The story was first published in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. See David Alan
Richards p. 17, passim.
A tragic story of a young man who had had a sheltered upbringing, and cannot handle life as a subaltern in India. He quarrels with his fellow officers, falls into debt, takes his colonel’s rebuke too much to heart, and shoots himself. He is found by the narrator and one of the majors. They concoct a letter to his people at home announcing his death – ‘of cholera’ – and attend to his very private funeral.
Some critical comments
The subject of solitariness – and the resulting breakdowns and suicides – was close to Kipling’s heart, as is clear from the plight of the all too sensitive ‘Boy’ who fails to be ‘broken in’ in “Thrown Away”. The Narrator and the Major have top concoct their great lie about The Boy’s death. As they bury him, the Major indulges in ‘awful stories of suicide or nearly – carried – out suicide — tales that made one’s hair crisp. He recalled that he himself had once gone into the same Valley of the Shadow (Psalm 23, verse 4.) as The Boy when he was young and new to the country; so he understood how things fought together in The Boy’s poor jumbled head’. Rudyard had been there too.
Kipling encountered many young officers during his time in India, and wrote many stories about therm. Perhaps the most successful of them all is “The Brushwood Boy” in The Day’s Work. See also “Only a Subaltern” in Wee Willie Winkie.
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved