Last Updated on August 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562
The narrator, an unnamed newspaper correspondent, is perhaps a stand-in for the author himself; when "The Man Who Would Be King" was written, Kipling was also working for an Anglo-Indian paper in India. He is the main protagonist—even though he is tertiary to the main action—for it is through the narration of his experiences that readers access Carnehan’s story.
As the narrator serves as a go-between for the readers and the narrative hijinks of his two con man acquaintances, it is difficult to get a sense of his personality, for it is not well developed. He is devoted to his work and often stays late to ensure the morning news will print correctly and on time. Although he reports Dravot and Carnehan, it is not malicious and only done in the name of their safety; readers see that he is a compassionate man who cares enough for the well-being of strangers to inconvenience himself. Too, he is a Freemason; the story begins as the narrator references “The Law”—which he later reveals to be Masonic Law—which governs his life, and readers see that he is a man of “fair conduct” and delineated principles.
The narrator encounters Carnehan in the “Intermediate” car of a train. Immediately, he notices that he is “a wanderer and a vagabond” with an “educated taste for whiskey.” This offhand sentiment indicates the internal conflict that drives Carnehan and Dravot; they are dissatisfied with their lot in life and yearn for better. As he tells the narrator tales of his past adventures and dreams for the future, readers realize that he is a determined man willing to do nearly anything in the pursuit of his lofty goals. The two men talk further, and it becomes clear that Carnehan is more than he first appears; he is a relentless con-man who, despite his appearance, is cleverer than the narrator first expected.
After Dravot is killed, Carnehan returns to the narrator’s place of work. He is a shadow of his former self and verging on the cusp of madness, but he maintains the same determination and drive. Not only has he survived crucifixion and a year-long journey but he has returned with Dravot’s head, the crown “placed tenderly on the battered temples.” It is a grotesque show of care and sorrow, for he has carried his friend with him and treated him with the respect owed to a former king.
Dravot is the more creative half of the pair. While Carnehan plans and schemes, Dravot is the real actor. He fools even native onlookers with his mad priest disguise, and he first convinces, then endears himself to the men of Kafiristan. Dravot is a master con-man, for his charisma and confident showmanship successfully convinced the locals of Kafiristan is a god.
Like Carnehan, he is dedicated and ambitious, though his fantastical imagination often runs ahead of reality. He is a proud man, and it is his pride that, in the end, heralds his demise. Desiring a wife, he breaks his contract with Carnehan, a poor decision that ends in the destruction of his empire and his death. As his empire grew and his influence expanded, it seems that Dravot began to see himself as the all-powerful deity he pretended to be, and this arrogance led directly to his ruin.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506
An unnamed newspaperman
An unnamed newspaperman, who serves as the narrator. It is probable that this character is the author himself. With a journalist’s sixth sense, he allows himself to become involved in the adventures of Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan. Against his better judgment, he helps them prepare to seize control of the kingdom of Kafiristan. With his books and maps, he provides them with the information they need. Three years later, when Carnehan returns more dead than alive, the narrator persuades the horribly crippled man to tell his fantastic story, although it exhausts his last bit of strength. Out of a spirit of charity and pity, the narrator arranges for Carnehan’s care, only to learn that his friend died two days after telling his tale of wonder and terror.
Peachey Carnehan, a vagabond adventurer who risks his life to become one of the rulers of Kafiristan, a mystical kingdom that supposedly forms part of Afghanistan. Although he is a big man, he involves the narrator in his scheme by persuasion and not by intimidation. Although committed to their plan, Carnehan is far more cautious than Dravot and is determined to remain true to their contract, which forbids consuming liquor or becoming involved with women. Seemingly more interested in the business of governing and the mystic nature of kingship than in personal gain, Carnehan is disturbed by his friend’s intoxication with power, but he never wavers in his loyalty to Dravot, despite the latter’s fatal mistakes. Carnehan is an opportunist who exploits both people and events. He plays repeatedly on the naïveté of his subjects and uses his knowledge of masonic rituals to help Dravot control the leaders of Kafiristan. He is also a brave man who endures not only physical pain but also excruciating mental torture on behalf of his associate. Against all odds, he makes his way back to the narrator so that he can tell his story to a sympathetic listener before he dies. Crippled by the people whom he sought to rule and whom he deceived, Carnehan never surrenders his spirit or ceases to scheme. Only death puts an end to his career.
Daniel Dravot, a dreamer and soldier of fortune, the companion of Carnehan and the mastermind behind their attempt to seize the tiny kingdom of Kafiristan. Physically intimidating, this red-bearded giant ignores all warnings in his effort to follow his dream of power and wealth. Using modern weapons, he imposes his will on the superstitious people of Kafiristan, and although he brings them peace and a modest prosperity, he does not hesitate to exploit them. Rich beyond his expectations and endowed with almost godlike power, he decides to break his contract with Carnehan by taking a wife. His subjects turn on Dravot, who proves himself to be a lustful human and not a deity. Attempting to escape his rebellious kingdom, Dravot is captured, but he is allowed to die like a monarch, proud and defiant to the end.