Rudyard Kipling: Poems

How to Become a Man: Understanding "If-" 11th Grade

Rudyard Kipling’s “If-” explores the themes of manhood, hard work, and discipline. The speaker feels that one should have humility, confidence, and several other virtues in order to be a man. Kipling uses literary techniques including anaphora, juxtaposition, and personification to persuade his son to become a man, giving the poem significance to readers in all eras who are trying to find their own sense of "manhood".

The speaker emphasizes the importance of being confident, humble, and balanced throughout the entirety of the poem, suggesting that one can fulfill his or her greatest potential by following the poem’s guidelines. The speaker feels that one should “keep [his] head when all about [him]/Are losing theirs and blaming it on [him]”(1-2) while also making “allowance for their doubting too”(4). It is good to be confident in oneself, but arrogance should be avoided; one must have strong self-trust while being open to the possibility that others could be correct instead. He thinks that one should be able to “risk it [all] on one turn of pitch-and-toss,/And lose, and start again at your beginnings,/And never breathe a word about your loss”(18-20). One must be humble and disciplined from complaining when things go wrong in...

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