Feminist and New Historicist Readings of Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King"
Feminist and new historicist readings of “The Man Who Would Be King” merge well with their analyses of the Anglo-Indian social taboo of miscegenation, and with their discussions of stereotypes of natives and native women. Both viewpoints analyze how Kipling’s British India is vital to varied readings of the story and allow for multiple interpretations because of the story’s inherent ambiguity.
However, a new historicist reading of “The Man Who Would Be King” is more plausible because it focuses on historical and social backgrounds of nineteenth-century British India, of which Kipling was an intimate part as Britain’s “national” poet and spokesman of empire. A feminist reading of his story reads too much into authors’ homoerotic tendencies. Feminist criticism has produced similar homoerotic tendencies in the lives and works of such writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Herman Melville.
Although E. M. Forster, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, and others were homosexual, not every male writer was secretly so. Neither does misogyny in their work hide homosexual tendencies in their characters. Therefore, a feminist reading of the text is less plausible and palatable to heterosexual feminist critics (Guerin, et al 211-12).
Critics are still reluctant to merge feminist, new historicist, and postcolonial readings of Kipling’s Indian fiction (McBratney pars. 17-21). Feminist critics see misogyny and subjection of both Anglo-Indian and native women, but not the subjection of women who are also natives. New historicist and postcolonial critics see natives as the “Other,” but fail to analyze native women as the “Other.” Still, feminist and new historicist readings of Kipling’s work are beginning to merge.
Female critics of Indian origin have begun analyzing Anglo-Indian literature from feminist, new historicist, and postcolonial viewpoints.8 Even feminist critic Elaine Showalter quotes Edward Said, the father of postcolonial theories, in her revisionist work on the fin-de-siècle canon. She states that “sexual and racial images merged in the mythology of the dark continent and the Orient,” as made evident in Said’s Orientalism (“Apocalyptic” 71). Therefore, the future of a merging of feminist, new historicist, and postcolonial readings of “The Man Who Would Be King,” and likewise all of Kipling’s Indian fiction, appears bright.
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