As a soldier who has had a difficult life both at war and at home, Kip is a conflicted and complicated character. Ondaatje takes free license with Kip, employing him as a lens through which to explore Anglo-Indian relations during a period of chaos for the British Empire. Kip's experiences in India with his brother—who harbors deep resentment toward the West—and with fellow soldiers in England who react with reserve to his brown skin highlight the strained and skeptical relations between two parts of one large Empire. As an Indian man serving in the British army, Kip straddles two worlds, walking a fine line between adopting Western customs and losing his national identity.
Yet as a character in himself, Kip is complex and elusive. He reacts with warmth to the welcoming embrace of his mentor, Lord Suffolk, but shrugs off Caravaggio's hug as he rides away on his motorcycle at the end of the novel. Much of the emotional distance Kip has built for himself is a result of his incredibly dangerous job in the war. As a man who must descend into deep pits to defuse bombs that could explode at any time, Kip has come to grips with the idea of his own mortality. His job has taught him to distrust everything and everyone. In the Italian villa, however, Kip becomes a part of the small community that has sprouted there and begins to let his guard down. However, the news of the atomic bomb dropped on Japan, which he sees as a symbol of Western aggression, jolts him back into the reality that exists outside the villa. Kip returns to the path that was initially laid out for him, becoming a doctor and having an Indian family. Years later, however, his thoughts of Hana keep him tied between two worlds.