The White Man’s Burden: Analysis

by dbrager14

In the poem, “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling it shows that the European attitudes towards imperialism were negative. They considered the work a burden and thought that the Africans were savages. In lines 7 and 8, Kipling describes the Africans as “Your new-caught, sullen peoples/ Half-devil and half-child” making them seem like crazy, stupid devil people. Other lines describe the Africans as “sullen” and “silent” making them seem a little dumb. From the beginning of the poem, where Kipling writes “Take up the White Man’s burden/ Send forth the best ye breed/ Go bind your sons to exile/ To serve your captives’ need;” he makes it seem as it is a huge burden on the Europeans but that it is also their duty to help the Africans out. It justifies their coming intoAfricaand taking over all of the African’s lives.  This is similar to justifying slavery in colonialAmericawhile writing the Declaration of Independence. It is saying that certain people have fewer rights than others because they are less than human in that case. Later in the poem, Kipling goes on to say that the Africans not only are a little slow and savage, they are also ungrateful of the help that is being granted them. He writes, “”Take up the White Man’s burden/ And reap his old reward/ The blame of those ye better/The hate of those ye guard/ The cry of hosts ye humour.” His poem is very much in favor of imperialism and the supposed betterment of other peoples. The main idea in this poem is that even though it may seem bad or annoying, Europeans and other white peoples should go and educate other peoples even if they don’t want to be educated.

Another poem that talks about imperialism is “America to England” by Katherine Lee Bates. It takes a negative view on Imperialism by saying “Beware, beware that dim and awful Shade/ Armored with Milton’s sword and Cromwell’s frown/ Affronted Freedom, of her own betrayed!” I interpret this passage to say that even though the British talk of freedom, they go ahead and take over the people’s inAfrica. The whole poem seems to throwEnglandin a bad light. One similarity between the two poems, is how they view the natives. Bates writes, “Shall not Great England work her will on these/The foolish little nations, and appease/An angry shame that in her memory aches?” Calling the African nations foolish, she degrades them and makes them seem like they are children.

Two other poems that talk about imperialism are actually parodies of “The White Man’s Burden.” “The Black Man’s Burden” was written by H. T. Johnson two months after “The White Man’s Burden” was published. Johnson obviously feels that the Eroupeans are overly violent and are seeking to take over the world as is obvious in the line, “In vain ye seek to end it /With bullets, blood or death.” He seems to think that the black man’s burden is to have to deal with the Europeans as they try to conquer them. This poem takes a very negative view on imperialism. Another poem, “The Poor Man’s Burden,” was written by George McNeill a month after “The White Man’s Burden was published. McNeill says that the poor people in a community will not benefit from imperialism as the richer peoples may. He says that the poor people are pretty much like slaves. He is highly against imperialism because he believes that it does not allow people the freedom that they deserve.

This link goes to a video on YouTube that gives some examples of how the white man’s burden has affected our society:


Bates, Katharine L. “Americato England.” December 31, 2002.

“”The Poor Man’s Burden”: Labor Lampoons Kipling.” History Matters: The U.S.Survey Course on the Web. Accessed November 21, 2011.

“”The Black Man’s Burden”: A Response to Kipling.” History Matters: The U.S.Survey Course on the Web. Accessed November 21, 2011.

“Rudyard Kipling: The White Man’s Burden.” Poetry Lovers’ Page. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

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11 Responses to “The White Man’s Burden: Analysis”

  1. Isaac says:

    I did my post on this as well and I totally agree with what your first paragraph discusses. How the Europeans viewed the Africans, and how it seemed it was their duty to conquer them. However I interpreted the line about the binding their sons to exile to serve the captives, as somewhat of a duty, less than a burden. Because this expansion was so beneficial to the Europeans, couldn’t it be said that it would be an honor and a duty? What good patriot wouldn’t want to help their country? Calling it a burden however, to me, seems like a blow to the Africans by saying that the Europeans have to come all the way into Africa to help them. The word “burden,” seems to justify their cause somewhat.

  2. ychang14 says:

    I did my post on humanitarianism and it is related to this poem. I agree with Dominique that the Europeans regarded themselves as “more educated” people with better cultures as well as religions. I also agree that the Europeans thought that educating these “savages” in Africa would be their duty, at least that is what Kipling’s poem looks like. I think the Europeans used this “duty” as an excuse of claiming more lands for their own goods.

  3. sfoley says:

    These are great links to other poems! Very interesting correlations, and an interesting discourse on oppression and responsibility.

  4. Azz says:

    Since Mr Kipling wrote this poem On the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and, in the same time, when USA annexed Philipine. The question that could be raised is : The question can be asked is why Africans singled out those outrageous descriptions, while many nations outside of Africa under the control of the Whites? Is there a mention of the Africans in the poem? Iam waiting for a convincing answer .

    • sfoley says:

      Do you mean to ask why dbrager focuses on the way in which the poem applies to Africa? Mostly because we were studying New Imperialism and the Scramble, not because the poem applies exclusively to Africa. The White Man’s Burden applies more broadly to the civilizing mission European imperialism took on in the late 19th century; I don’t think dbrager’s analysis is out of line in applying it specifically to Africa, though.

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  6. chouchou says:

    i have a term paper would you help me in this poem
    kipling’s poem the burden of the white man has generated hostile reaction among third world readers (ex- colonised ) . discuss in relatin to the two other poems (harrison’s the black man’s burden;and johnson’s the black man’s burden) written in response to it .
    plz help me

  7. mustapha says:

    hey; choochou ;go and do your homework;or im going to inform dellal

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    great stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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