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Analysis: “The White Man’s Burden“, by Rudyard Kipling ©
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“The White Man’s Burden“

by Rudyard Kipling


The poem “The White Man’s Burden“, by Rudyard Kipling published in 1899, is a good example of the thinking of people from western countries in the age of imperialism. The poem shows that western society thinks it is its duty to integrate the colonized people into its social system because Westerners assume their community is better than the natives’ one. Kipling criticizes the ungrateful and stubborn behavior of the natives, who do not want to become a part of the western community and benefit from being “civilized”.

Kipling addresses all the Britains which are either not imperialistic or hesitate to support colonizing native peoples.

The poem has seven stanzas with eight lines each, written in an ABCBDEFE rhyme scheme. This creates a feeling of continuity. Continuity is also composed by the repetition of the first line “Take up the white Man’s Burden” and the stanzas, which each describe a problem in the relationship between the ‘White Man’ and their colonies.

I now want to have a look at the stylistic devices used in the poem.

By addressing his readers directly with “ye” (l.2), the author wants to get especially the attention of the colonists and the whole British nation to show them that it is their duty to civilize the indigenous people. Kipling understands it as his duty to prop the English-men, sending their people to their new founded colonies. In this poem Kipling also criticizes the behavior of the natives and describes them as: “half devil and half child” (l.8). This exaggerated antithesis emphasizes that the Westerners take the measure of the natives as naive, uneducated and dangerous persons. Moreover, the poet clarifies that the British people only want to help the natives. By personalizing the famine “Fill the mouth of famine” (l.19) he illustrates how the colonists want to better the lives of the natives and stop their hunger.  In line 29 the poet uses a metaphor to emphasize the hard work of the colonists, because they cannot just rule like a king but need to work as hard as sweepers. They also have many prohibitions concerning where they go and what they do, stressed by parallelism “The roads ye shall not enter, the ports ye shall not tread” (ll.29 f.) Kipling gives the impression of drama for the purpose of emphasis by using the antithesis “living and […] dead” (ll. 31 f.). Considering the rhetorical question “Why brought ye us from bandage, our loved Egyptian night?” (ll. 39 f.) one is led to think, that the indigenous peoples are stupid and foolish. Furthermore, Kipling underlines the racist view of the colonists towards the natives by describing them as “silent sullen peoples” (l.47) In the last stanza the poet requests the non-imperialistic Britains to help colonizing the aborigines.

All in all you can say that from this poem we can get an idea of the industrialized world’s perspective of the unindustrialized world and their role in it. They are feeling of needing to spread their better way of life. The poem stresses a very Eurocentric view of the world in which non-European nations are seen as demonic and childlike and need the help of developed nations to improve their culture. There is a strong message that the rich nations have an obligation to help the poor peoples whether they want it or not.

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