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’ ” (Kipling 80). 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). These characteristics set the stage for the changes that were to take place.
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. The Black Rat and the Grey Cat are critical of these changes with comments such as “Whatever it is… it’s overdone. They can never keep it up, you know” (85). The story ends with the Wheel embracing turbines, the Black Rat being captured, killed and stuffed