Colonialism in Literature

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What specific examples of ethnocentrism can you identify in the poem "The White Man's Burden"?

1. Ethnocentrism – the common belief that one's own culture is superior to others. 2. White man's burden – the idea that some races are better than others and have a responsibility to take care of them because they cannot help themselves 3. White men as angelic and adult: in a word, better. 4. Colonizers waiting patiently on colonized people, wearing heavy harness as an act of generosity. 5.

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Ethnocentrism is the common belief that one's own culture is superior to others. It means looking at events and situations solely from the point of view of your own society, not realizing or considering that a different culture might interpret the same situations quite differently.

First, Kipling shows that he...

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Ethnocentrism is the common belief that one's own culture is superior to others. It means looking at events and situations solely from the point of view of your own society, not realizing or considering that a different culture might interpret the same situations quite differently.

First, Kipling shows that he believes his white, Euro-centered culture is superior to that of others by characterizing native peoples as "half-devil and half-child." Implicitly, the whites are angelic and adult: in a word, better.

Second, Kipling repeatedly articulates a European point of view as he describes what to him are the many sacrifices and the unappreciated generosity of the colonizers: the whites "wait . . . on" the colonized people, a task which is described as wearing a "heavy harness." Further, he describes the whites humbly and patiently bearing what is repeatedly described as the "burden" of attempting to educate, feed, keep peace among, and cure the diseases of people who are "sullen" and slothful and who repay their generosity with hate.

Kipling does not stop to consider whether the people being colonized may resent invaders arriving uninvited to take over their lands, telling them they are inferior, exploiting their resources, and imposing a culture the native population may not want or consider some kind of great gift.

All of this shows the narrowness of Kipling's speaker's perspective.

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Merriam-Webster defines “ethnocentrism” as “characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior.” Kipling’s poem, "The White Man’s Burden," contains very overt examples of ethnocentrism, focused, quite obviously, on the superiority of the white European.

Considering that the burden of the white man is to colonize and civilize the wild places of the earth, this poem was written by Kipling as a charge of the United States to take up the mantle of imperialism that Britain had previously (and almost exclusively) held. A good way to analyze the poem is to make a t-chart and identify the opposing characteristics of the “White Man” and the colonized. How does Kipling describe each party? What qualities distinguish them from each other?

Ethnocentrism can be seen in the poem in two different ways: through the ways in which Kipling praises the white man, or the way he degrades the colonized individuals. If you have divided the qualities of each in a chart, both of these should be clear. For example, in the first stanza, Kipling describes the white man as “the best” bred, bound to service and toil. The second stanza characterizes the white man as patient and humble—able to “check the show of pride” in himself and his charges. From the same stanzas, this is in direct contrast with the colonized populations’ descriptions as “fluttered” and “wild” folk, “half-devil and half-child,” prideful, and simple. Looking for the ethnocentrism in Kipling’s "The White Man’s Burden" requires this clear split of how he sees those of European descent, and how he perceives everyone else. Once you recognize these distinguishing characteristics, more specific examples should be easy to find!

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Kipling's poetry in general and "The White Man's Burden" in particular can be perceived as being defined by the ethnocentric lens through which he viewed the British Empire, its multitude of peoples, and imperialism itself. Kipling's works can be viewed as a major factor in the amalgamation of notions relating to imperialism, power, Christianity, patriotism into a worldview that was not only ethnocentric, but Jingoistic in its perception and treatment of the diverse multitudes that populated the British Empire.

Perhaps the most glaring and shocking (at least to the modern ear) example of ethnocentrism in "The White Man's Burden" is contained in lines 7–8, when Kipling speaks of "new caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child." This description of the colonized masses over whom Britain ruled is not only ethnocentric to the extreme, but also incredibly depressing in its content, intent, and lack of empathy. Perhaps most depressing of is that the nonsensical view of "otherness" within our own species was allowed to flourish and remain hegemonic for so long.

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