The Man Who Would Be King

by

Rudyard Kipling

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Themes and Colors
Morality and Colonialism Theme Icon
Ambition and Hubris Theme Icon
Civilization and the Colonized Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Man Who Would Be King, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Morality and Colonialism

Written during Britain’s imperial rule of India, Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” is essentially a parable about the moral authority of the British Empire. Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, two British men living in India, have signed a contract stating that they will abide by a strict moral code: they will not touch women or alcohol until they have become kings of the land of Kafiristan. Yet soon after becoming a king…

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Ambition and Hubris

Throughout “The Man Who Would Be King,” Daniel Dravot’s ambition is boundless. As soon as he achieves his lofty goal of becoming king of Kafiristan, he decides it’s not enough: he must build an empire as well, and ultimately pronounces himself both an emperor and a god. Ambition and hubris are what drive Dravot to break his contract with Carnehan (the two men had agreed to abstain from women and alcohol until they were…

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Civilization and the Colonized

In an attempt to justify colonialism, European colonial powers routinely portrayed the people they subjugated as “uncivilized” and, it would follow, deserving of (and even benefiting from) their colonization. A large part of this stereotype involved seeing colonized people as primitive, superstitious, and cruel. Despite Kipling’s critique of the British Empire’s moral failings, “The Man Who Would Be King”—written during the Empire’s rule of India—largely embraces this portrayal and so upholds the fundamentally flawed ideology…

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Race and Racism

At the beginning of the story, the narrator’s description of an intermediate-class train journey provides a succinct account of India’s racially stratified society under British governance. The British of Kipling’s world believe themselves to be racially superior to the people they have colonized, and they use this prejudiced ideology to justify their rule. Initially, Carnehan and Dravot’s insistence on the whiteness of the Kafirs appears to complicate this notion of the colonizer’s racial…

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Women and Misogyny

Carnehan and Dravot’s “Contrack” (contract) prohibits either man from interacting with women, which implies that women are inherently immoral. Furthermore, they believe relationships with women could distract them from achieving their goal of becoming kings of Kafiristan. Similarly, the narrator complains that the women who visit the newspaper office distract him with frivolous concerns and prevent him from doing his duty. It is also Dravot’s desire for a wife that leads to…

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