The White Man's Burden Questions and Answers
by Rudyard Kipling

Start Your Free Trial

In the poem "The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling, what is the actual "burden" that white men are plagued with?

Expert Answers info

Greg Jackson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from University of Massachusetts-Boston


calendarEducator since 2018

write1,755 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Law and Politics

We can look at this poem and your question in two ways. From Kipling's point of view, the White Man is plagued with the responsibility to "civilize" other peoples and then receive scorn for that. The other races, in this view, are but savage children and those of European races have the responsibility to save them from themselves. Kipling writes that it will be hard work. Many will suffer and die in order to accomplish it and be criticized by others for their effort. However, he sees it as the duty of the white race to share their ways, even if by force, with the people who he saw as ignorant and wanting of civilized influence.

Another way to view this poem and your question is from a more distant perspective. White Men, like Kipling, appear to be burdened with a grandiose sense of self-righteousness. Feelings of racial superiority are very much a condition which the imperialists of Kipling's time were plagued with. These notions compelled many to travel to distant lands and practically...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 855 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write1,305 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write10,916 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


william1941 | Student

The poem “The White Man’s Burden” was written with reference to the American takeover of the Philippines after the Spanish- American War. A majority of Americans including Abraham Lincoln, were against the idea of America joining the European Nations of Great Britain, Spain, France, etc. in taking over the rule of other countries and building their own empires.

A number of Americans, the most prominent of them being Theodore Roosevelt believed that this was America’s fate as it had to take up the responsibility of the improvement of  people who were not as technologically advanced as the Americans and help them progress to a higher stage of civilization.

Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” was for this group of Americans and he actually had an advance copy of it given to Theodore Roosevelt, who felt it captured his ideology very well.