Here are my discussion questions on “The Man Who Would be King”:
This story can be seen as a morality lesson on greed. What’s the difference between Dravot’s greed and Carnehan’s greed, and does it make any difference at the end of the story? What besides greed drives these men? They are greedy for a kingship, but what do they expect to get out of it if they aren’t supposed to drink or womanize?
The Kafiristan’s Nuristani people look European, and the two men claim that they are actually Englishmen. Is the appearance of these people the only thing that makes them seem English? Could this be racism, to assume a person’s goodness based on the light coloring of their skin? What affect does this assumption have on the story line?
Freemasonry plays a big part of this story. Not only do these two men go to the narrator for help because they are all freemasons, but the native priests have been taught low-level free masonry rites and are awestruck by the symbols the men produce. Does this book have anything to say about freemasonry? Or is it just a convenient plot device? And what happens to foreign symbols when they are inserted into a culture that doesn’t understand them?
The contract seems ridiculous, but in what ways do they fail by not following the contract? Do you agree that Dravot doesn’t break the contract when asking for a wife because he’s already a king? Should the third section of the contact have come up at some point? What’s in the power of a contract like this?
Carnehan says, “They were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan.” Does the love or fear of the native population matter in terms of the plot? Would it have changed anything if they were afraid of Dan instead? Which is better for a king, to be loved or feared?
The Bible itself is brought up as a reason to not take a wife, Carnehan tries to convince Dravot, as it “says that Kings ain’t to waste their strength on women, ‘especially when they got a new raw Kingdom to work over.” Do we know if that’s true or made up? Does this invoke any special curse? If so, does that mean that the expedition is blessed by god as long as they follow the rules? Or is all of this just so much coincidence?
When the natives talk of Dravot and Carnehan, they often say “Gods or Devils,” even though the Englishmen refer to themselves as just “Gods.” Is this an important distinction for the natives? Dravot is even referred to as “a big red devil.” Is it possible that Dravot is the devil the whole time and just doesn’t know it? How is their fate tied to religion?
They crucify Carnehan and then declare the fact that he lived a miracle. Is it possible that Carnehan is a Jesus figure? How does this fit in with the Gods and Devils aspect of the men? Does his miracle do any good for anyone?
The story ends with Carnehan dying after having lost the crowned head of Dravot. Why does Kipling put in the loss of the head? Does it add any meaning to Carnehan’s death? Is there a moral to the story?