Lispeth by Rudyard Kipling
In Lispeth by Rudyard Kipling we have the theme of class, love, acceptance, determination, change and innocence. Taken from his Plain Tales from the Hills collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Kipling may be exploring the theme of class. Lispeth has never been accepted as a true Christian by the Chaplain’s wife. She still considers her to be a Hill-girl or heathen. Despite being educated in the Christian faith Lispeth remains an outsider in the Chaplain’s wife’s eyes. She is someone who cannot be controlled and who does not think logically. Something that would be difficult for anyone to do when it comes to affairs of the heart and the Englishman. Who along with the Chaplain’s wife fools Lispeth into thinking that he will return and marry Lispeth. There is also a sense that Lispeth is very innocent. She doesn’t understand how the Englishman can’t marry her even though he has a relationship with a girl back in England. As to whether Lispeth’s innocence is inherited or natural is difficult to say. Though she has lived as a Christian for most if not all her life. She has no understanding of the ways of Christianity or English ethic.
Which may suggest to some readers that Lispeth though innocent is different to others or perhaps the power of love she feels about the Englishman is so overwhelming she cannot be logical. Something which would be very normal given Lispeth’s age and the circumstances she finds herself in. It may also be a case that the Chaplain’s wife is unable to accept Lispeth for who she is. She is a grown woman (of seventeen years of age) who is able to make up her own mind and is also determined when it comes to her actions. Something that is noticeable by the length of Lispeth’s walks. She spends the entire day walking unlike English women and is still not tired after her efforts. Lispeth is also a physically strong woman as she has carried the Englishman all the way home in her arms. It is difficult to say as to why Lispeth fell head over heels in love with the Englishman. She may have seen a vulnerability in him that she also felt within herself. It is also possible that Lispeth wanted to leave the care of the Chaplain and his wife and knew in order to take the next stage in her life. She needed to marry a man who could be there for her. Something that the Englishman was obviously not able to do.
The role of Christianity and the Missions in the story may also have some importance. Though connected with communities those who were responsible for the teaching of the native people appear to have deliberately isolated themselves from them. The reason for this may be because white Christians from England (and other countries) considered themselves better and wiser than the native people. Their lifestyle choices may have been more advanced but the reality is in the eyes of Christianity everybody is equal. Something which the Chaplain’s wife might be served well to learn for herself. At no stage of the story does the reader sense that the Chaplain’s wife is supportive of Lispeth when it comes to the matter of the Englishman. In fact she ensures that the Englishman lies to Lispeth. Which only prolongs the angst that Lispeth feels over her love for the Englishman. Responsibility for Lispeth’s actions after she learns the truth about the Englishman not returning lays firmly at the feet of the Chaplain’s wife. She took the softer and easier approach rather than allow Lispeth to grow emotionally.
The end of the story is also interesting as Kipling appears to be exploring the theme of change. On hearing that the Englishman is not returning to marry her, Lispeth takes matters into her own hands and becomes a Hill-girl again. Though some critics might suggest that this was a step backwards for Lispeth considering how her life turned out. Her husband beating her as an example. There is a feeling that Lispeth may have taken the more honest path in life. She also never forgot the Englishman. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that when Lispeth was an old woman and drunk. She told others of her love for the Englishman. If anything Lispeth has been let down by the Chaplain’s wife, the Englishman and the values of Christianity. She was a young woman who was experiencing the feelings of her early (or first) love. She deserved to be told the truth before matters had gotten out of hand. The Englishman should not have been as playful with Lispeth as she only interpreted this as a sign that the Englishman loved her too.