Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The White Man's Burden & Imperialism

Imperialism was often glorified both by those actively involved in it and by the public at home. Part of this glorification involved perceiving imperialism as a Christian and nationalistic venture. More broadly it involved portraying imperialism as a heroic deed carried out by idealistic leaders of Western civilization in an effort to spread the "benefits" of "true civilization" to 'less advanced" peoples of the world. One of the most popular expressions of this is found in the writings of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), particularly in his poem "The White Man's Burden," written in 1899 to celebrate the American annexation of the Philippines.
The White Man's Burden
Rudyard Kipling
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
Take up the White Man's burden-
Ye dare not stoop to less-
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.
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.

1. Determine what Kipling means by "the White Man's Burden."
“The White Man’s Burden” to me, means the obligation that western culture has for other countries and the people of those countries. 
Also, in most of the stanzas of this poem, especially the first, it exploits the idea of rupturing (metaphorically) part of the “White Man.” By part of the “White Man” I mean the nationalist mentality and heart of this character. The “White Man” knows that imperialism risks the safety of soldiers to appease the leader of an empire. I feel as though this could also be “the White Man’s Burden” because the “White Man” doesn’t want to see the people of his country obey under a monarch.
“The White Man’s Burden” could be the burden of the monarch because royalty was mostly white, and there would be a load of pressure on that political figure leading an empire.

2. Does Kipling justify imperialism? How so?

I don’t think Kipling justifies imperialism. The personality of the “White Man” seems to be nationalistic. The character wants to obey by the monarch, however, he has a difficult time excepting the consequences of always following orders.
The “White Man” also exhibits the sometimes unjust outcomes there is when you do another country’s work for them. 
I think it is also frustrating to the “White Man” the fact that after his country has stepped out of their way to help another, they get slapped in the face and get blamed and hated.
By these reasons, Kipling doesn’t seem to justify imperialism.
However, I think Kipling does illustrate at the end of the poem the great accomplishment you get if you have served your empire well. He also makes a point about how people will remember you as a great leader (or official, negotiator, peace-maker, etc.).

3. Why might such a justification be so appealing?
If Kipling was to justify imperialism, it might be appealing to the monarchs because they would have power over the people of their empire.
Almost everyone somewhere in their lifetime seeks power, and it can look attractive from afar, and yet dangerous, untamable, and deadly once acquired.
I think this justification could also be appealing to people who wanted to form a legacy of themselves. Many people want to be remembered in a positive way, and they want to make their mark in history. I think Kipling writes of the emotions one would have if he/she would accomplish that.

~Elizabeth :)

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