Imperialism, Colonialism and Identity in 20th Century Fiction

Topics: Colonialism, The White Man's Burden, Rudyard Kipling Pages: 5 (1741 words) Published: August 3, 2006
In the mid-1800's, Imperialism began to emerge as a way for countries to expand their territories. It was viewed as a way of increasing land, resources, and power. Strong European powers, chiefly, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Russia, and also the United States began their colonial campaigns to gain wealth, power, natural resources, a market to sell industrial goods, national prestige, or occasionally to improve the lives of the colonial people. European colonialism expanded to nearly all of the known world, and few were able to fight off the might of the new invading powers. H. Rider Haggard's novel "King Solomon's Mines" depicted this colonial outbreak and clearly expressed certain racial prejudices that were dominant during the author's time. The fact that, like his creator, Quatermain admired and respected black Africans did not obscure his belief that blacks and whites must remain separate. Indeed, these very sentiments were spoken more often by the blacks in the story than by the whites. However, though "King Solomon's Mines" did not envision true equality or unity among blacks and whites, it was important to note that Haggard's work did affirm a sense of noble values inherent in both races. Though culturally different, he believed both races possessed people of honor and goodness just as both possessed people of treachery and evil. Haggard's view that blacks and whites could inhabit the same moral world was more progressive than the views of many of his contemporaries, who believed that all native Africans were simply savages. An interesting passage in this regard occurred in the first chapter of King Solomon's Mines, when Allan decided to substitute the word "natives" for the more commonly used "niggers." It is worth noting that, offensive as the word "niggers" may be to contemporary ears, Quatermain also saw it as a demeaning and reprehensible term. He objected specifically to its connotation of inferior moral character, and suggested that a black "native" could be just as much a "gentleman" as a white man. Thus, given the historical period in which the novel was written, it is noteworthy that Quatermain respected integrity, honesty, and bravery as much in black Africans as he did in his white associates. In fact, one of the novel's major themes seemed to be that such virtues transcended race, and that heroism was heroism, no matter what the color of one's skin. Haggard came to respect native Africans through personal experience, but his high regard for them was seldom shared by his contemporaries, who tended to view colonial natives as scarcely human. Rudyard Kipling's 1899 poem, the "White Man's Burden" also contained a strong message about colonialism and race. The White Man's Burden represented a very Eurocentric view of the world, and had been used to encourage powerful nations to adopt an imperial role. Non-European cultures were seen as child-like, as well as demonic, with people of European descent having an obligation to rule them; and encourage their development, until they could take their place in the world, by fully adopting Western ways. In modern times, the poem "White Man's Burden" is seen as racist and condescending, cultivating a sense of European ascendancy over other people, or of quantifying and evaluating the value of culture. However, some groups today still have sympathy for the idea of a White Man's Burden, although most explicitly remove the idea of race from the concept. They argue that it is a responsibility of richer countries to help less-developed countries. They point out that law and order are vital to the economic and cultural growth of a nation, and are sometimes difficult to achieve, without foreign intervention. Nation-building could be seen as an example of a modern-day White Man's Burden.

Within a historical context, the concept of "White Man's Burden" made clear the prevalent attitudes that allowed colonialism to proceed. Although a belief in the...
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