Main Idea: “If-“

In “If-” by Rudyard Kipling, there are several main ideas, all of them implied.


by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

The main ideas are as follows:

  1. Self-confidence
  2. Patience
  3. Self-control
  4. Long-suffering
  5. Perseverance
  6. Humility

These words are never directly stated; instead, Kipling merely implies them, letting his readers to the work of inferring the meaning.

In class, we identify the portions of the poem that imply those main ideas.

We also infer the meaning of the following words from the context clues:

  • triumph
  • knave
  • pitch-and-toss
  • sinew
  • virtue


  1. this didnt help me at all i dont know what the main idea of the poem is

  2. Terribly sorry. It’s not meant to explain the main idea but to give you the tools to help you figure out what the main idea is.

  3. thanks the clue words really helped. they didn’t give me the direct answers but helped me figure it out.

  4. keywords are really helpful now i’m able to oust main idea of a paragraph

  5. what is the main idea

  6. It’s what the text is mainly about. It’s sort of the answer to the question, “What’s this text all about? What’s it trying to tell me?”

  7. Very helpful- quotations accompanying the main ideas would have been nice though 🙂

  8. Sorry it wasn’t 100% helpful. Perhaps if you have some quotations in mind, you’d be willing to send them to me and I could add them, with full credit to you.

  9. Hi Mr. Scott

    Your webpage is generally brilliant and exhaustive, but I think you should make a further distinction between main idea (literary passage) or central idea (informational text) and theme(s). The point is that a text can have multiple themes, which are not necessarily the same as the main idea or central idea.

    Your webpage is a valuable resource for teachers. I plan to incorporate some of your material into my teaching practice.

    Best regards,

  10. I having been doing further research on the terminology and I find a lot of different and sometimes contradictory definitions regarding the definitions and the relationships between the terms “main idea,” “central idea,” “theme,” “topic,” “leitmotif,” and “motif.”

    For example, compare The Bedford Handbook, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms, A Glossary of Literary Terms (M.H. Abrams), Dictionary of Literary Terms (Cuddon), Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers, The Random House Handbook, Bridging English. The Internet offers an even more dizzying variety of different definitions.

    Of course, it all started in Latin and Greek so I perhaps scholars have different definitions, which may relate to specific types of text or specific objectives. It also seems to depend upon whether one is discussing individual paragraphs, essays, or longer texts. All of this discussion is obviously above the heads of students, but I would like to nail down a simple reliable definition for my practice. There is a problem when students change teachers and get contradictory definitions, so I assume consistency with a school system is the most important thing. I would be interested in hearing your opinion on this matter.

  11. Generally speaking, I don’t worry too much about such differences among eighth grade students. Thank you for the insights, though.

Please let me know how I can help you.