The Man Who Would Be King


Rudyard Kipling

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Contract Symbol Icon

The “contrack” between Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Dravot represents the strict moral code that Kipling believes is necessary to justify colonialism and imperalism. The contract requires both men abstain from alcohol and sex with women until they have become kings of Kafiristan. Both of these prohibitions carry significant weight according to a Victorian British understanding of morality. Carnehan and Dravot thus use their contract as evidence to convince the narrator that they are serious about their plans, explicitly connecting their morality to the legitimacy of their colonial aspirations. The contract also plays an important role in the story’s climax. Dravot decides to abandon the contract by taking a wife, but she is so afraid of her new husband that she bites him. When the people of Kafiristan see Dravot’s blood, they realize that he is a man rather than a god, which sparks a revolution that leads to Dravot’s death. Kipling thus ties Dravot’s failure to follow his moral code (as symbolized by the contract) to his downfall. The implication is that if the British Empire—which held control of India during Kipling’s writing—loses its moral authority, the consequences could be similarly disastrous.

Contract Quotes in The Man Who Would Be King

The The Man Who Would Be King quotes below all refer to the symbol of Contract. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Morality and Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Knopf edition of The Man Who Would Be King published in 1994.
The Man Who Would Be King Quotes

“Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that?” said Carnehan, with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of notepaper on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity—

This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth in the name of God—Amen and so forth.

(One) That me and you will settle this matter together; i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan.

(Two) That you and me will not, while this matter is being settled, look at any Liquor, nor any Woman black, white, or brown, so as to get mixed up with one or the other harmful.

(Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity and Discretion, and, if one of us gets into trouble the other will stay by him.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Peachey Carnehan (speaker), Daniel Dravot
Related Symbols: Contract
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

“There’s another thing too,” says Dravot, walking up and down. “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.”

“For Gord’s sake leave the women alone!” I says. “We’ve both got all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o’ women.”

“The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have been these months past,” says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. “You go get a wife too, Peachey—a nice, strappin’, plump girl that’ll keep you warm in the winter. They’re prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of ’em. Boil ’em once or twice in hot water, and they’ll come out like chicken and ham.”

Related Characters: Peachey Carnehan (speaker), Daniel Dravot (speaker)
Related Symbols: Contract, Golden Crown
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:
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Contract Symbol Timeline in The Man Who Would Be King

The timeline below shows where the symbol Contract appears in The Man Who Would Be King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Man Who Would Be King
Morality and Colonialism Theme Icon
Civilization and the Colonized Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
...Kafiristan. To show him that they are serious, they explain that they have signed a contract: until they are kings, neither man will “look at any Liquor, nor any Woman black,... (full context)
Morality and Colonialism Theme Icon
Ambition and Hubris Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Dravot tells Carnehan that he wants a wife. Carnehan objects and reminds Dravot of their contract, but Dravot says the contract no longer applies, as they are now kings. He says... (full context)