What can be said about the theme of conquest in The Man Who Would Be King?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the theme of conquest is of primary importance to the Kipling novella.  The idea that Carnehan and Dravot set out to "conquer" a country is a part of this.  They do not seek to go to another country in the desire to find a home, or to even settle down in their own sensibilities.  Rather, they actively seek to conquer a nation.  Conquest is the reason why Dravot ascends to being a divine- like ruler of the nation and why Carnehan becomes the leader of the nation's military.  The narrative is one in which the desire to appropriate the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity becomes the essence of conquest.  The men seek to construct their own bases of power in the world through taking over another people's land.  This becomes part of the statement about the nature of Imperialism, something with which Kipling had first- had experience.  Dravot and Carnehan seek to conquer a nation or a group of people.  The story depicts how this self- interested desire for conquest can prove to be destructive, a reality that might exist outside of the scope of reality for those whose dreams are rooted in such a shallow firmament.

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