The Man Who Would Be King is a novella written by British author Rudyard Kipling, first published in 1888. The story is about two British adventurers, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who travel to a remote region of Afghanistan in the late 19th century with the ambition of becoming kings of a local tribe. The story explores themes of imperialism, ambition, cultural clash, and the consequences of unchecked power.
The Man Who Would Be King | Summary
“The Man Who Would Be King” is a novella by Rudyard Kipling that follows the adventurous journey of two British soldiers, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who aspire to become kings of a remote land in Afghanistan. The story is narrated by an unnamed protagonist who meets Peachey Carnehan on a train journey in India. The narrator encounters Peachey Carnehan, a wanderer with an educated taste for whiskey, on a train ride. Peachey shares stories of his past exploits and introduces the narrator to his ambitious plan: to establish himself and his friend Daniel Dravot as kings of a distant land. They decide to use their military expertise to conquer a remote and primitive region in Afghanistan.
Peachey and Daniel journey to Kafiristan, where they are initially mistaken for gods due to their advanced technology and knowledge. They win the trust of the locals and start to rule the land. With Peachey’s business acumen and Daniel’s imposing appearance, they manage to unite the tribes and create a functioning kingdom. Daniel, with his red beard and towering stature, becomes a revered figure among the Kafir people. Peachey manages the kingdom’s administration and revenue. They create laws, enforce order, and establish themselves as powerful rulers. However, their rule is put to the test when Daniel, in a drunken state, decides to take a local woman as his wife. The Kafir people consider it sacrilegious for a god to marry a mortal. This act breaks the illusion of divinity, and the people turn against Daniel and Peachey.
Facing a growing rebellion, Peachey and Daniel flee to the mountains. There, Daniel insists on taking a test to prove his divine nature by passing through a physical ordeal. He attempts to cross a chasm using a crude rope bridge, but the bridge collapses, and he falls to his death. Peachey is left devastated by the loss of his friend. Peachey returns to the British Indian territories, where he is arrested and sent to a lunatic asylum due to his apparent madness. He insists on the existence of Kafiristan and the riches they accumulated there. The narrator visits Peachey and is moved by his tragic tale.
Peachey eventually dies in the asylum, and the narrator reflects on the power of ambition and the consequences of unchecked desire. The story ends with the narrator contemplating the difference between the fantasy of power and the harsh realities of life.
The Man Who Would Be King | Analysis
The narrative is presented through the perspective of an unnamed protagonist who encounters Peachey on a train journey. Peachey Carnehan, a charismatic and daring figure, introduces the narrator to his ambitious plan of establishing himself and Daniel Dravot as rulers of a primitive land in Afghanistan. Their journey takes them to Kafiristan, where their military expertise and advanced technology initially grant them the status of gods among the local tribes. Through their rule, they manage to unite the tribes and create a functional kingdom, with Peachey managing administration and revenue while Daniel assumes a revered and imposing role.
However, the turning point comes when Daniel, in a moment of folly, marries a local woman, revealing his mortal nature and shattering the illusion of divinity. This act leads to the downfall of their kingdom as the Kafir people turn against them. Faced with rebellion, Peachey and Daniel’s friendship is tested, and they are forced to flee to the mountains. Daniel’s tragic demise while attempting a dangerous test serves as a poignant climax to the story. This event not only ends Daniel’s life but also dismantles Peachey’s dreams and ambitions. The novella concludes with Peachey’s imprisonment in a lunatic asylum, where he persists in recounting his experiences in Kafiristan and the riches they had amassed.
The Man Who Would Be King | Themes
The story explores the dangerous consequences of unchecked ambition and overreaching. Both Peachey and Daniel aspire to become kings of a foreign land, and their ambition blinds them to the potential risks and challenges they might face. The novella delves into the clash between British imperialism and native cultures. Peachey and Daniel’s attempt to establish themselves as rulers in Kafiristan highlights the arrogance of colonizers who believe they can exploit foreign territories without understanding the cultures and consequences involved. The protagonists initially deceive the Kafir people by posing as gods, utilizing advanced technology and knowledge to maintain their facade. This theme explores the power of illusion and how easily people can be manipulated by appearances.
The strong bond between Peachey and Daniel is tested as their venture unravels. Their friendship faces challenges due to their differing responses to the obstacles they encounter, ultimately leading to a tragic end. The story showcases how individual actions can have far-reaching consequences. Daniel’s decision to marry a local woman shatters the illusion of their divinity and leads to the downfall of their kingdom, illustrating the ripple effects of choices. The desire for power is a central theme. Peachey and Daniel’s initial success in gaining control over the Kafir people highlights the allure of power and the lengths individuals will go to attain and maintain it.
The novella touches on the concept of cultural identity as Peachey and Daniel attempt to integrate into a foreign culture and assume leadership roles. Their actions blur the lines between their British identity and the identities they adopt in Kafiristan. The story is marked by a sense of inevitability and tragic fate. Despite their initial success, Peachey and Daniel’s endeavor is doomed from the moment they decide to manipulate the Kafir people and deceive them about their divine status. As Peachey returns to British Indian territories, he finds himself isolated and estranged due to his experiences. This theme explores the idea of feeling disconnected from one’s own culture and society after engaging in extraordinary pursuits.
The novella offers a critical examination of colonialism and the attitudes of colonizers toward indigenous populations. Peachey and Daniel’s attempt to exploit Kafiristan mirrors the exploitation and disregard for local cultures often seen during the colonial period.
The Man Who Would Be King | Significance of the Title
The title immediately suggests the theme of ambition and the desire for power. It highlights the story’s focus on a man, in this case, Daniel Dravot, who aspires to attain the status of a king in a foreign land. This sets the stage for exploring the consequences of such lofty aspirations. The use of the phrase “would be” implies an unrealized goal or an ambition that might not come to fruition. The title foreshadows the eventual downfall of Daniel’s ambitions, hinting at the irony and hubris that will lead to his tragic fate.
By framing the narrative around the concept of someone aspiring to be a king, the title alludes to the deception and illusion that will be central to the story. It reflects how Daniel and Peachey’s initial success in Kafiristan is built upon the false belief of their divine status and kingship. The title captures the allure of power and the grandeur associated with kingship. It speaks to the universal human fascination with authority and control, which drives Daniel and Peachey to embark on their ambitious quest. The title underscores the centrality of Daniel’s character in the story. While Peachey is an important character, Daniel’s ambition and eventual fate drive the narrative forward. The title serves as a character-focused entry point into the novella.
The Man Who Would Be King | Literary Devices
The author uses foreshadowing to hint at future events. For instance, the narrator’s encounter with Peachey on the train foreshadows the larger story that will unfold. Peachey’s urgency to deliver a message to his friend in Marwar Junction sets the stage for the dramatic events that follow.
Kipling uses symbolism to imbue objects or actions with deeper meanings. Daniel’s red beard serves as a symbol of his distinctive appearance and eventual destiny. The bridge Daniel attempts to cross becomes a symbolic threshold between his aspirations and their tragic consequences.
The use of vivid imagery helps readers visualize scenes and settings. When Peachey describes their prospective kingdom to the narrator, he paints a detailed picture of the exotic land they plan to conquer, using imagery to evoke a sense of adventure and grandeur.
Metaphors are used to create comparisons and enhance understanding. For example, when Peachey talks about the potential wealth of India if populated by adventurers like him and the narrator, he says:
“It isn’t seventy million of revenue the land would be paying — it’s seven hundred million.”
This metaphor emphasizes the vastness of the potential rewards.
Allusions to historical and cultural references enrich the narrative. Peachey’s comparison of himself and the narrator to crows when discussing their uncertainty about their next meal is an allusion that suggests their lack of foresight or knowledge.
Conflict, a fundamental element in storytelling, drives the plot forward. The internal conflict within Peachey—his devotion to his friend and his ambition—creates tension as he grapples with the consequences of their actions.
Readers often know more about the characters’ situations than the characters themselves. When Peachey insists that the narrator deliver the message to his friend in Marwar Junction, readers anticipate the unfolding events, creating dramatic irony.
The story often places contrasting elements side by side. The juxtaposition of Peachey and Daniel’s initial success as divine rulers with the later revelation of their human nature and the people’s revolt highlights the irony and abrupt shift in their fortunes.
The narrative builds suspense by gradually revealing key information. The story’s structure—narrated by the protagonist who interacts with Peachey—creates a sense of mystery as readers are led to discover the fate of Peachey and Daniel.
The author uses dialogue and actions to reveal the characters’ personalities. Peachey’s ability to spin elaborate tales and his tendency to live on the edge characterize him as a daring adventurer.
Through this article, one can delve deeper into understanding the lives of these complex characters. In many ways, they are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who was also defeated by his own vaulting ambition. With that, the author also explores the concept of colonial entitlement and authority which makes this text universal. The article not only highlights the thematic probes of the author but also the literary devices that he has employed.