The Man Who Would Be King
Rudyard Kipling’s View of the British Imperial Empire
Rudyard Kipling is widely understood to be a strong defender of the British Empire. However, Kipling’s prose piece, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, reveals a deeper ambiguity about the Empire, exposing many of the flaws that lay at the heart of the imperial expansion. In this piece two men, Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, grow tired of the stagnant and impractical rule of the British colonies in India. Theyt off on an ill-fated adventure to become kings in their own right. Additionally, Kipling’s work ‘The White Man’s Burden’ also deals with the faults in the creation and governance of an imperial empire. However both works do this in very different ways.
‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is the story of two men, Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Davrot, a pair of uneducated adventurers, drunkards, confidence artists and blackmailers, who try to establish themselves as god-kings of Kafiristan. Kafiristan is described as the eastern province of Afghanistan, on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush Mountains. The two men have no legitimate claim whatsoever to this region but Davrot becomes king by declaring himself a god under the extraordinary coincidence that the masonic symbols on his robe match that of local prophecy and legend. However when he tries to extend his power to far by taking a native girl to be his wife, in direct defiance of the traditions and culture of the native people, the girl bites him and draws blood proving he is in fact not a god. The mini-empire is founded on deceit; and once Davrot is revealed to be ”neither God nor Devil, but a man”, he is attacked and eventually killed by the native people. Kipling’s view here is that a direct invasion of a native-foreign culture for the sole purpose of ruling, subjugating, and exploitation is never a good thing and is doomed to fail. Daniel and Peachy were not trying to elevate their subjects, nor were they trying to better them or their situation; but merely sought personal wealth and gain as seen in the following quote, “The country isn’t half worked out because they that governs it won’t let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can’t lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that without all the Government saying—‘Leave it alone and let us govern.’ Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away to some other place where a man isn’t crowded and can come to his own… we are going away to be Kings.” This is coming on the tail of a discussion by Daniel and the narrator-a representation of Kipling himself- about how petty work and governance of the British Empire doesn’t allow a man to build wealth.
The two view empire as a means of generating personal wealth, not as an exercise in political, social and cultural development. It could perhaps be argued that it is this quality that makes Peachey and Davrot unfit to rule and leads ultimately to their downfall. Had their intentions been less altruistic, they would not have lied and set themselves up as gods, but as leaders who wished to better the people. Instead they ruled by fear and subjection, as did the British Empire. They set themselves up for downfall when their lie was exposed. In the same way, the real-life British Imperialist tendencies almost always fell apart as the surface altruism fell away under the typical need to subjugate and exploit native peoples.
By contrast, ‘The White Man’s Burden’ is a call to the “White Man” at the center of the empire to bring civilization and education to the natives of the conquered populations of the Empire. [The purposes of empire is so the white man, the civilized British Empire, came to work for the welfare of the peoples of the conquered inductions of the empire, but should expect no thanks for his efforts.]-reword In fact, he can expect to be met with resistance and resentment from the “silent, sullen peoples” whose situation he works to better. ‘The White Man’s Burden’ is the act of building an empire as a noble service, bringing the benefits of the enlightened people-namely the British Empire-to the uncivilized masses. It is by that measure that Peachy and Daniel, an allusion for the Imperialist British Empire, fail. Peachy and Daniel seek to build their empire for altruistic reasons and pay the price when their altruism erodes away. The British Empire often viewed the native people and ignorant and stupid, as by some measure less that human. This was paralleled by Peachy and Daniel as they built their empire. But after some time was spent with the natives Peachy and Daniel realized they were, in fact, people with ideas and opinions, saying that, “They are Englishmen, these people” which incidentally is in of itself a racist statement. This shows how the natives are thought of as subhuman and how the only true measure of humanity is whether or not they are an “Englishmen.”
In “The Man Who Would Be King’ and in ‘The White Man’s Burden’, Kipling deals with the rise and fall of an empire created for altruistic purposes and the burden placed on the creators of the empire, whom Kipling believes must suffer in order to improve the lives of the subjects of the empire. Kipling goes so far as to acknowledge the “blame” and “hate” of “those ye better”. He references the natives hate for the occupational forces of Britain despite how they are supposedly trying to better them, a phenomenon he must have been well aware of having lived in India most of his life. Together, these texts paint an unsavory picture of an empire built on avarice and pride, sustained by people who traveled far across the world only to fall victim to tropical diseases and who died thousands of miles away from home, and shaken by the anger of the people whose native lands had been taken over by foreigners with no legitimate claim to them. Kipling seems to have, perhaps unintentionally, created a strong case for the end of imperialism, despite his overt endorsement of the continuation of the existing European empires.
A Lethal Lust: Emotion and Downfall in “The Man Who Would Be King”
Beauty is easy to find within the basics of human nature, such as elemental love or the innocent playfulness of children, untouched by the world’s nastier truths. However, primal instincts held within mankind are not always as elegant as one would hope, for lust, greed and the thirst for power are capable of driving one beyond their better judgement. These very emotions present themselves within Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” and bring the downfall of Daniel as his lack of insight blinds him from an indisputable reality.
Though Daniel and his partner-in-crime Peachy successfully infiltrated the country of Kafiristan and built their statuses as gods, Daniel became lost in all of the glory. He, out of the two friends, became increasingly more enthusiastic to play out his role as the king. After a few months passed and he settled into his newfound position, he desired more than gold and glory; “The winter’s coming and these people won’t be giving much trouble, and if they do we can’t move about. I want a wife” (Kipling 105). In his eyes, the only thing that would make him more godly was to have a family and to raise a heir to his throne. Within this idea alone, many potential problems are present. The task of raising a family doesn’t just happen overnight, he would have to stay in the country for many years. In this time the people would watch him grow older, something that no god has to to worry about. He is too busy in the now to think about these such things. Daniel is so entranced by this idea that he even shrugs off the warnings of quarrel within the people from Peachy, saying, “A row among my people! Not much, Peachy, you’re a fool not to get a wife too” (Kipling 108). Dan, attempting to push the idea onto his friend, couldn’t see how getting himself a queen would be of any worry to his people. This merely represents the lack of knowledge the two had on the natives in the first place. Seeing that their entire presence in the country was improvised, they knew very little about the culture and societal norms within the country. They simply bit off more than they could chew.
Being simple cons, Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Davarot were already on the road to disaster when they intruded on a people they knew very little about. As Daniels reign grew larger, with his god-complex growing right alongside it, he got too comfortable in his position. When he requested a wife, the country’s inhabitants became distraught. Peachy even received direct warning from Billy Fish, a priest who was loyal both to his people and the two gods; “I can’t rightly say, but if you can make the king drop all this nonsense about marriage you’ll be doing him and me and yourself a great service” (Kipling 107). Billy, knowing the rights and wrongs in the community, would have proved to be the needed insight for Daniel to continue his rule undisturbed. The priest even continued to caution that,“There are all sorts of Gods and Devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and isn’t seen anymore” (Kipling 107). By this time, the reader easily sees the fear that a mortal-to-god marriage would evoke within the people of Kafiristan. Disregarding the warnings from friend and consultant, Daniel, blinded by his concupiscent urges, continues on with his plan.
The ceremony was held, and the King, who was very eager to find himself a prince-maker, happily ignored all signs of resentment in the crowd. Even watching the anxious girl walk up to him, Daniel ignored the clear hints of a problem; “Up comes the girl, and a strapping wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises, but white as death, and looking back every minute at the priests” (Kipling 108). As this sort of arrangement is unheard of in Kafiristan, the girl is terrified of her future, which to her did not look very promising. Dan would be aware of this if he listened to the warnings from the priest, but alas, he had chosen a different fate for himself. As the girl got smothered by the god, she did what any damsel would do when faced with life or death; “‘The slut’s bitten me!’ says [Daniel], clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood” (Kipling 108). Although it is bewildering that the two gods had managed not to bleed at all for several months whilst they led the country, in front of the a whole village is not the ideal place to be whilst proving one’s own mortality. This easily avoidable circumstance brings about the climax of the story, which is followed by a well-justifiable beheading and crucifixion.
Daniel and Peachy may have successfully convinced a whole country that they were immortal, and managed to be very fruitful whilst doing so, but the addition of desire into the mix brought their progress to a screeching halt. Caught up in a whirlwind of domination and excitement, one’s desires can easily blind them to all logic. Daniel’s inability to resist his human urges proved to be quite a lethal lust indeed.
Masonic Imagery in The Man Who Would Be King
Rudyard Kipling begins The Man Who Would Be King by quoting a phrase commonly associated with the Masonic Order; the story itself contains many Masonic references including the degrees, the forms of recognition, the overall Lodge hierarchy, and certain aspects of the initiatory process. But Freemasonry, which is sometimes known as the Craft, consists of not just the formal elements but also the shared knowledge, culture, and traditions observed by all Masons. These aspects of Masonic subculture, and the fact that the narrator and the two main characters are Freemasons, are vital to the plot of the story. This essay will provide background information for the Masonic terminology and imagery used in The Man Who Would Be King so as to provide sufficient context to allow a reader of the novella to understand the subtext. Yet the essay does not purport to probe any of the deeper meanings of Masonic symbols, to endorse or condemn Freemasonry, or to reveal information restricted to initiates. Nor does it provide any information about the Craft beyond what is necessary to understand Kipling’s story.
In The Man Who Would Be King, the two main characters Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnahan travel to Kafiristan, a fictionalized version of a part of northeastern Afghanistan once known by that name, and presently called Nuristan. Their goal is to make themselves kings of that territory. One of the ways they do that is by passing themselves off as having mystical powers in addition to their firearms. They find evidence that Freemasonry has been introduced to the local men in the distant past, but only up to the Second Degree. It has since fallen out of regular use and mutated into an almost cult-like practice. Dan and Peachey impress the local men with their knowledge of Masonry by displaying knowledge that, in Kafiristan, is considered to be not just specific to a higher degree, but proof that they are actual gods. Instead of correcting the misunderstanding, Dan and Peachey willingly use the Craft to consolidate their power, until one day Dan takes his arrogance too far and is revealed to be just a mortal man. The Kafirs immediately rebel, and only Peachey returns alive to tell the tale. To a person not familiar with Masonic culture or traditions, Kipling’s story is a swashbuckling adventure novel. However, from a Masonic perspective, it is a morality tale with a very predictable denouement.
The Masonic Order is an all-male fraternal organization established in the early 18th century but based on traditions from even older secret societies that may possibly include medieval trade guilds and the Knights Templar. In its present form, Masonry has a tiered initiation system wherein men pass through three degrees one at a time, with each degree of conferring additional knowledge and responsibility. A man may request admission, but he must be sponsored by a reputable Mason of the Lodge to which he seeks admission, so that the members of the Lodge may vote on whether to accept him. If he is accepted, his sponsor is held partially accountable for his future conduct, and he is initiated into the First Degree by means of a special ritual. The First Degree is followed by the Second or Fellow Craft Degree ritual, at which point he may be “raised” to the Third or Master Mason Degree, which is also a separate ritual.
There are a few ways by which one Mason can recognize another of his own degree or lower. These forms of recognition are secret, and one of the oaths a Freemason takes during each degree ceremony is to never reveal them to outsiders. They are given out during the degree ceremony and must be memorized, and before any Mason is allowed to see or hear any activity related to a specific degree he must prove himself by using these means of recognition. Kipling’s story mentions two forms of recognition: the degree grips, and the degree words.
Grips can be considered as secret handshakes. They are discreet enough to be done in public between two Masons who will appear to simply be shaking hands. But they are unique enough to not occur by accident, and each grip also has a response so that the man giving the Grip can determine whether the other is responding correctly. Each degree has a unique grip. When Peachey shakes hands with Billy Fish and receives the Grip, he recognizes Billy as a Mason of at least the First Degree. Peachey tries the Fellow Craft grip and Billy responds correctly, proving himself to be a Mason of at least the Second Degree. But when Peachey tries the Master Grip of the Third Degree, he gets no response. Accordingly, Peachey identifies Billy as potentially being a Fellow Craft Mason. So he asks of Dan: “does he know the Word?”
The Word Peachey is asking about is another form of recognition. Each degree has a unique word that, like the Grip, is secret. These words are not language specific, but common throughout the world to all Masons of that degree. Dan asserts that Billy knows the Words of the First and Second Degrees, as do all the priests. Dan has seen “marks” or symbols carved on the some rocks that correspond to some symbols associated with First and Second Degree Masons, and tells Peachey that the local chiefs and priests can conduct a Fellow Craft Lodge ceremony “in a way that’s very like ours.”
The phrase “in a way that’s very like ours” is a sign that Dan and Peachey are in trouble. They have stumbled upon people who appear to be Freemasons and who have some of the forms of recognition, but who are not actually part of a regular or recognized Lodge. Although they know and observe the superficial parts of Masonry, they are not necessarily aware of the significance of the words, symbols, and rituals they use. Nor are they necessarily bound by the same oaths or obligations as Peachey and Dan. Indeed, Masonry the way it is practiced in Kafiristan operates more like a religious cult. To the local “Masons”, the fact Dan and Peachey possess knowledge of the Third Degree is not evidence that they have advanced farther in the Craft (as it would be in any regular lodge), but that they are gods. Since Dan has been trying to pass himself and Peachey off as gods since they entered Kafiristan in order to get the local people to submit to his rulership, the coincidence appears to be a lucky break. In reality it is a pitfall.
The Masonic Order is a global body with members all over the world, but it has a somewhat hierarchical structure. The core unit of organization is the “Lodge”: a collection of Masons who meet in a specific location, frequently a hall or building dedicated to the purpose. Lodges are run by men known as “officers” who perform specific administrative tasks that correspond roughly to those performed by the officers of a business corporation. Lodges in turn are governed by administrative organizations that Peachey Carnahan and Dan Dravot refer to as “Grand Lodge”. A Grand Lodge is an administrative body that enforces uniform standards among the various lodges throughout the region and grants or denies applications to open or close a Lodge. There is also a Mother Grand Lodge in England that regulates the Grand Lodges in each part of the world. This interconnection and correspondence between Lodges is very important, because recognition by a Grand Lodge confers legitimacy. There are groups of people who form “irregular” lodges that purport to be Masonic but that are not acknowledged or recognized by the other Lodges due to serious departure from the traditions and principles of Freemasonry. A “lodge” that is not recognized by a Grand Lodge or particularly the Mother Grand Lodge is very likely to have something seriously wrong with it. For this reason, Masons are required to not participate in Masonic activities with outsiders or with “irregular” Masons from a lodge that is not recognized. Yet this is exactly what Dan and Peachey do.
In Kipling’s fictionalized Kafiristan, Dan and Peachey find a collection of polytheistic men who have radically different beliefs and priorities than their apron-wearing English visitors. Their version of Freemasonry has mutated over the years into something more like a religious cult. They were not given their degrees by any regular, recognized lodge, and are therefore irregular Masons at best and outsiders at worst. Accordingly, when Dan and Peachey participate in Masonic rituals with them, they are engaging in a forbidden form of Masonic activity.
Dan identifies himself as a Grand-Master of the Craft and asserts that he will open a Lodge in the Third Degree, to raise the local chiefs and priests to the Third Degree in order to appropriate their authority and cement his own. Although a casual reader might suspect that Dan might have some authority beyond the Third Degree, the text shows he does not. Peachey asserts that neither he nor Dan has ever actually held office in a Lodge. This means that Dan’s claims of being a “Grand-Master”, or his introduction of himself and Peachey as “Past Grand-Masters” cannot possibly be true.
An “officer” is a man who has specific responsibilities within a Lodge, sometimes having been elected by the other members of the Lodge. He is given enough authority to fulfil those responsibilities. The most senior officer in a Lodge is the “Worshipful Master”, who is elected by the men in the Lodge. After his term of office expires, he becomes a “Past Master” and in some cases may join the regional Grand Lodge. The head of the Grand Lodge is the Grand-Master. The title “Past Grand-Master” exists in the York Rite, but is not relevant to ordinary Freemasonry. During Dan’s first Lodge ceremony Peachey takes the office of the “Senior Warden”, who is the Worshipful Master’s second-in-command. There are several other offices through in which a Mason is expected to serve before he is considered eligible to be a Senior Warden or Worshipful Master, and there are always more opportunities for service than there are men willing to serve. Since both Dan and Peachey can read but neither has ever held office in a lodge before, for the two of them to take the most senior possible roles is quite arrogant.
Peachey is aware of the extent to which he and Dan are overreaching. He asserts that opening a Lodge is “against all the law,” because he and Dan lack the necessary experience and do not have an appropriate “warrant” from any Grand Lodge. Dan, however, will not be denied. He commandeers the temple of Imbra, sets Peachey to work making it look like a Masonic ritual space. Black and white checkerboard tiles are a customary decoration, as are seats for particular officers and specially decorated aprons. The Master Mason symbol on Dan’s apron matches a hidden symbol under a large stone in the Temple of Imbra. The fact Dan knows and possesses the secret symbol causes the Kafir men to believe that he and Peachey are not men who have reached a higher level of advancement in the Craft, but gods. Since Daniel Dravot has been trying to pass himself off as a god since he entered Kafiristan, he takes advantage of their credulity to seize temporal power and expand his authority throughout the region.
The English adventurers give each of the Chiefs and priests English names, and do not bother to learn their real ones. Billy Fish, for example, is a big chief in the first valley Dan and Peachey conquer. But the fact Dan and Peachey are willing to raise Billy and the other chiefs and priests to the Third Degree without knowing their real names is ridiculous: almost as ridiculous as trying to lead a Lodge without being able to speak the local language. Masonic rituals are always conducted in the language of the members of the Lodge. After a couple months in the country, Dan understands some of the language but does not speak fluently. Peachey never learns to speak to the Kafirs at all. He does not have the communication skills to convey anything really important, such as the obligations of the Master Mason.
Masonic Lodge ceremonies, including Degree rituals, have a large number of words in them. There is a great deal of information that must be transferred to the man being initiated to the First Degree, passed to the Second Degree, or raised to the Third Degree. His obligations must be explained to him in the clearest possible terms. To conduct a plausible Degree ritual takes a lot of memorization and practice. Although Dan and Peachey have passed through the Third Degree and knows its symbols and forms of recognition, they are also out of practice. Peachey admits that he has to “fudge” the Ritual and make it up as he goes along despite the fact he is serving as Senior Warden (a name for a role within a Masonic ceremony). He and Dan get away with it chiefly because the local priests are even more badly out of practice than they are. But the overreach is almost ludicrous, especially when they fabricate a Third Degree ceremony which Peachey admits is “not in any way according to Ritual” simply to raise ten of the most important local chiefs and priests to the degree in order to consolidate their power base.
The Masonic Order is what is known as a fraternal order. Part of the obligations associated with Masonry include the duty to treat all other Masons as though they are one’s brothers, and to render reasonable help in time of need, should the recipient deserve it. This is one of the reasons Peachey, at the outset of the story, asks the narrator for a favor “for the sake of your mother as well as mine”. Peachey suspects that the narrator is a Mason, and that he therefore has a brotherly responsibility to him to at least pass on his message to Dan at the railway station. This the narrator does, however his brotherly responsibilities to Dan and Peachey do not extend to helping them blackmail the head of a neighboring state. Just as biological brothers do not necessarily help each other break the law or avoid consequences for bad behavior, a Freemason’s bonds of fraternity do not override his religious, civic, or military responsibilities. Masonic brothers are not obligated to aid each other in illegal activity: indeed, the very first line of the story contains the phrase “if he deserve it”. The narrator understands the principle: once he has performed the favor requested of him by delivering Peachey’s message to Dan, his responsibility to the travelers ends. At no point does he believe that two vagabond con artists (who happen to be Masons) deserve his cooperation or protection in the form of silence while they embark upon their extortion scheme. Indeed, his responsibilities of citizenship and basic decency compel him to send an advance warning so that Dan and Peachey are intercepted at the border. In doing this, the narrator is acting on one of the core Masonic principles, which is a respect for the law and authority in one’s own nation. Although Dan and Peachey expect the narrator to help with, or at least overlook their illegal shakedown scheme, the narrator feels no such obligation as a Mason.
Freemasons are not required to agree with each other or support one another blindly. Within the Lodge, the custom of pax templi, or “peace of the temple” is observed: all disputes, including legal battles and political differences, are left outside. Discussion of controversial issues, particularly religion and politics, is forbidden. Because Masons can be found throughout the world, including in countries where Lodges cannot formally exist due to government suppression, it is not unusual for them to be on opposite sides in a war. Outside the Lodge, Masons are expected to uphold the laws and military responsibilities of their country, which may include knowingly fighting or killing another Mason in battle should he be on the enemy side. Although Masonic culture includes a sense of obligation to help people who are in need of aid including other Masons, should they deserve it, the duty to render aid is always superseded by a man’s greater duties such as the ones to his family, his nation, or his God. This is another area in which Dan and Peachey blunder: their contract that they make with each other requires that each stand by the other if he is in trouble. When Dan’s megalomania sets off a riot and outright rebellion once the villagers realize Dan is not in fact a god, and when Dan walks around talking to himself instead of running for safety to Billy’s village, Peachey and Billy then make a critical mistake by electing to stay with him. For this, the rioting tribesmen kill Billy and crucify Peachey.
One of Daniel Dravot’s most fatal errors is to suppose that he has a bond of brotherhood with the Kafir men that will protect him should they ever discover his deception. Although the Kafir men observe some of the superficial behaviors associated with Masonry, they do so as part of a ritualistic cult behavior, having blended Masonry with their polytheistic religion. When Dan is revealed as having lied to them about being a god, in Dan’s mind his lie is separate from his status as a Mason. The Kafirs make no such distinction. Even if they have sworn the same oaths as Dan and Peachey, and taken on the same obligations (which is not at all clear), once the Kafirs recognize Dan as an impostor god they take him as an impostor through and through: if Dan was ever a brother to them in the first place, he no longer is. This different style of reasoning is not at all what Dan and Peachey expect. They expect the Kafirs to reason as Europeans might, simply because they look European in their outward appearance, as opposed to having an African, Asian, or Arab features. Yet the resemblance is entirely superficial.
One might be brother to a King, but can a human being ever be a brother to a god? With the privileges of godhead, of course, come responsibilities and expectations that no human being can meet. One of the things expected of Peachey and Dan is that they know things only a god could know, including what gods should and shouldn’t be able to do. Yet two men lack even normal Kafir knowledge about how their gods are supposed to behave. They are unaware, for example, that there is a taboo against intermarriage with humans and that they are supposed to be invulnerable to injury. Peachey in particular feels his limitations, and is reminded of some “lost” knowledge of the Master Mason: facts or mysteries related to the Third Degree that have either been genuinely forgotten over the centuries or that never existed in the first place and that are spoken of merely to illustrate the limits of human knowledge. But if Peachey tells the truth—that the knowledge has been lost through no fault of his own—there is a very good chance that their carefully constructed illusion of godhead will collapse.
At this point, it should be obvious that Dan and Peachey are violating Masonic rules and traditions in many ways. They are also participating in Masonic rituals with irregular “Masons”. They have founded a Lodge without a charter or authorization, and have taken it upon themselves to raise men to the Third Degree without even knowing their real names. Had they done these things simply to promote Freemasonry or to help the Kafir men better themselves, their offenses might be excused. But they are not. They are using the Craft to commit large-scale blasphemy for material gain. Since all Masons by definition are theists and generally monotheists, and since one of a Freemason’s first duties is to his own God and religion, what Dan and Peachey are doing is inexcusable. Thus, while The Man Who Would Be King is a rollicking adventure tale for many, it is also a morality tale.
Harris, R.V. The Meaning of Masonic Obligations. Designs Upon the Trestle Board, Vol. 2, pp. 71-77. 1984. Retrieved from
Corrupt Colonialism in “The Man Who Would Be King”
The nineteenth century was a period of great colonial expansion for the British Empire. It was during this period of time that Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous novella “The Man Who Would Be King.” It tells the story of two British explorers in India who decide to travel to Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan, and become kings. Although many approved of the expansion of the empire and the colonizing of many natives in the Eastern parts of the world, people did not always agree with the methods and motivations behind the actions of explorers and colonizers. This story is a clear criticism from Kipling on the ills of the British colonialism occurring in India during this time, specifically the immorality of the motivations and methods of the imperialization, as well as a commentary on the problems created by the individual moral character of the men who would be kings.
Kipling, as a consequence of the time in which he lived, held many of the same beliefs as most of the Westerners that they were superior to those of the other countries and territories that they had visited and imperialized. However, in “The Man Who Would Be King” we can see that he did not always agree with their methods nor the consequences of these actions. Carnehan and Dravot, the main characters of this short story, are two adventurers who decide to travel to a remote part of Afghanistan. This location has so far remade untouched by the British Empire and they hope to use this to their advantage. They convince the local peoples that they are gods and live among them for a time content with the kingdom they have acquired. However, their greed and lust get the best of them and their mortality is revealed. As a consequence, Dravot was killed and Carnehan was crucified but survived and then was set free. He returned home in order to tell their tale.
This tale demonstrates the prevalent beliefs of the West at the time, that the indigenous peoples in many areas could be easily dominated and subjugated under the command of the British Empire. They believed that this would even be to their benefit. However, in “The Man Who Would Be King,” Kipling shows that the consequences of such actions are not always the best and that the intentions of the imperialists will often not be the most beneficial. When the men arrive to see the narrator, a British journalist in India, they tell him of their plan to become gods and he tells them they are being foolish—“You’ll be cut to pieces before you’re fifty miles across the Border…The people are utter brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn’t do anything” (1859). Just like the reporter, many people believed that the natives were unreasonable and wild. Carnehan and Dravot continue to expound their plan of how they will become kings and be rich rulers of their own lands instead of being under British Imperial Rule. Just like these men, the imperialists who began territorializing India and other Eastern areas did not always have the most altruistic intentions and only sought personal gain.
At first their venture was successful, they were able to come into power and lived for quite some time among the people. However, Dravot becomes greedy and lustful and wants to take one of the natives to wife. This gets him into trouble, it is revealed that they are mortals, and the natives to try kill them. This commentary demonstrates that although the British Empire seems to be having success in their endeavors to expand, if the individuals and leaders who are running things become greedy or don’t demonstrate the right intentions, things will back fire and cause problems. Kipling communicates this idea that if the two adventurers had been more focused on their people and being generous kings, they would not have been led to their downfall. Kipling was not opposing all types of imperialism, only the greedy and selfish leaders that had become prevalent in many areas of the East as the British Empire grew.
Like most leaders, in the beginning Dravot and Carnehan pledged to remain focused on their business enterprise in their contract that, among other things, said that they would not “look at any Liguor, nor any Woman, black, white, or brown, so as to get mixed up with one or the other harful…conduct ourselves with dignity and discretion” (1860). This, however, does not last and it leads to their downfall. Kipling helps us to see the importance of having men of integrity lead in these far-off areas of the British Empire, those who will stick to their obligations rather than being led away by greed and selfishness. This adventuring and profiteering type of man was prevalent in the British Empire because many felt that they could take advantage of the natives. Being a British journalist, Rudyard Kipling would have seen much of this and felt a distaste at the way the Imperialism was occurring and being handled by these men.
“The Man Who Would Be King” was a short story written by Rudyard Kipling to reveal some of the evils and downfalls of the Imperialistic attitudes that were prevalent among Westerners during this period of great expansion of the British Empire. Although many among the British approved of the expansion of the empire, the methods and motivations behind the expansion were not always seen as generous and altruistic towards the natives. Kipling demonstrates the problems and consequences of these attitudes and the actions of these types of men who took advantage of the natives they believed were so easily dominated. He uses this short story to give his commentary on the moral implications and the effects of the expansion.