If— Questions and Answers
by Rudyard Kipling

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Does the speaker warn readers to be careful in spite of his ideals? Give two example to explain.

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In this poem, an apparently older speaker offers advice to a younger boy, perhaps even his son (as the speaker refers to him this way in the poem's final line). The older speaker does, in fact, warn his audience, this younger boy, against placing too much stock in his ideals.

An ideal can refer to a standard of perfection or excellence, or it can refer to a goal or one's ultimate aim. In the poem, the speaker tells his listener to "dream—and not make dreams your master," and to "think—and not make thoughts your aim," and in this way, the younger boy will eventually become a man some day. It seems that the speaker does warn the younger boy not to become a slave to his dreams (the effect of making them his "master"); if he only lives for one particular dream, then he might never achieve satisfaction or contentment with any other accomplishment. Likewise, he does not want the boy's reflections to become his ideal; he must live in the real world of action. If one lives for one's ideals only, then one will likely never be satisfied. Thus, the speaker does warn the younger boy, perhaps his own son, as well as readers, by extension, of the danger placing too much emphasis on ideals.

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colorado-bookworm | Student

"If--" by Rudyard Kipling seems to be one big lesson in paradox - one thing is true, but also its opposite. For example, to "dream--and not make dreams your master" might be seen as a paradox; yet it's also plain common sense. Most of the poem, in fact, could be boiled down to being an honest, decent person who "can keep your head" in any life circumstance.

In the first stanza, Kipling tells the younger man to not be concerned with how people perceive you ("If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you") but at the same time to not be too self-absorbed or arrogant - "And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise." This is a way of saying that your ideas are worthwhile, but they're not infallible.

Another example could be in the second stanza, where Kipling praises the ability to build one's life's work slowly, even after they've been broken. In the next, he almost tells the younger man to gamble everything he's got, and start over again if he loses. Kipling isn't advocating being irresponsible, nor working all your life and never taking time to enjoy it. He includes both, but places them in such sharp opposition that the reader can distinguish a path between them.

All in all, I see the entire poem as a cautionary piece but also ultimately hopeful. The point of all the paradoxes is to not get stuck in one view or the other, but to use good judgment in the moment. This, Kipling says, leads to becoming a mature, well-developed person.