“White Man’s Burden” Analysis and how it displays European attitude to Imperialism

by Isaac

In “White Man’s Burden,” it is not clear the point of view of the author, Rudyard Kipling, on imperialism, but there are definite examples displaying broader attitudes toward it from throughout Europe. In the first stanza, the author speaks of leaving your sons and going off to complete the duty that you have been given, and catch the half-humans that roam about Africa. This could be seen as a glory thing, where imperialism and what it represents is an honor to participate in. In the second stanza it displays what is said to be the proper show of dignity when a man has to “check his show of pride.” This implies that those whom he is speaking to are not at the level of prowess as he, and he needs to be mindful of that. After the author states, “By open speech and simple,” which to me means that it is understood that the people that the Europeans made contact with in Africa are not educated, so they need to stoop down to their level of language to be understood. While not every stanza is going to be analyzed, there are a few selections that portray obvious European views of imperialism. In the third stanza, “and bid the sickness cease,” refers to what the Europeans thought of African life before they came to colonize them. Their lives were nothing but a sickness. This is a promoting view of imperialism. In conclusion at the end of the poem, “Take up the White Man’s burden! Have done with childish days- The lightly proffered laurel, The easy ungrudged praise.” In these final lines it is clearly shown that Europeans were for imperialism because it brought them praise back home, it was relatively easy, and it gave them status as men in the society.

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Information and sources:

Class notes and analysis of the poem

Unknown. “Kipling, the ‘White Man’s Burden,’.” Global Policy Forum. Global Policy Forum, 1 Nov. 2003. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/155/25970.html>.
Unknown. “The White Man’s Burden and the Person Sitting in Darkness.” Assumption.edu. 3 Feb. 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <http://www1.assumption.edu/users/mcclymer/His130/P-H/burden/default.html>.
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11 Responses to ““White Man’s Burden” Analysis and how it displays European attitude to Imperialism”

  1. Grace Galazan says:

    I did my blog on this as well and i agree. Expanding on what you said about the “half humans” really shows how they viewed the people they were trying to “educate.” He refers to them as “half devil, half child” I think that really gives an overview on how the his views will be skewed because of his generalization of the societies. He just has not been exposed to what they find normal so it seems devilish and childish to him. He is looking at their lives from an outsiders point of view.

  2. Isaac says:

    I like the “outsiders point of view” you just said. If you take a look at some of the political cartoons I posted, you can see an interpretation of Europeans carrying the natives, as if they were helping them by conquering them. I find that ironic

  3. The White Man’s Burden is a great poem to show what Europeans thought of imperialistic rule. Clearly in this poem it wasn’t just about civilizing the non-Europeans, but also gave them a status that was highly respected of. One of the key aspects of imperialism was to colonize the other people but they were also praised for it.

  4. sfoley says:

    Kipling actually traveled widely in Asia and had contact with the people he described, but I do agree that his “outsider” perspective persisted. It may be interesting to check out Edward Said’s (an NMH alumnus) illustration of Orientalism, which describes the consequences of caricatured depictions of easterners:

  5. Isaac says:

    Yes, I agree with you Nawara. Like we read about as well as discussed in class, conquering unsettled and undeveloped territories was a way of achieving prowess. Good point.

  6. cfornaris14 says:

    In your blog i like how you narrowed down the meaning of the first few stanzas and then gave an overall description of the poem. In your description of the first stanza, when you say half humans the author is talking about the African natives and is describing them as “Half Devil” and “Half Child”

  7. szheng14 says:

    I like how you break into lines to explain the poem “White Man’s Burden” specifically. It really help me to understand better. Nice job.

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