiers. They were appointed by the Queen for the purpose of colonialism. The speaker of the poem also mistreats him along with his other comrades. However, when he got shot on the battlefield, Gunga Din is the first person who appears for his help.
While helping the speaker of the poem, He also gets shot. But he didn’t care about his wounds and took him towards a safe place. Gunga Din’s sacrifice made the soldier realize that his actions were wrong. In the end, the speaker of the poem admits his mistakes and realized Gunga Din had always been a better man than him.
GUNGA DIN SUMMARY
The speaker of the poem is a British soldier, who appreciates the patience, sacrifice, and virtue of a water bearer named Gunga Din. The water bearer lost his life in saving the soldier’s life. The speaker introduces the environment and nature of serving in India. He describes heat, atmosphere, and war.
Also, he describes Gunga Din as a water carrier. Even on a hot sunny day, he has served the Englishmen. The speaker also expresses his sadness as he described Gunga Din by weird names such as “You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!“. Those people who called him by weird names used to order him to get them water.
Further on, the speaker vividly draws Gunga Din’s picture by describing his uniform and tools. Din’s uniform was nothing much to speak of. Rather, the speaker talks about his equipment which is a rag and a goatskin water bag.
The speaker says when Englishmen lay in heat they started shouting Din to bring water. Moreover, they also scold him, inquiring where he had been. Similarly, they intimidate him to hit until he fills up their bottles again.
In the same manner, the speaker admires his bravery as he stands fearless whenever soldiers fought. He would stand fifty paces behind along with his water bag on his back. Then, he says Din would wait for all along until soldiers returned.
Afterward, the speaker appreciates his act of kindness that made them think despite the dirty skin he was white inside. The way he went to nurse the wounded soldiers under fire after they had been shot. Also, the soldiers would call him in times of need when ammunition and cartridges ran out.
Subsequently, the speaker tells the audience that he will never forget the night when Gunga Din helped him. The speaker was shot by a bullet, started choking and his mouth got dry. Gunga Din grunting and grinning found him in that miserable condition.
Gunga Din lifted his head and stopped the bleeding of his wound. Also, he gave him the only water he had thought it was green and slimy. But the speaker gratefully says that was the best drink he had ever drunk.
Furthermore, the speaker remembered the words of Gunga Din narrating the story of a soldier. He was shot by a bullet in his spleen and grovellingly says “For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!”
In the last, the speaker says how he helped him by carrying him away. However, at that time, Gunga Din also got shot. Despite that, he got me inside and said before dying that he hoped he had enjoyed his drink.
Afterward, the speaker says hopefully that he will meet Gunga Din where he squatted on the coals and also provided drinks to “poor damned souls”. The speaker says he will get some drink from Gunga Din in hell. Lastly, he concludes that Gunga Din was a better man than him.
GUNGA DIN LITERARY ANALYSIS
Gunga Din is a poem written by an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist, Rudyard Kipling in 1890. In this poem, one can see Kipling criticizing Britain’s colonialism and the exploitation of the subcontinent.
The concept of colonialism gets clear when the speaker of the poem talks about the “Majesty”. These words mirror the purpose of soldiers in ” Injia” which at first is implicit.
Through the character of Gunga Din Kipling is representing the miserable condition of natives. He depicts how they are deteriorating under imperial power.
Moreover, describing Gunga Din as without uniform and equipment insinuates the exploitation. It shows how colonizers took advantage of their power and take hold of everything that once natives had.
Similarly, the behavior of soldiers highlights racism and their sense of superiority against orients. They mistreat Gunga Din and even beat him to take out their frustration and anger.
This shows the Europeans prejudice against orients. The way they call him by improper names suggests the concept of Europeans against orients. Likewise, their way of inflicting pain on the poor Gunga Din depicts slavery as well.
The soldiers over there never respect his services rather they treat him the way slaves are treated. Though, Kipling has not explicitly highlighted slavery. But the mistreatment of Gunga Din at the hands of soldiers suggests slavery.
However, one can also find Kipling showing the same attitude as soldiers for orients. He has written this poem in a dialect. Moreover, when it comes to the description of India and its native his language becomes derogatory. This also employs the sense of superiority that the writer is having as well.
Furthermore, Kipling refutes his own sense of superiority in the last stanza of the poem. Through the character of the soldier, he gives a positive viewpoint towards orients. At that point, one can find Kipling got over by prejudice. The speaker of the poem admits his own faults and realizes the goodness inside of Gunga Din.
Here, Kipling pinpoints the flaw of colonizers who always despise their subjects. He refutes the mindset of colonizers. Also, he seems of the view that everyone has a kind spark inside. It is unjust to treat anyone on the basis of color, caste, or creed. Those who do so are themselves evil.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITLE
The title of the poem connotes Orients. Gunga Din is a Hindi name that shows that poem is written upon orients. With that, the concept of colonialism also clicks into the minds of the readers. Hence, the title gives an overview of British colonialism over the subcontinent suggesting racism, prejudices, and exploitation.
STRUCTURE OF THE POEM
Gunga Din is written by Rudyard Kipling. It is an eighty-four-line narrative poem having five stanzas. Each stanza in the poem consists of seventeen lines. Moreover, the poem follows a loose rhyming scheme i-e, AABCCBDDEFFEFFGGF. Likewise, one can find Kipling has used a great deal of slang.
Kipling has used the following poetic devices:
The alliteration occurs in the fifth line of the first stanza. For instance, “You will do your work on water”. In this line, will work and water is used hence the word starting from “w” occurs repeatedly.
In the same manner, alliteration occurs in the fourteenth line of the first stanza “You limpin’ lump”. Similarly, in the second line of the third stanza alliteration can be seen, for instance, “longest day was done”.
Enjambment can be seen between the first and second lines of the fourth stanza “I shan’t forgit the……be’ind the fight”. In this example, the first line reader is forced to move towards the next line.
Similarly, enjambment can be found in the seventh and eighth lines of the fifth stanza. For instance, “So I’ll meet ‘im….. where ‘e is gone”. In this example, the reader by reading the first line jumps to the second immediately without a pause.
One can find the repetition of the name Gunga Din in the poem occurring frequently at the end of multiple lines.
Kipling has used incredible imagery in the poem. At first, Kipling described the appearance of Gunga Din by saying that he carries “twisty rag” and a “goatskin waterbag” on his back.
Moreover, Kipling in the second last stanza of the poem picturizes the water which Gunga Din gives to the wounded soldier. He says “water-green, It was crawlin’ and it stunk”.
“Din! Din! Din” constantly appears in the middle of each stanza.
Kipling has inserted the symbol of water in the poem. Water symbolizes life as Gunga Din is also a water carrier. Moreover, when the soldier, the speaker of the poem, is shot on the battlefield, Gunga Din comes to the rescue.
The thing which brought life into his languid wounded body is water. The soldier was gasping with thirst and his wounds were bleeding. Gunga Din staunched his wounds and provided him with the only water he had.
In this way, he brought him back to life. As well as, the wounded soldier praised the water which Gunga Din gave him. He says though water is slime and green it’s the best drink I ever had.
EXPLANATION OF THE POEM
In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem addresses the audience. He tells them life is easy, one can drink beer and gin easily whenever they won’t unless they are not on the battlefield. Here, one can see the speaker reminiscences about the golden days of his past.
Further on, he shares his harsh experience of being a soldier and on the battlefield. He says unlike past days there are no such drinks available nor is there any time to relax.
The speaker seems to be saying that he needs to be alert every time he is present in the place where “slaughter” takes place.
The word “slaughter” in the first stanza represents the battlefield. Moreover, in the fifth line, he talks about water which is the only drink available there. He addresses the readers that all pleasures of the past have now gone like gin and beer. All pleasurable drinks are gone and they only have to submit on water.
Further on, in the seventh line, the speaker indicates the place where he is present. The speaker has told the poem in a dialect which makes the poem hard to interpret. He uses the word
“Injia” which refers to India where the speaker of the poem is appointed to serve.
Moreover, in the ninth line, the speaker of the poem makes his identity and purpose clear to the audience. He along with his other comrades is appointed in India by the Queen’s command. This throws light on the colonialism of Britain on the subcontinent.
In the last lines of the stanza, the speaker describes the water carrier on whom while the poem is written. The speaker uses derogatory language for Indian people and Gunga Din in particular. He describes him as a member of “blackfaced crew” pinpointing a sense of superiority over them.
Then, the speaker represents the misery of Gunga Din and how he was mistreated at the hands of soldiers. Despite the good service, he was providing to soldiers, they always take out their anger and frustration on him. They beat, scold and insult him by calling him improper names like “limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust” and “Squidy-nosed old idol”
In this stanza, the speaker comes up with more descriptions of Gunga Din. He tells his audience that Gunga Din does not have any uniform nor does he possess any specific equipment to serve his job properly. Rather, he has “
piece o’ twisty rag” and “a goatskin water-bag”. These are the things he finds himself not provided by anyone.
The speaker seems to recollect the memories of Gunga Din. He remembers how on hot days everyone gets thirsty and suffered from the hot rays of the sun. There Gunga Din was needed the most. Everyone shouts to him to bring water.
He would move as fast as he could to fetch water for all of them. But still, all he could receive in return was the mortification. They mistreated him called him an “eathen” or “heathen”. Also, they threatened him with violence and beats him.
In this stanza, the speaker says that no matter how harsh circumstances are Gunga Din would always be present to provide his service. Moreover, the speaker praises Gunga Din for being courageous.
He says he would walk onto the battlefield being fearless. He was not afraid of bullets and fighting rather he stood there to provide his help who needed it. Gunga Din was always present fifty paces behind the soldiers in order to bring water if anyone needed it.
Moreover, in the middle of the stanza, the speaker seems to be using a racist tone. It appears when he says
“dirty hide” which refers to his appearance. This provides a glimpse of the prejudice of Kipling for orients.
However, in the very next line, he compliments Gunga Din for being white (pure) inside. This shows the quality of Gunga Din’s character.
Then he depicts the helping Gunga Din on the battlefield. He says when soldiers got surrounded by gunfire and their cartridges ran out they shouted for Gunga Din. Though his job was to bring water he provided every sort of help in those bad times.
In this stanza, the speaker demonstrates the incident that changed his viewpoint regarding Gunga Din. He tells the audience the act of kindness that Gunga Din had done. He says that night is unforgettable for him when he was shot on the battlefield and he laid on the ground being wounded.
At that time, he was gasping and mad with thirst. The first person who helped him in that hard time on the battlefield was Gunga Din.
He didn’t overlook the speaker’s miseries and took revenge for the mistreatment he did to Gunga Din. Gunga Din despite those harsh things that the speaker had done to him came forward to help. He lifts the soldier’s head with a smile trying to give him courage and staunches his wounds. Then he gave him the only water he had to end his thirst.
Moreover, at that time, the speaker for the first time showed gratitude towards Gunga Din. Also, he realized the goodness inside of him. Though the water was not proper for drinking, he drank it anyway. In this way, he showed his gratitude, and also his life was saved.
In the last stanza, the speaker tells the painful thing about Gunga Din. He says that he got shot while trying to save his life. Despite getting hit by a bullet, he carried the soldier to a safe place. He didn’t care about his wounds and life, rather he preferred helping the soldier.
Moreover, the last words before his death were even more painful. Gunga Din said to the soldier that he hoped he had enjoyed his drink. By witnessing such a kind man, who at first he hates, changed his perspective. He realized the unkind actions and dignity of Gunga Din’s character.
Similarly, the last line represents the future thoughts of the speaker. He expresses his desire to meet Gunga Din again to sit by the fire along with him and enjoy another drink. At this point, the speaker admits his mistakes and bad actions. Aa well aa, he declares that Gunga Din had always been a better man than him.
THEMES IN GUNGA DIN
In the poem, the theme of sacrifice can be understood with the help of Gunga Din’s character. Despite the mistreatment he received by the hands of the wounded soldier, he helped him. Moreover, he smiles at him to give him the courage to tolerate his pain.
However, in this process, he lost his own life. While helping him, he got shot and died. But even, before death, he made himself strong enough to take the soldier to the safe spot.
PREJUDICE AND HATRED
Throughout the poem, one can find the British soldiers’ prejudice and hatred against the Indian natives. They don’t respect the services of the Gunga Din rather they threaten him with violence and call him by inappropriate names.
Just on the basis of his nation, they despise him. Also, they created a bad image of them in their minds. However, in the end, it is made clear who is actually guilty.
Gunga Din is represented as the epitome of tolerance in the poem. The way he endures all the hardships and mistreatments and never complains. Rather, he forgets everything bad that has happened to him because of them. He comes forward to help even though he lost his life.
COLONIALISM AND EXPLOITATION
Kipling in the poem pinpoints the cruel colonialism of Britain over the subcontinent. He highlights the exploitation of the natives. It is evident from the description of Gunga Din that he doesn’t have any uniform. Rather, the equipment he has is not provided rather found on his own.
This description mirrors the exploitation of natives and their resources by the hands of colonizers. They took control over everything that belonged to the natives and claimed it in their possessions.
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