Do you think Rudyard Kipling's poetry is an apology for colonialism? Comment on the imperial roots of Kipling's poetry and support your answer with examples.

Kipling's poetry is not an apology for colonialism. He supports colonialism and believes the conquerors have a responsibility to “take up the white man’s burden” and help the conquered people whom Kipling feels are ignorant. Even if colonial rule leads the people to hate their occupiers, Kipling believes it is necessary for the conquerors to help the conquered people become more like their new masters.

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Rudyard Kipling's poetry, rather than being an apology for colonialism, is actually a defense of it. In his poem “The White Man’s Burden,” Kipling specifically implores people to “take up the white man’s burden” to help the indigenous people under their rule as a result of imperialist colonization of their nation.

Rather than conveying a sense of apology or contrition about the colonization, Kipling supports the occupation of other people’s lands and believes that the conquered peoples will benefit from the example that their colonialist rulers can model. The conqueror has a responsibility, he argues, to assume control of the foreign land and rule its population. This ideology, which appears extremely arrogant in reading the poem through a modern lens, extols the conquerors and posits that the conquered are childlike and ignorant and badly in need of a role model to show them a better way. In the poem, he even refers to the indigenous people as “fluttered folk,” “wild, “sullen peoples,” “half devil and half child.”

Apparently, Kipling wrote the poem as the US contemplated a military advance on the Philippine Islands. In fact, the full title of the poem is “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” He urged the US to move forward for the good of the native Philippine population. Even if the colonial people hate their occupiers, or as Kipling writes, the conquerors incur the “hate of those ye guard," he believes colonization is still important and necessary because the conquered people presumably are too ignorant to understand what they need and what is good for them. The superior knowledge of what is best for the conquered, in this case the Philippine people, is only known to their white conquerors.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 19, 2021
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