Rudyard Kipling: “The White Man's Burden”

(1899)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

“The White Man's Burden” is significant in its depiction of both the colonized and the colonizer. The poem is addressed to a colonizing nation. In the first stanza, Kipling calls on his audience to “Take up the White Man's burden— / Send forth the best ye breed— / Go bind your sons to exile.” He thus frames the colonizing nation as one making a great sacrifice and the colonial troops as being the best of the nation, being sent “to serve your captives' need.” He depicts the colonizer as a servant to the colonized people, which he describes as ungrateful “sullen peoples, / Half-devil and half-child.”

Indeed, the image of a half-devil and half-child creates a dual personality for those who are colonized, and it serves to justify different aspects of imperialism. The half-child portrayal establishes a need for a more knowledgeable colonizer to teach the innocent and ignorant colonized about life and civilization. This patronizing view...

Image for: Rudyard Kipling: “The White Man's Burden”

Illustration of Rudyard Kipling by David Schorr (Yale University Art Gallery)

View Full Size