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Imperialism - Representation in Conrad and Kipling

Uploaded by strider on Nov 04, 2001

Imperialism sprung from an altruistic and unselfish aim to “take up the white man’s burden” and “wean [the] ignorant millions from their horrid ways.” These two citations are, of course, from Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, respectively, and they splendidly encompass what British and European imperialism was about – at least seen from the late-nineteenth century point of view. This essay seeks to explore the comparisons and contrasts between Conrad’s and Kipling’s view of imperialism in, respectively, Heart of Darkness and “White Man’s Burden” and “Recessional.”

In a historical context, the two texts differ greatly: Heart of Darkness is Conrad’s autobiographical description of his trip up the river of Congo and his encounter with the atrocities of European rule in Africa. Conversely, Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” was written to welcome the United States of America to the club of imperialistic nations. The event that prompted Kipling to write this poem was the United States’ intervention in the Philippines. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Philippine sovereignty was transferred from Spain to the United States and thus the United States emerged as an imperialistic nation dedicated to progress. This is the core of the matter – progress. Kipling speaks of ‘a Law’ in his poem “Recessional.” The code of behaviour and the enlightenment that Kipling wished to be aggrandised to all ‘primitive’ nations. In other words: Progress in the means of railroads across continents, telegraph lines over deep seas, commerce beyond boundaries and steam boat lines criss-crossing the earth.

Imperialism was at its height in this period. In 1897, the year before the Spanish-American War, Queen Victoria had reigned half the world for sixty years. This was the occasion for which “Recessional” had been written, and it celebrated a vast empire that had “dominion over palm and pine,” and a “far-flung battle-line.” The poem speaks of ‘lesser breeds without the Law,’ and it is this law that “if, drunk with sight of power,” must not be forgotten. It is a prayer for the eternal altruistic mission that the white man had been destined for, as well as a hopeful prayer that England should not decline:

Far-called, our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The call to extend ‘the Law’ continues in Kipling’s poem “The...

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Uploaded by:   strider

Date:   11/04/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   7 pages (1,492 words)

Views:   1856

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