Comparing Colonialism and Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Kipling's Poetry

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Imperialism in Heart of Darkness and Kipling's Poetry

Imperialism sprung from an altruistic and unselfish aim to "take up the white man's burden"1 and “wean [the] ignorant millions from their horrid ways.”2 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
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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!4

The call to extend ‘the Law’ continues in Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.” However, such an extension calls for a definition of a “white man.” By this term, Kipling refers not only to those with white skin colour. Charles Carrington points out in his biography5 that in the late 19th century “white people” included all men with the moral standards of the civilised world. Carrington convincingly cites Kipling’s own poem “Gunga Din” about an Indian water-carrier, in which Gunga Din is ‘the finest man I knew’. I have elaborated upon Carrington’s example:

[When] a’servin of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,

Of all them black-faced I
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