Texts about the British Empire

Short stories and poems

"The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling

“The White Man’s Burden” has often been viewed as a poem praising and justifying imperialism. The text tries to legitimise colonialism as something ethically justifiable, done for the development of the colonies themselves.

"The Brown Man's Burden by Henry Labouchere

"The Brown Man’s Burden" uses some of the lines and ideas in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden”, with the purpose of criticising both the poem and imperialism.

"The Weeping Fig" by Judith Wright

The main events of the story take place in 1950's rural Australia, but the present actions are intertwined with actions that took place a hundred years before during the early colonial days. The main character illustrates the feeling of being disconnected from the past and one’s ancestors, as white Australians are descendants of immigrants who moved from place to place in the past.

"Karma" by Khushwant Singh

The main character of this short story is an Indian man who is completely obsessed with British culture, and in every way seeks to become as British as possible. However, even though he has been educated in England and adapts British culture completely (while forsaking his own), he still becomes a victim of British racism in the end.

"The Gentlemen of the Jungle" by Jomo Kenyetta

This tale is an allegory that describes the way colonial powers take systematic advantage of the people they colonise, leaving them little possibility of fighting back or asserting their rights. It is written from the perspective of a Kenyan author, but may also be widely applied to describe (and criticise) other colonial efforts.


"Tryst with Destiny" by Jawaharlal Nehru

This speech was made by the Indian prime minster on the eve of the nation's independence from Britain. It looks back upon India's troubled history, and expresses a desire for a bright future.

Other texts

Below are further suggestions for texts or movies that may be relevant when working with the British Empire and its legacy. 

  • Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart (1958 novel)
  • Apted, Michael - Amazing Grace (2006 movie)
  • Clavell, James - Tai-Pan (1966 novel)
  • Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness (1899 novel)
  • Endfield, Cy - Zulu (1964 movie)
  • Forster, E.M. - A Passage to India (1924 novel)
  • Kinkaid, Jamaica - A Small Place (1988 book)
  • Lean, David - Lawrence of Arabia (1962 movie)
  • Pollack, Sydney - Out of Africa (1985 movie)
  • Prawer Jhabvala, Ruth - Heat and Dust (1975 novel)
  • Rushdie, Salman - Midnight's Children (1981 novel)