Language and style


In what follows, we address the language and the style of the poem “The Brown Man’s Burden” by Henry Du Pré Labouchère, looking at specific analytical elements which can further your understanding of the text.

Playing with the language

As you have probably already noticed, “The Brown Man’s Burden” is a satire, an ironical lyrical response to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden”. Satires are usually more playful in writing, relying on humour and ironies to convey a certain message. Consequently, this implies the poem plays with language.

Notice, for instance, a couple of unusual associations designed to create contrast and to suggest the hypocritical nature of ‘the white man”. His manifestoes “reek with philanthropy” (l. 20). “To reek” means to convey a bad smell, while philanthropy means doing good deeds. This association suggests that philanthropy is only an official pretext for taking advantage of the people in the colonies.

Another contrasting association is: "Then, in the name of freedom, Don't hesitate to shoot." (ll. 23-24)

Here, freedom is associated with crime and war, which is a paradox. If the colonised people are supposed to be free, than why do colonial powers try to control them?

The language is also playful and metaphorical when the poet pinpoints his target receiver. He never mentions directly that it is the American people whom he targets; instead he uses symbols and allusions like the “Eagle” (l. 37) or the “niggers” (l.3): 

“The screaming of your Eagle
Will drown the victim's sob –”
(ll. 37-38)

Also, the poet uses an interesting expression to name the critiques colonial powers might receive. Instead of saying ”if someone criticises you” he prefers to say:

“And, should your own past history
Straight in your teeth be thrown,”
(ll. 44-45)

Tense of the verbs

The poem is structured as an exhortation (appeal). This implies that most of the verbs are used in the imperative form: “pile on” (l. 1), “go, clear away” (l. 3), “c...

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