Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden
- Pages: 4
- Word count: 976
- Category: Novel
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The popularity of the novel in the 18th century showed, first, the love men had of immersing themselves in philosophy and reason. Whereas, now, many people will not pick up a book unless they have to, novels were devoured in the 18th century. Society, then, was in love with thinking and reading. The novel also gave a voice to those who would otherwise not have had one. As politics and society began to change in the 18th Century, women, who had previously been silent, began to write novels.
Madame de Staël, for instance, was banished for questioning those who ruled her, yet, through her novels; she continued to throw stones at the establishment. Women were not, of course, alone. Other thinkers, mostly middle class, began to speak through novels. (Goodden, 2008) Indeed, a whole host of Philosophes published their ideas. Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot, for instance, all wrote down their ideas. Their novels were so appealing because they were clear, simple and passionate. They voiced the concerns of the common man and spoke out against the evils citizens had been facing from country to country.
Other novels tapped in to men’s love of the romantic. When information and entertainment were combined, they became irresistible.
Although the ideas of the enlightened thinkers were many and varied, most valued progress – social and intellectual. Most seem to have, as their aim, a better life for men. This often meant championing political rule or representation of the common man. Philosophers like John Locke argued that life, liberty and property were natural rights. While Rousseau agreed with his contemporaries that life and liberty were worthwhile values, he rejected the idea of Locke and his predecessors that these were rights man had in the state of nature. Instead, Rousseau argued that these rights had to be gifted to man through the government.
While others had argued for personal morality, Rousseau argued for moral behavior brought about through a good society. Individuals were not, said Rousseau, responsible for their own behavior, rather, society was. The way to make men good, then, was to create a good society (Habib, 2005). Rousseau also took issue with the ideas of enlightened thinkers like Condorcet, who believed that history was the story of human progress. Rousseau felt that 18th century society was a shambles. He decried its treatment of people and saw it as very imperfect. Indeed, Rousseau argued that man was better off without civilization. He saw man, in his state of nature as a “noble savage.” While Locke considered property as a basic, natural right, Rousseau considered property an obstacle to equality (Outram, 2005).
During the 18th century, farmers went from planting seeds by and hoeing by hand to using a seed drill and hoeing by horse. In America, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which led to faster cultivating of cotton. This spread to Europe. Meanwhile, in England, James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny, that helped weave cotton together more quickly. During the same century, Thomas Newcomb invented a steam engine that pumped waters from coal mines. The English parliament passed laws that allowed farmers to enclose sections of land, rather than leaving all the land as common area. This allowed for more efficient farming. This, however, meant that some peasants were left without parcels of land to farm and left many unhappy.
Furthermore, despite all of the improvements made in agricultural technologies and techniques, even the peasants who had land to work were left with little food and began to become disgruntled. This was because, while the peasants worked the land, the aristocrats owned it. The farmers paid their landlords with the goods they farmed, and so were left with very little (Withers, 2007). The Aristocrats, thinking themselves above the peasants, not only in wealth, but in blood and stature, did not think twice about reaping the benefits of the hard work of their laborers. Indeed, they saw such a relationship as just. Humanitarianism, in the 18th century, was not the cause it is today.
During the 18th century, and the centuries after it, Europeans became convinced that they were superior to those they met as they colonized. Perhaps the best, and certainly one of the most well known examples of Europe’s attitude toward other nations, is found in Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden. He calls Non-Europeans by a number of titles, such as, “half-devil”, “half child,”, “heathen”, and “silent, sullen people.” Kipling links these titles to certain responsibilities. It is the white man’s burden, he says, to teach these “half children.” It is also the white man’s burden to bring religion to the “heathen.” It is also his job to feed those who are hungry and to bring medicine to those who are sick (Kipling, 1899).
Yet there is something different in the attitude of Europeans than the attitude of plain rulers. Indeed, Kipling touches on it when he says that the white man will not rule as a king, but will be a toiler and a sweeper. The enlightenment values, then, seem to have permeated the attitudes of many westerners. Although it is clear from Kipling’s writing that the Europeans do not see the natives as equal to them, still, the European settlers seem loathe to make themselves aristocrats.
Goodden, A. (2008). Madame de Staël: The Dangerous Exile. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Habib, R. (2005). A History of Literary Criticism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Kipling, R. (1899). The White Man’s Burden. Retrieved December 05, 2008, from Modern History Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/Kipling.html
Outram, D. (2005). The Enlightenment. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Withers, C. J. (2007). Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.