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“Shooting an Elephant” by Rebecca Bonner Essay

Choose an essay which puts across a strong personal belief in a clear and convincing manor. George Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant,’ is an essay which takes place in imperial Burma where he is a police officer working on behalf of the British Empire. He is resented by the people who pressures him into shooting an elephant, where he describes himself as being a meaningless puppet in front of the Burmese crowd. Throughout this essay he also delivers his strong personal beliefs towards his hatred of imperialism, despite working for the colonies, he mentions several times of how much he despises it and sees it as ‘evil.’ We first capture his opposing view of it when he is discussing his job in Burma, he detests it and hates the way in which it oppresses the native people, ‘at that time, I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing.’ He voices his disapproval of it and it is very reactionary, the word ‘evil’ is used without qualification, this shows a perhaps lack of detailed knowledge of the political issues, or maybe he just feels so disgusted by it, he uses such a devilish word to describe his view.

He then goes on to describe how he is against his own government and was on the Burmese’s side, despite his hatred for them, ‘Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British.’ Here he shows his true opinion of the Empire, though with the use of the hyphens, adding in how he kept it a secret, showing his lack of courage to publicly oppress the Empire. Even although he has very conflicting views towards the native population, there is also times we see him appearing deeply sympathetic towards the Burmese and their suffering, ‘all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.’ The interesting use of the word ‘oppression’ suggests he is feeling the same way as the natives and in some way shares their pain.

His sympathy and description of the Burmese people is the main factor of why he thinks imperialism is an evil thing, by mentioning this often, it helps him back up his opposing view in a clear and convincing manor. He then goes on to say how he is stuck between his hatred of the Empire and for the native people, ‘With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples;’, This part of his mind directly opposing the Empire and continuing upon his strong belief, this unbreakable dictatorship suggesting that they could never win against the British, giving them a helpless and sorrowful status. Orwell uses his incident with the elephant to illustrate the power relationship which exists between the colonizer and the colonized, ‘It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act.’

The elephant’s actions are described in a comical, hyperbolic tone, ‘raided’ juxtaposed with ‘fruit stalls’; ‘inflicting violence’s’ upon a ‘rubbish van,’ which evoke a degree of affection and sympathy for the elephant. The uneven balance of power with also the sympathy towards the elephant describes what imperialism has caused within the town, evidence in which helps back up his opinion of the wrong-doings of imperialism its consequences. Orwell is then forced upon to kill the harmless beast, he shoots the animal using a gun that is not suitable for an animal of its size, in a slow agonising death, ‘the thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but he still did not die.’ He wants the reader to engage with the terrible suffering that the animal has to endure as a result of his weak decision, to show the meaningless barbaric acts that can arise from a tyrannical government, ‘afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant.’

Orwell leaves the scene and shows his guilt and self-disgust also that he is weak-willed, leaving the scene before the elephant is dead. The elephant could be seen as a symbol of the British Empire, once a vast powerful force, now a small, weak position. Using this powerful use of emotive language of how the poor beast died, he tries to convince the reader to agree with him that the whole idea of imperialism is wrong and does this rather successfully through his various techniques of emotive and sympathetic language throughout the essay. In conclusion, Orwells style is a major key factor on putting across his strong personal belief of his opposing views towards imperialism. He uses powerful word choice in a personal tone in order to try and convince the reader of why he was forced to make the decisions he made due to the consequences that had to do with imperialism and does so very successfully.


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