The White Man's Burden by Rudyard Kipling

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The Speaker

The speaker in this poem does not identify himself, but set against the context of Kipling's other works and his generally understood views about empire and imperialism, we can assume that the speaker represents Kipling’s ideals and that he is not writing satirically. The main theme of the poem reflects a view that Kipling generally supported: that colonization is virtuous and that it is the duty of Western powers to send their children into “exile” in order to serve the “needs” of the non-Western world. The speaker recognizes that some will be deterred by the frustrations and difficulties of colonization, and attempts to provoke his audience to action: forming and “civilizing” colonies, he declares, will prove a country’s “manhood.”

The United States

The poem’s original title, “The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands,” makes it clear that the intended audience of this poem is the US. Through the poem, Kipling urges the US to join Britain and other Western colonial powers in colonizing the non-white world. The US, according to Kipling, has not yet faced challenges as daunting as colonization, as the speaker exhorts it to move on from “lightly proffered laurel[s]” and “easy, ungrudged praise” to colonization, the true test of “manhood.” 

While Kipling originally wrote this poem for Britain and published it later for America, his repeated refrain that cites the “burden” of the “White Man” addresses other white, Western powers as well. In naming colonization as the “duty” of white people, he indirectly calls upon other Western powers to form colonies and become empires, too. 

The British and Other Empires

Great Britain was already an empire at the time of the American wars in the Philippines and when Kipling wrote this poem to urge the US to form colonies. The speaker informs...

(The entire section is 451 words.)