British Dominance in “The Mark of the Beast”
Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast” shines a light on the relationship between the British and the Indians during the height of the British Empire. He specifically focuses on the need the British feel to assert their dominance over the people they are trying to colonize. Fleete is an ignorant Englishmen who has little regard for Indian culture. As the narrator states, “his knowledge of natives was, of course, limited” (217). On New Years Eve, he consumes an exorbitant amount of alcohol and later in the night ends up committing a heinous offence against the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. The engagement between Fleete and Hanuman echoes the engagements between the British Colonizers and the native Indians. The statue of Hanuman is an important symbol of Indian culture. By branding that symbol with his cigar, Fleete is asserting his power over the Indian people by desecrating a figure that they hold in high standing. Fleete remarks “Shee that? Mark of the B-beasht! I made it. Ishn’t it fine?” (218). He views what he has done as an achievement. He does not see his actions as a serious offence; he sees them more as a triumph. It is an acutely British way to view his actions. Instead of seeing colonization as a destruction of culture and identity, he sees it as an achievement.
Kipling’s choice of Hanuman is also interesting. There are millions of Hindu gods and goddesses worshipped within the Hindu religion, but Kipling specifically choose to use Hanuman in his story. Hanuman is the monkey god. Monkey’s can often be perceived as wild and aggressive creatures, which is similar to how the British would perceive the native people they would encounter during the colonization process. Kipling uses Fleete’s treatment of the statue as way to showcase how the British treated the people they tried to colonize. He is blatantly disrespectful and shows no regard for Indian culture. He does not care about how important the Hindu gods are to the Indian people. He feels like he is more powerful, and his culture is superior, so he can get away with doing whatever he pleases without facing any serious consequences
The Silver man curses Fleete because he defiled a god and deserves to be punished. Usually when someone does something that they know they should not do, it is fair for them to have to suffer the consequences of their actions. The Leper is simply giving Fleete what he deserves. Both the narrator and Strickland know that Fleete is in the wrong; Strickland even refers to his actions as a “pollution of the god” (225). However, they do not believe that he should have to suffer for it. The suffering that Fleete does experience is a minimal amount. While his transformation was certainly an unpleasant incident, after the curse is lifted he has no recollection about the events that have just taken place. Fleete receives hardly any punishment for his actions. Like Fleete, the British were able to escape punishment for their wrongful treatment of the people that they tried to colonize. The British colonizers see themselves as untouchable from any sort of consequence.
The torture scene between the narrator, Strickland, and the Leper makes a precise connection with British dominance. The narrator sees the silver man as less than human and has no issues with inflicting pain upon him. He states, “thinking of poor Fleete, brought to such degradation by such a foul creature, I put away all my doubts and resolved to help Strickland from the heated gun-barrels to the loop of twine – from the loins to the head and back again – with all the tortures the might be needful” (221). He believes that the Leper is the one who deserves to suffer, not his friend, even though he is the one in the wrong. Referring to him as a “foul creature” removes all human traits from the Leper, and the narrator and Strickland are able to easily push past any guilty feelings that they may have about torturing another human being. This is similar to how colonizers felt about the native people that they encountered. Demoting them from human beings down to creatures makes it easier for them to get away with committing cruel acts.