How does Kipling describe indigenous people in "The White Man's Burden?"

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling describes indigenous people in very negative terms.  He says that they are not fully human in the way white people are.  He says that they foolish and lazy and destructive.  He says that they are ungrateful.  All of these attributes are reasons why it is such a burden for the white people to have to out and civilize them.

Early in the poem, Kipling portrays the indigenous people as less than fully human.  People who are fully human can be true adults. The indigenous people cannot.  This is why, in the first stanza, Kipling calls them “half-devil and half-child.”  They are perpetual children who will never grow up to adulthood.  If this is the case, they cannot be fully human, or at least not fully equal to white people.

Kipling then goes on to say that the indigenous people are foolish and lazy.  Again in the first stanza, he calls them “fluttered folk and wild.”  These are people who cannot be serious and hard-working like white people can be.  Instead, they “flutter” around doing whatever they want to, being “wild.”  Later on, Kipling warns the white people about the “sloth and heathen folly” of the indigenous people.  Here again, they are portrayed as lazy and foolish.  Because they are lazy and foolish, they are also destructive.  Kipling warns that they will destroy everything that the white people work to accomplish just before the goals are reached.

Finally, Kipling says that the indigenous people are ungrateful.  The white people will come out and work hard to help them.  The whites will build roads and ports that are exclusively for the indigenous people.  However, the natives will “blame” and “hate” the whites.  They will be angry because the whites have tried to pull them out of their “loved Egyptian night.”  They will not appreciate all the things that the white people have done for them.  In these ways, Kipling portrays the indigenous people in very negative ways in “The White Man’s Burden.”