Attitudes to imperialism: "The White Man's Burden"


Rudyard Kipling lived and wrote during the period of the British Empire. He was known to favour imperialism as a civilising force which could better the lives of people in colonies. When you compare the attitude to imperialism in the short story and the poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) by the same author, you will notice both differences and common points.

“Lispeth” was published very early in Kipling’s writing career (1866), and the poem “The White Man’s Burden appeared more than 30 years later. The story suggests that Kipling was sceptical about using Christianity to civilise local people, but not against the idea of the Empire civilising natives. In “The White Man’s Burden”, Kipling expresses his imperialist views more directly. The poem has often been viewed as praising and justifying imperialism. Consequently, we could assume that Kipling became a stronger advocate of imperialism with time, while as a younger man he was more sceptical about its process.

Criticism vs justification

In the short story, irony and criticism are obvious when it comes to the way the white people - the Chaplain and his wife, the Englishman - are depicted. They seem to value appearances over truth and consider themselves superior compared to the natives: “… it was ‘wrong and improper’ of Lispeth to think of marriage with an Englishman, who was of a superior clay, bes...

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