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 his undoing, which seems to confirm the characters’ sexist beliefs. Throughout the story, then, Kipling’s portrayal of women is fundamentally misogynist: he presents them as an immoral distraction from the (manly) work of colonization.
To the story’s male characters, the well-being of women is of very little concern. The narrator complains about “Zenana-mission ladies” who ask him to write newspaper stories about their work. The primary goal of the zenana missions was to convert Indian women to Christianity; however, they also trained women to provide medical care to Indian women who could not interact with male doctors because of the purdah system. The narrator has no interest in any of this and merely considers the zenana missionaries a nuisance. Later, Dravot doesn’t care at all that his bride is afraid to marry him as long as she submits to his authority. When the priest explains that they are “a-heartening of her up down in the temple”—that is, helping her to gather her courage—Dravot simply says, “Hearten her very tender, then […] or I’ll hearten you with the butt of a gun so you’ll never want to be heartened again.”
Women are portrayed as frivolous and inherently immoral, and colonized (nonwhite) women in particular are portrayed as dishonest and sexually promiscuous. The women who interrupt the narrator’s newspaper work ask him to write stories about dances and print calling cards, tasks that he considers unimportant. Furthermore, Dravot and Carnehan’s contract, in stipulating that neither man should interact with any woman, suggests that women are somehow impure or morally suspect simply by virtue of their gender. Carnehan reinforces this idea when, as a cautionary tale, he tells Dravot about a past relationship with a Bengali woman: “She ran away with the Station Master’s servant and half my month’s pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband—all among the drivers in the running-shed too!”
In the world of the story, women are not only inherently morally suspect but also a distraction from duty and a source of weakness for men. The narrator says that paying attention to the “Zenana-mission ladies” would require him to “abandon all his duties” as a newspaper editor. Carnehan and Dravot’s “Contrack” shows that they believe interacting with women has the potential to distract them from their goal of becoming kings. Carnehan says to Dravot, “The Bible says that Kings ain’t to waste their strength on women, ’specially when they’ve got a new raw Kingdom to work over.” This is an allusion to biblical figures like Samson, who loses his strength because of Delilah, and David, who acts unjustly because of his lust for Bathsheba.
To the male protagonists of “The Man Who Would Be King,” then, women’s concerns and suffering are largely unimportant. Kipling describes a world in which men do the work of conquering and governing while women exist primarily as a temptation for men to avoid.
Women and Misogyny ThemeTracker
Women and Misogyny Quotes in The Man Who Would Be King
A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back slum of a perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed for command sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority versus Selection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse and swear at a brother-missionary under special patronage of the editorial We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent punkah-pulling machines, carriage couplings and unbreakable swords and axle-trees call with specifications in their pockets and hours at their disposal; tea-companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball-committees clamour to have the glories of their last dance more fully described; strange ladies rustle in and say: “I want a hundred lady’s cards printed at once, please,” which is manifestly part of an Editor’s duty.
“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.
“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.”
“The girl’s a little bit afraid,” says the priest. “She thinks she’s going to die, and they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.”
“Hearten her very tender, then,” says Dravot, “or I’ll hearten you with the butt of a gun so you’ll never want to be heartened again.” He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning. I wasn’t any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky.
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. “She’ll do,” said Dan, looking her over. “What’s to be afraid of, lass? Come and kiss me.” He puts his arm round her. She shuts her eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of Dan’s flaming red beard. “The slut’s bitten me!” says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his matchlock-men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo, —“Neither God nor Devil, but a man!” I was all taken aback, for a priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the Bashkai men.
“My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands; which he could have done. “An Emperor am I,” says Daniel, “and next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.”
“All right, Dan,” says I; “but come along now while there’s time.”
“It’s your fault,” says he, “for not looking after your Army better. There was mutiny in the midst, and you didn’t know—you damned engine-driving, plate-laying, missionary’s-pass-hunting hound!” He sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness that brought the smash.
“I’m sorry, Dan,” says I, “but there’s no accounting for natives. This business is our Fifty-Seven. Maybe we’ll make something out of it yet, when we’ve got to Bashkai.”