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The White Man's Burden

This study guide will help you analyse the poem “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling. You can also find a summary of the text.

Presentation of the poem

Title: “The White Man’s Burden”
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Published in: The Times
Date of publication: 1899

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1935) was a British journalist, author, and Nobel Prize for Literature winner (1907). Born in India, Kipling received his education in England. A declared imperialist, Kipling wrote a lot about life in India and about the British Empire’s positive influence on the country. While Kipling’s views and work became controversial as the social and political climate began to change, he is, nonetheless, recognised as a literary innovator for his short stories and children’s literature. Among his most famous works are Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), The Jungle Book (1884), and Kim (1901).

Excerpt

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Title

The title “The White Man’s Burden” suggests that the poem will explore certain difficulties that the White Man specifically has to deal with. The reference to the White Man further suggests that the poem will explore racial relations.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes what the White Man must do (ll. 1-8). This reveals that the White Man’s burden is to civilise native people by colonising them. The speaker also hints that this is a sacrifice – as the white people must send their best men “to exile” to serve whom he believes to be  culturally backward and wild native peoples.

This difficult endeavour becomes a burden in other ways, which are described in the following stanzas. For example, the White Man’s civilising efforts could be spoiled by laziness and ignorance: “Watch Sloth and heathen Folly/Bring all your hopes to nought” (ll. 25-26).

Moreover, the speaker states that the natives will not understand the White Man and will judge him and his ways: “The blame of those ye better/The hate of those ye guard” (ll. 3-4); “The silent, sullen peoples/Shall weigh your gods and you” (ll. 16-17). 

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The White Man's Burden

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