According to "The White Man's Burden," what virtues should a good English imperialist embody? What temptations should he resist? What vices should he try to eliminate?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling is giving advice to the Americans who have just taken the Philippines.  He is telling them how to behave and what to expect as imperialists.  To answer your questions, let us take the poem stanza by stanza and see what it is saying.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Here, we see that Kipling says an imperialist has to exercise the virtue of selflessness.  He (they were all men) would have to “wait on” people and “serve” them even though they were inferior to him.  This would require selflessness.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit
And work another's gain.

We see more references to selflessness here.  We also see that patience is a virtue that the imperialist is supposed to practice.  We also see that the imperialist is supposed to avoid the vice of showing pride and the temptation to give in and threaten the people he is ruling.  Instead, the imperialist is supposed to practice the virtue of openness and honesty.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Kipling does not actually tell the imperialists to practice any virtues or avoid any temptations or vices in this stanza.  However, the stanza implies that the imperialist must be patient and resilient so he can work hard and yet still deal with it when “sloth and heathen folly” ruin everything he has been working for.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

As with the last stanza, the lessons here are implied.  The imperialist has to be selfless and humble again because he has to do the work of a serf, building ports and roads he will not be allowed to use.  Moreover, he, or other imperialists, is likely to die in doing these things.  Dying while doing the “toil of serf and sweeper” to help others shows selflessness and humility.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward--
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

This is another stanza with only implied lessons.  The imperialist has to practice the virtues of patience and tolerance because he is going to be criticized by all the people he is working so hard to help.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.

Here, the imperialist is warned to avoid a couple of temptations.  He is warned not to give in to the temptation of taking the easy way out.  He is not supposed to “stoop to less” than taking up the White Man’s burden.  He is not supposed to ask to be freed from his weariness.  It is tempting to want these things, but he should not give in.

Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days--
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.

The final stanza reinforces the idea from the previous stanza.  It says that the imperialist should not give in to the temptation to be like a child and take the things that are easy. 

Overall, then, the imperialist is told to practice patience, selflessness, openness, and humility.  He is advised to avoid the temptation to do what is easy.  He is told to do away with his pride.  All of these things are part of how Kipling saw an ideal imperialist.

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