The Man Who Would Be King

by Rudyard Kipling
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Last Updated on August 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

"I ask you as a stranger—going to the West," he said with emphasis.

 

"Where have you come from?" said I.

 

"From the East," said he, "and I am hoping that you will give him the message on the Square—for the sake of my Mother as well as your own."

This exchange between the unnamed narrator and the stranger on the train—later identified as Peachy Carnehan—is a reference to Freemasonry, a fraternal organization the author, Rudyard Kipling, was a member of and regularly frequented. Masons pledge to help one another in times of need, and Carnehan’s coded request appeals to the narrator’s Masonic membership. By citing this pledge, Carnehan subtly identifies himself as a Mason and checks to see if the narrator is also a member. These specific words come from the Third Degree in Masonic ritual, in which an initiate states that he is traveling West in search of the secrets of Masonry. The story is littered with Masonic references and imagery. Indeed, the rituals and structure of the organization even play a significant role in the plot. Many of the natives of Kafiristan are Masons, a fortuitous fact Dravot and Carnehan exploit as they rise in power.

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We shall be Emperors—Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I'll treat with the Viceroy on equal terms.

Here, we can see a snippet of Dravot's ambition. No longer does he plan on just using the people of Kafiristan to get rich. Now he sees himself as the leader of an empire with great potential, perhaps capable of equaling England. He envisions himself rising in station to the point where he is equal with the world's great leaders. When we first meet Dravot and Carnehan, they are simple con men. The validation of the people of Kafiristan and delusions of grandeur have worked their way into Dravot's mind to birth the arrogance that will be his ultimate downfall.

Neither God nor Devil but a man!

After seeing the blood flowing from Dravot's neck, a Kafiri priest utters this shocking exclamation. This realization exposes Dravot as a mere mortal human—not the god that he led the natives to believe he was—and puts an end to his ruse. The nation erupts, and a mad dash to escape ensues, ending in the death of Dravot. Even though he is exposed as a charlatan, Dravot dies standing proud like the king he wished to be—and briefly was.

 

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