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“The White Man’s Burden” by Kipling Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2021


The poem “The Wight Man’s Burden” written by Kipling (1940) in 1899 has been the subject of discussion by political scientists, philologists, and sociologists for many decades. The author’s message is interpreted in different ways, and those speech constructions that Kipling (1940) uses in his work provoke controversial judgments about the main motives. The essence of the poem lies in calling for the white race of the American nation to rally for the benefit of achieving lofty goals and helping poor minorities. Nevertheless, the interpretation of this work may be different, and by analyzing some of the concepts mentioned, it is possible to identify those significant ideas that make up the key subtext.

The Notion of Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism as the concept of interpreting the development of humanity may have different assessment degrees, and both the positive and negative features of such a theory can be given. When considering this term from the classical standpoint of natural selection and the struggle for survival, people’s progress and the desire for perfection is reasonable in the face of increasing needs and opportunities. However, the application of this concept to specific cases and historical stages can reveal biased and even severe consequences.

For instance, the policy of genocide may be partially connected with the theory in question since the extermination of certain segments of the population implies a step towards selection and division into classes. Modern capitalist laws are associated with competition in politics, business, culture, and other sectors. It is impossible to provide the most desired benefits to all those in need. As a result, social Darwinism manifests itself as the inevitable and logical course of development. Therefore, the interpretations of this concept may imply different assessment categories.

Kipling’s Motivations and Consequences

When analyzing the motivations and consequences that Kipling (1940) presents for undertaking “The White Man’s Burden,” the historical background of the poem creation should be noted. At that time, the United States was at war with the Philippines, and this work was the reflection of the mood that was typical for the American intelligentsia. The author’s imperialistic views became a key for detailed discussions, and ideas to rebuild the world against the will of others were accepted with enthusiasm by the representatives of the national democratic forces (Kipling, 1940).

Nevertheless, there is no claim that Kipling (1940) was a supporter of the policies of racism and the forcible conquest of the Third World countries through industrialization. Judging by the poem, his views concerned the difficulties faced by his white contemporaries since society imposed a significant degree of responsibility on the citizens of the country (Kipling, 1940). The need to protect the integrity of the state, create an industrial and agricultural base for posterity, and perform many other duties was considered a burden. Therefore, the accusations of radical views are controversial and can be the result of liberal-minded oppositionists’ interpretations.

Examples of Ethnocentrism

Although controversial opinions can be cited regarding the motives for writing the poem in question, some examples of ethnocentrism are observed. For instance, Kipling (1940) notes the duty of the white population to feed the hungry and give them peace. This position proves that the representatives of the American nation consider themselves those who are initially can help others, despite the potential ambivalence of opinions regarding the rationality of such assistance. Also, the author repeatedly mentions indigenous peoples who, according to him, are not able to cope with the transition to a civilized society on their own (Kipling, 1940).

This approach suggests that the American nation is one of the few that can educate and provide support. This position is ethnocentric, which proves the existence of such ideas in the poem.

Views on Civilization

While considering the true conditions of civilization, industrial progress cannot be called the only possible sign of a developed society. In the poem, the concepts of the half-devil are given, as well as the half-child (Kipling, 1940). The context of these names implies a tendency toward violence, confusion, and the lack of order. However, the indigenous peoples whom Kipling (1940) describes in the subtext were not as underdeveloped as they were represented in the work. In accordance with the author’s concept, they needed to be taught peace, work, and other aspects of good living. In this case, no achievements of the natives were mentioned, while the prosperity of American society was considered an axiom. Therefore, it cannot be said with certainty that the peoples that Kipling (1940) described in his poem were totally uncivilized.


The subtext of the poem in question allows speaking of the controversial nature of those views that many readers interpret as an obvious attempt to describe the complete uncivilization of indigenous peoples and American greatness. In the context of social Darwinism, natural selection is the logical outcome of social. However, the duality of the provisions of this concept can be traced. As applied to the poem in question, the uncivilized nature of indigenous peoples is a controversial statement, and American ethnocentrism is reflected clearly.


Kipling, R. (1940). Rudyard Kipling’s verse: Definitive edition. New York, NY: Doubleday & Company.

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