What warnings does "The White Man's Burden" give?

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Kipling views those being governed as part of "The White Man's Burden" as being ungrateful children who do not know what is best. He mentions that the people who are to be governed are "half devil and half child." He also mentions that the people who are to govern and subjugate the new areas are "exiled" from their home country. In Kipling's mind, taking up the white man's burden is hard work for which the world is largely ungrateful. To him, it's a dangerous duty for both the colonizers and the colonized, as both sides will face hardship. Throughout the poem, Kipling states that it is the "duty" of the white man to bring civilization to those in the developing world whether they want it or not.

This paternalistic attitude was common in Western imperialistic circles when discussing aboriginal people living in places to be colonized. Though economic gain was one of the key points of colonialism, the stated reason for taking colonies was to spread Western thought and traditions.

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"The White Man's Burden" gives many specific warnings.  Overall, they amount to one overall warning.  They add up to a warning that governing an empire is a very difficult undertaking.

There are many specific warnings in the poem.  For example, Kipling warns that:

  • Governing will be hard work ("wait in heavy harness").
  • The people being governed will destroy, by being lazy and foolish, everything the governing people work for.  (Third stanza)
  • Many people from the imperial power will die.  (End of 4th stanza)
  • The people being governed will hate those who rule them no matter what.  (5th stanza)

All of these warnings and others add up to one overall warning.  Kipling is warning that governing an empire is a very difficult and unrewarding thing to do.

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