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An Analysis of Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” Essay

In “Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell finds himself in a difficult situation involving an elephant. The fate of the elephant lies in his hands. Only he can make the final decision. In the end, due to Orwell’s decision, the elephant lay dying in a pool of blood. Orwell wins the sympathy of readers by expressing the pressure he feels as an Anglo-Indian in Burma, struggling with his morals, and showing a sense of compassion for the dying animal.

Readers sympathize with Orwell because they can relate to his emotions in the moments before the shooting. Being the white “leader,” he should have been able to make an independent decision, but was influenced by the “natives” (Orwell 101). Orwell describes his feelings about being pressured to shoot the elephant: “Here I was the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind (101). Everyone has been in a situation in which he or she has been expected to be a leader. For different reasons people are looked to as leaders, sometimes because of their race, ethnicity, or heritage.

In this case, Orwell was pictured as a leader because he was British and he worked for the British Empire. Readers are able to relate to the fact that he does not want to be humiliated in front of the Burmese. He declares, “Every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (101). Orwell compares the elephant to the huge British Empire, and just as the elephant has lost control, he feels that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys (100). Secretly he hates the British Empire and is on the side of the Burmese (97). The elephant is equivalent to the British Empire ravaging through Burma and disrupting the little bit of peace that they have. So in that instant he felt that he had to kill the elephant.

Another aspect that wins reader’s sympathy is Orwell’s struggle with what he thought was right and what the Burmese wanted him to do. The readers have a sense that he did not have ill-intent to kill the elephant. When Orwell says, ” As soon as I saw the Elephant I knew with certainty that I ought not shoot him” (99). The readers know that cruelty or hatred for the beast was not his motive. Orwell repeats the he does not want to kill it and the readers sympathize with him. Almost everyone has been in a situation were he or she could not base a decision on personal beliefs and knows that going against those beliefs is very difficult. Orwell explains, “For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend hid life in trying to impress the ‘natives’ and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him” (100). Readers respect Orwell for his sense of duty. He realizes the his decision must be based on the best interest of the Burmese.

Also, Orwell showed great feelings of compassion for the dying animal. He was killing the animal because he had to. He did not feel strong and powerful, as a hunter would; he felt weak and helpless. Orwell so vividly describes the elephant’s death, almost as it were giving him pain to watch. The elephant lay, “dying, very slowly and in great agony. . .” (Orwell 102). While the elephant lay dying Orwell can feel nothing but helplessness. He describes the experience as “dreadful to see the great beast lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to bee able to finish him” (102).

He felt helpless, with no bullets left in his gun; he was unable to put the elephant out of his misery. The compassion that he felt was obvious, he waited so long for the animal to die but, “could not stand it anymore and went away” (Orwell 102). The detailed description that Orwell gives of the death leaves the impression that he actually had feelings for the animal. If it were a routine killing he would have not even considered how the elephant felt.

Orwell was very detailed about his feelings about the killing through out the essay. Most readers have respect and sympathy for him because of his emotional turmoil before the shooting, his struggle with his own feelings about killing, and his feelings of sadness for the elephant.


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