What does the writing on the bottom of the "white man's burden" Pear's soap advertisement mean? “The first step to lightening the White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pear’s Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilisation advances, while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place—it is the ideal toilet soap.”  

The writing on the bottom of the "white man's burden" Pear's soap advertisement means that the product is a part of bringing the benefits of Western civilization to supposedly inferior peoples. The racist assumption behind the commercial is that only white people are truly civilized, and that the so-called lesser races must emulate them and their cultural habits.

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The Pear's soap advert uses cleansing as a metaphor for bringing the benefits of Western civilization to supposedly inferior races. Many white people at the time the commercial was printed would've endorsed Kipling's belief, as presented in his poem "The White Man's Burden" that the West had a solemn duty to bring the benefits of its civilization to the poor, benighted "savages" of what we would now call the developing world.

Just as someone with dirt all over their face urgently needs a good wash, so, by implication, do the people of colonial territories need to scrub off centuries of superstition, savagery, and ignorance with the soap suds of Western civilization. In this case a soap manufacturer is openly colluding with the notion, so beloved of white colonialists, that indigenous peoples need to be cleansed/civilized.

In this reading, personal hygiene is equated with racial hygiene. To be clean means to be either white or to behave like white people. Whereas to be dirty equates with the perceived backwardness and superstition of dark-skinned natives. The Pear's commercial further implies that once the benefits of civilization—including Pear's soap, of course—have been brought to the four corners of the globe then colonial subjects will at long last be able to emulate the cultural habits of their colonial overlords and improve themselves.

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The Pear's Soap advertisement is likening the whiteness, cleanliness, and purity of their soap to racial whiteness, cleanliness, and purity—and, hence, cultural superiority.

Kipling's poem argues that the culturally superior and noble "white man" takes over other, non-Western countries (like the Philippines) not for his own material gain, but at great sacrifice to himself, in order to bring the light of civilization to so-called savage peoples. By invoking the poem, the soap company appeals to snobbery, stating that Pears is held in the highest regard by the "cultured" across the globe, the bearers of society's burdens, the leaders. The implication is, as well, that not only will using Pears spread physical cleanliness, but moral cleanliness, suggested by words like "virtues" and "ideal." Using Pears soap is a social and moral good—it will make life easier for the culturally superior whites by spreading the value of cleanliness.

The advertisement thus catapults cleanliness to a symbol of whiteness and culture (class) at a time when more established white Americans were increasingly worried about both assimilating and differentiating themselves from increased numbers of "darker skinned" immigrants (albeit mostly Eastern and Southern European) entering the country. The soap will scrub some of the dirt (darkness) from the immigrant, and reassure the buyer that he or she is a member of the most elite cultural group.

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This advertisement makes an allusion to Rudyard Kipling's 1899 poem entitled "The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands." The creators of the advertisement are trying to appeal to the perceived ideals of imperialism that had taken hold among the white audience that had the potential of purchasing the soap for their own domestic use. More specifically, the ad prominently features Admiral George Dewey, hero of the Battle at Manila Bay just one year before. In 1898, Dewey defeated the Spanish Fleet, helping to ensure the conquest of the Philippines. By the time Kipling's poem was published, Dewey was a national hero. Thus the creators of the ad are attempting to sell their product by showing the endorsement of Dewey, whom the audience would consider one of the greatest white men who had taken on the "burden." In the advertisement, Dewey is seen freshening up, presumably using Pears' Soap, before continuing about his daily "heroic" exploits. Much like Nike and Gatorade wish to equate the use of their products with talent such as Lebron James, Pears' Soap was attempting to make their audience believe that their product would help the everyday white person "fight the good fight" in a way similar to Admiral Dewey.

Further, the lower right corner of the advertisement shows a light-skinned missionary standing over and presenting a bar of the soap to a much more darkly-complected native man of some sort. This, along with the majority of the text in the advertisement, creates a literal example of the phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness." Cleanliness—more specifically, Pears' Soap-level cleanliness—is equated with the heroic admiral and those who will be introducing Western culture to the native populace, "brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilisation advances."

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The white man's burden was a phrase that Rudyard Kipling coined in his poem of that title.  It referred to the burden that he said white people took on when they tried to civilize the other people of the world.  The copy below the picture in this ad is using that idea to try to sell Pear's soap.

What the copy means is that Pear's soap could be used help to civilize the other people of the world.  As the non-white people learn to keep themselves clean, they will be taking a step towards being more civilized.  Pear's soap was trying to portray itself as something so powerful that it could help to civilize the uncivilized while still being good for people in the most "cultured" nations.

The Pear's soap people were trying to associate their brand with the wave of imperialism that was sweeping America.  They felt it would help the image of their brand and allow them to sell more soap.

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