What a story is about on the surface is not what it is necessarily about on the inside with the use of metaphors. When a story uses two levels of meaning such as this it is called an allegory, and is useful when writers want to make a comparison by using representation and symbolism such as in John Bunyan's “The Pilgrim's Progress”. In it Bunyan uses a simple wicket gate to actually mean spiritual enlightenment and even heaven (depending on interpretation). Similarly, in "Below the Mill Dam" Kipling successfully uses a traditional English water mill with a cat and a rat to be a deeper commentary on the nature of change.
On the surface this seemingly bizarre story is about an English Black Rat, a Grey Cat, an old Mill Wheel and the water it is employed with; all of whom speak to each other. The story begins one evening with the wheel constantly quoting the Domesday Book’s Latin verses. The Domesday Book, which was completed in 1086, listed all the possessions of everybody in England. The Black English Rat is introduced as a smug, high class figure as Kipling wrote, “… the Black Rat [sat] on the cross-beam, luxuriously trimming his whiskers… [and said] ‘I am not above appreciating my position and all it means’
The Black Rat, who"tms breed we are told in the book is "rapidly diminishing" (80) is a representation of old men stuck up on the ways of old, and who damn change and it"tms ramifications. As the story proceeds and characters evolve, the Mill and the Wheel change with the introduction of (at that point) modern technology such as light bulbs and turbines to increase efficiency. These characteristics set the stage for the changes that were to take place. However it embraces the new technology available and as a result is far happier; " "Come along! It"tms both gears this evening,"tm said the wheel, kicking joyously in the first rush of the icy stream" (88). This new age was well worth it for those who were willing to change their ways, "The Industrial Revolution brought with it an increase in population and urbanization, as well as new social classes" (Gerhard). Latin itself is a dead language, and decreasing the use of quotes from the Domesday Book is a simple comparison of the death of the language the Wheel is quoting and the death in the old technologies used at the beginning of the tale. The cat is introduced as a similar character to that of the Black Rat although a little more relaxed, "" said the Grey Cat, coiled up on a piece of sacking" (80). Kipling has constructed an intricate and insightful piece of allegory with "Below the Mill Dam". In stark contrast is the Wheel, who at first was adverse to change, "Why - why why - it only means more work for me!" (85). With the steep rate of change during the industrial revolution from the 1600"tms to 1800"tms, this sort of behaviour was not sustainable. As change and evolution flowed across the English countryside it drowned those who would not accept it, hence the death of the Black Rat. "Below the Dam Mill" suggests to the reader that if you accept this fact like the Wheel did, then you will achieve much more than the dead Black Rat, who did not want to change. They can never keep it up, you know" (85). The Latin spoken by the Wheel from the Domesday Book drops off heavily as the story comes to an end.