The White Man´s
Burden is a poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1899.
Kipling wrote the
poem after the American admiral George Dewey’s victory at Manila, and their
control over the Philippines.
Rudyard Kipling was
an imperialist, and he believed that empires could have a positive influence on
the colonized people.
The poem, is the
British empires mission, to spread the British culture and make the indigenous
people in India and Africa civilized, and bring them up to the same level, culturally,
as the westerners.
In the poem, Kipling reminds
the people of the imperial duties that the white men share. He thought that the
whites had a duty to civilize and uplift the rest of the world.
They also had a duty
to “save” the blacks from themselves and their surroundings, and therefore they
should try to implement British values in their countries.
It is described how
they had the responsibility to educate those who weren’t able to do it by
themselves. They also tried to stop famine and diseases, by offering them food
The white men were at the top of the hierarchy, so they thought that the
responsibility to care for other races was something that followed their
position at the top.
The main theme in the poem is race and discrimination. The whites are looking
at the people from colonies as slaves and less intelligent, and they don’t
believe that they are as human and mature as the white.
As it is described in stanza one, the whites think they are far above the native.
The natives were even referred to as “half-devils” and “half-children”, which indicated
that they weren’t developed yet, and they were uncivilized.
It´s also described how the white
felt that they were the slaves. In stanza four it says, “Go mark them with your
living, and mark them with your dead”.
This leads us to another theme “sacrifice”. Kipling wanted us to feel sympathy
for the white, because they were the ones who did the hard work, even though
the job wasn´t glorifying and they weren’t getting the profit they wanted; In
other words, they were sacrificing themselves for the greater good.
Kipling’s message with the poem, was as I started with, to show the
positive influence the empires could have on colonized people.
In the poem, he tried to legitimize colonialism as something great, and not
that the whites were colonizing these regions for their own advantage, but for
the development of colonies themselves.