“Shooting an Elephant” is an essay written by George Orwell, first published in the journal New Writing in 1936. In this essay, the author tells his own story about when he was working as a police officer for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. His five years of experience in the Indian Imperial Police allowed him to have a good understanding of what exactly the “real nature of Imperialism” is. As an anti-imperialist writer, the author explains his hatred and guilt toward the arrogant system that cause him to denounce British Imperialism by demonstrating the incompatible relationship between the powerful Colonizer and the powerless Colonized. He feels like a victim of both the natives’ actions and the system of Imperialism itself.
It is important to know the author’s political view about British Imperialism to understand his critique. Even though he worked several years in Burma for the Indian Imperial Police, he has never abandoned anti-imperialism, which corresponds to a movement that is opposed to any form of colonialism. For instance, it could be an opposition to wars or the expansion of a country’s territory. In his previous work “Burmese Days”, which also tells Orwell’s story in Burma, the author has already mentioned anti-imperialism, which is the main message that he wanted to offer to the readers (Moosavinia et al, 103) .
In “Shooting an Elephant”, he constantly remarks that he is against the domination of a country: “imperialism was an evil thing” (Orwell, 313), or “my hatred of the empire” (Orwell, 314). Moreover, he expresses a great sympathy toward the natives when he asserts, “I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British”. He feels responsible for the pain that was inflicted on the natives. Orwell spent a lot of time and worked hard to denounce “anti-imperialism” during his life. From the beginning of the story, the author’s bitterness towards the harsh rules imposed by the conqueror. The reader can imagine, therefore, that the essay is a critique about the British domination.
Furthermore, the author wants to criticize the concept of the Self and the Other. Self usually embodies the familiar or the positive side. However, the Other has a negative connotation as it corresponds to everything that lies outside of the Self (Moosavinia, et al, 105). This concept shows the position of the Colonizer and the Colonized and how these positions differ. It clearly shows the gulf between the Occidentals, which represent the superior and dominant power, and the Orientals that embodies the natives oppressed by the imperialism rule (Moosavinia et al, 105). The Inferiority of the Orientals is evidently demonstrated at the moment when the non-natives demand help from the narrator to solve the problem about the elephant.
The superiority of the Occidentals is demonstrated as well; Orwell considered the “British Raj”, which is the British rule in the Indian subcontinent, as an unbreakable tyranny (Orwell, 314). Eventually, the Burmese appear to be powerless and have no choice but to be ruled. Additionally, Rulers, as they conceive themselves as well educated and superior, believe that they should civilize the natives. As a result, it seems that the colonizer treat the colonized as “not fully human” because according to them, those savage people are not civilized (Moosavinia et al, 105). The power determines what the reality of both East and West might be. Thus, according to Orwell, the Self and the Other, strictly speaking, the Colonizer and the Colonized are not homogeneous.
The consequence of imperialism is discussed in “Shooting an Elephant”; The victim of imperialism is not only the natives but also the narrator. Indeed, this essay is about the suffering and the struggling of Orwell who is torn between the Burmese’s actions and the Imperial System.
Orwell portrays the vengeful feelings of the Burmese people, the colonized, towards British People, the conqueror. As he has worked as a British officer in Burma, he knows how the natives feel about the British. Of course, it was obvious that the Burmese did not welcome any kind of British presence, including Orwell himself. The Occidentals were extremely mistreated, such as being jeered, and the narrator understood that anti-European feeling was very “bitter” (Orwell, 313). He needed to deal adequately with the native society, even though he was a target of bullying. For instance, he used to get ripped up on the football field, ignored by the referee and mocked by the crowd (Orwell, 313). Hence, he is a victim of the natives’ behavior. Not only is he the target of the native’s behavior, but he is also the victim of the imperial system.
At the same time, the narrator is also the victim of the Imperialism System itself. Under the system, it seems that the British manipulate the Burmese, but in reality, it is the opposite situation. The Burmese had the control over the British, especially people like the author who worked in a country under colonization. Orwell tells, “every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (Orwell, 317). Therefore, white men were always required to respond effectively to the expectation that the natives had towards them. For instance, the author faced a dilemma whether or not to shoot the elephant; honestly, he had no intention to shoot it but he did not want to look cowardly in front of so many people who already did not like him: “a white man mustn’t be frightened in front of ‘natives’” (Orwell, 317).
Moreover, human beings had an incentive to respond to certain pressures comparable to peer pressure, which is the feeling that people get from their friends to conform or behave in a certain way. This is why he had no choice to shoot; he had to save his honor by killing the poor creature. The fact that the Burmese are controlling the decision of what the narrator, in other words a white man, must do, creates a paradoxical situation. In this case, it seems that the high-positioned man is actually becoming a slave that fulfills his imperial duty as he compared himself to “the puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces” (Orwell, 316). As a result, he finds himself imprisoned in the system.
In conclusion, Orwell’s detestation of Imperialism is well exposed in the essay through the description of the incompatible relation between the rulers and the natives. In fact, Orwell is the double-victim of the loyalty to British Raj and the actual action inflicted from the Burmese. This is what the “real nature of Imperialism is”; It is not only the natives who are the sufferers of imperialism, but the ruler particularly those who spent some time in those colonized countries.
Moosavinia, et al. “Edward Said’s Orientalism and the Study of the Self and the Other in Orwell’s Burmese Days.” Studies in Literature and Language 2.1 (2011): 103-13. Print. Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant” Essay Writing for Canadian Students with readings, Eds. Kay L. Stewart et al. Pearson Canada Inc., 2008. 313-319. Print.
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