Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

The basic stylistic technique of the story is Kipling’s structuring it in a sort of parody of biblical history, complete with numerous biblical allusions. The purpose of these allusions is to give Peachey’s tale an externally imposed story framework, indeed the most basic and dignified story framework in Western culture....

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The basic stylistic technique of the story is Kipling’s structuring it in a sort of parody of biblical history, complete with numerous biblical allusions. The purpose of these allusions is to give Peachey’s tale an externally imposed story framework, indeed the most basic and dignified story framework in Western culture. Once Dravot projects himself into the role of god as king and thus assumes a position in the kingdom as the fulfillment of prophecy and legend (although it must be remembered that Peachey and Dravot are themselves the authors of their own legend), he is bound to this particular role. It is only when he wishes to escape the preestablished role and marry an Indian girl that his world falls apart. When he is bitten by his frightened intended bride, the cry, “Neither God nor Devil, but a man,” breaks the spell of the story world and propels Dravot and Peachey out of the fictional reality of their own making and back into reality again.

Peachey and Dravot are not so much two separate characters as they are double figures; this is indicated not only by Peachey’s references to himself as suffering Dravot’s fate, but also by the fact that if Dravot is the ambiguous god-man, then it is Peachey who must be crucified. Kipling finds it necessary to make this character split in his story, for he must not only have his god-man die but also have him resurrected. Thus, it is necessary to have two characters in order to create the mythic substructure of the story and still make it realistically plausible. Peachey is the resurrected figure who brings the head of Dravot, still with its crown, back to tell the tale to the narrator.

Kipling creates in this story a burlesque version of a basic dichotomy between two different kinds of reality—the real world and the story world. The narrator, who deals with real events, tells a story of one (Peachey) who in turn tells a story of fantastic events in which the real world is transformed into the fabular nature of story itself. Dravot-Peachey project themselves into a purely self-created story world, but once accepted there, they cannot break the code of the roles that they have assumed. When Dravot makes an effort to violate this code (their own “contrack”), the story they have created and thus the roles they have played become apparent as just that—fictional roles.

The man who would be a king can be a king only in the pretend world of story itself, and then only as long as story-world, or story-reality, is maintained. It is little wonder that “The Man Who Would Be King” has such a comic tone, for truly what Kipling is playing with here is not only the nature of empires but also the nature of story itself. If one wishes to read “The Man Who Would Be King” as a parable of the tenuous and fictionally imposed nature of British imperialism, then such a reading is possible, but only because the story primarily is about the essentially tenuous nature of the fable world itself.

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