How are natives portrayed in Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Natives are portrayed in a very negative way in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.”  They are irresponsible and foolish.  They are lazy.  The may be evil.  They are resentful and ungrateful.  All of these descriptions of the non-white people are very negative.

First, Kipling portrays the native peoples as irresponsible and foolish.  He says that they are “fluttered” and “wild.”  This means that they are flighty and not very serious.  Kipling says that they are “half-child.”  This implies that they are like children who are irresponsible and who do stupid things.  Later on, we are told that the “heathen folly” of the natives will destroy what the whites have built.  This, too, shows that the natives are foolish enough that they will ruin all the things the whites have tried to accomplish.

Next, Kipling says that the natives are lazy.  It is not just “heathen folly” that will destroy the white men’s efforts.  Instead, it is also the “sloth” of the natives that will cause problems.  Thus, Kipling also describes the natives as lazy.

Kipling does not dwell much on this point, but he also implies that the natives are in some way evil.  In the first stanza, he says that they are “half-devil.”  This presumably means that they are prone to do evil things as we tend to associate the devil with evil in our society.

Finally, Kipling says that the natives are ungrateful and likely to resent their colonial masters.  He says that the whites will work hard to try to civilize the native people.  However, the natives will not appreciate this.  Instead, they will “blame” and “hate” the white people.  They will criticize the whites for trying to help them.  They will ask

"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

In other words, they will criticize the whites for all the things the whites do to help civilize them and bring them into the modern world.

In all of these ways, Rudyard Kipling paints a very negative picture of the natives in his poem “The White Man’s Burden.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial