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The King and I Plot Summary

Widowed schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, goes to Bangkok in 1862 to teach the wives and children of the King of Siam. She arrives with her five year old son, Louis, and tells him how she will face the dangers before them (“I Whistle A Happy Tune”). Her Western ideas conflict immediately with the Oriental traditions of the court. She is shocked to learn that she will not receive her own house, as promised, and later learns that the King accepts a slave girl, Tuptim, as a gift. Tuptim rebuffs the King’s advances (“My Lord and Master”), as she loves Lun Tha.

When Anna meets the King, she is angry and tries to share her complaints with him. He turns a deaf ear to her and brings in his many children (“The March of the Siamese Children.”) Anna’s desire to leave is diminished as she meets the children and mothers. She begins to instruct the children, their mothers, and occasionally the King about the wonders of the outside world (“Getting to Know You”), yet the King becomes troubled about what his children are learning (“A Puzzlement”).

Anna befriends Tuptim and lends her a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Anna worries that Tuptim and Lun Tha are meeting secretly, which they do (“We Kiss in a Shadow”). Anna vents her frustrations about the King and his feelings in her room (“Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”).

A shadowing crisis grows when an agent in Singapore discovers that the King is portrayed as a barbarian in the Western world. Upset by this news, Anna, despite her differences with the King, cannot bear to hear the King spoke of in such ways (“This Is A Man”). Anna apologizes to the King and he shares with her that some high-ranKing English men and women are coming to visit, including Anna’s old flame Sir Edward Ramsey. Anna suggests that the English are entertained in grand style, complete with a European ball and the wives in European dress. During this exchange, Tuptim and Lun Tha make plans to run away (“I Have Dreamed”).

Tuptim has been writing a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which will be presented to the English. When they learn that the English have arrived early, Anna and the wives stay up late to make the final preparations for the play. The anti-slavery message in the play is strong enough to abate the threat of a British takeover, but displeases the King. Sir Edward and the other English are convinced that the Siamese people are not barbarians, but are a cultured people. Anna and the King revel in their delight and he gives her a ring. The secret police arrive to let the King know that Tuptim is missing and Anna asks the King why he would care about just another woman. He is delighted that she finally understands the Siamese perspective. She, in turn, explains to him the customs of Western courtship and teaches him to dance (“Shall We Dance”). The secret police return with Tuptim and the King resolves to punish her. Anna tries to dissuade him, but he takes the whip into his own hand. As he goes to strike he finds himself unable to swing and hurries off. Lun Tha is found dead and Tuptim is dragged away.

Anna and Kralahome, the prime minister who brought her to Siam, agree that she never should have come. She gives him the ring to return to the King. Months pass and Anna and the King have not spoken to each other. She is packed and ready to leave when she receives word that the King is dying. Anna hurries to the King and they reconcile. He convinces her to stay and help his son, Chulalongkorn, become King. She takes orders from Chulalonkorn as if he were already King as he orders the end of kowtowing and instates a new order of bowing. The King dies as Anna kneels and holds his hand, and the wives and children bow and curtsey showing respect to the new and old King.

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