Making Moral Decisions: George Orwell and Claire McCarthy

Categories: LiteraturePhilosophy

When an incident occurs, people would like to deal with it in the way they prefer. However, there always are some situations that force people to make decisions that are opposite to their own will since people live in society and they need to consider other’s opinions. No matter if people realize or not, it is hard to make decisions totally in terms of if they like it or not, because there are many factors which need to take into consideration like moral and ethics and the effect exerted on whole society and other people’s opinion.

Both George Orwell and Claire McCarthy faced the dilemma of making a choice between their feelings and other people’s thoughts. In Orwell’s article “Shooting an Elephant”, he describes a poor elephant that destroyed people’s homes and kills a man. The people in town wanted him, as sub-divisional police officer, to kill that elephant. Orwell in fact did not want to kill the elephant but he did because other people wanted him to do and pressured him to make that choice.

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Claire McCarthy met a similar problem in her article “Dog Lab”. She knew dog lab was an efficient way for students like her to learn knowledge but she was feeling terrible and uncomfortable with killing dogs even though there were some values to do so.

People in society approve of dog lab as the way to learn and they have not yet found other methods to substitute it. However, McCarthy believed in terms of morals and ethics she cannot kill an innocent dog.

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These two authors have no choice because they have to shoulder their responsibility. Orwell killed the elephant because he represented those people who dominate Burma and he needed to satisfy the masses in order to behave like the people in charge. McCarthy killed a dog during the experiment because she needed to well prepared for future operation on her patients. Making a decision is never easy especially when people faced with moral or ethical decisions, because those hard choices that could affect people’s lives always carried with obligations which people need to shoulder. Choice is usually accompanied with conflicts since the one option people gain from choice is always at the cost of giving up another option. There are not always a way to obtain benefits from two options just like that it is hard to satisfy two sides of people who hold different viewpoint.

Orwell experienced a conflict and he wrote, “To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels…The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laugh at. But I did not want to shoot the elephant.” (461) Orwell as a white man, especially as a sub-divisional police, is one of the people who implement imperialism on Burma. He needed to behave like the way he should be and need to take his position and show his ability. All above point out a way for him that was to kill the elephant. However, he did not want to kill the elephant at all, because he believed the elephant was innocent and did not deserve death penalty. These two sides of thought cause a conflict. McCarthy agreed with Orwell’s feeling when she met the similar situation, which is the conflict between innocent animals and her own benefits. She stated, “I didn’t like the idea of doing the lab; it felt wrong. Yet for some reason I was embarrassed that I felt that way, and the lab seemed so important. The more I thought about it the more confused I became.” (482) McCarthy in terms of ethics felt uncomfortable with dog lab. It was not fair to take others’ life if they did nothing wrong.

However, this is efficient way to learn knowledge as a medical student and she did not want to lose this chance. Both Orwell and McCarthy needed to make a choice between killing animal or not. This decision would be struggle since it related to morals and ethics and caused a conflict between people’s inner voice and what others want them to do. Following people’s inner feeling did not mean self-interest, because when conflicts occur people’s inner voice was more likely to be moral one rather than obeying others’ opinion. If people make a decision of conflicts, no matter which side they chose they have to accept the consequence their decision caused. It is not always right for a person to do most people want him to do but it is a safe way since most people stand in his side and the consequence may be better than the result of his own thought. At this point, when conflicts occurred both Orwell and McCarthy followed the way which most of people chose or wanted them to do since the better consequence would caused. Orwell stated, “ And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.

The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly…that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.” (461) Even though Orwell did not want to kill the elephant, he still did because he tried to make this incident to be simple and push it into a normal way. If Orwell kills the elephant, it will be reasonable and acceptable not only because the legal law but because satisfied Burmese desire as well, they got elephant meat as food. If Orwell did not kill the elephant the only result was Burmese would be more resentful to White men and may be cause further negative influence which would cause unstable of the society under imperialism. Compared with the consequence of two options, it should be better to choose to kill the elephant. Similarly, McCarthy chose to do dog lab after serious consideration and believe it should be better to do experiment. She stated “I was quiet during these discussions. I did not want to kill a dog, but I certainly wanted to take advantage of every learning opportunity offered me…Doing well had become so important that I was afraid to trust anyone; doing well had become more important than anything.”

(481) Although McCarthy felt uncomfortable to kill the dog, she wanted to learn knowledge. If she did not come to experiment, others students would learn more knowledge than she did so that they can do much better in following study. In another aspect, she thought kill the innocent dog was not good but actually she did not experience dog lab before so that can not just deny the value of this experiment. She need to have a try to help her confirm what she real want to do in the future. Both authors take the consequence of their action into account and then make the better choice, because moral decision are not simply end by making the choice and it always followed by responsibility. Each decision people make will cause corresponding results which means people need to take responsibility when they are making decisions. However, shouldering responsibility not only happened when people are making decisions but happened after making choice as well. In Orwell’s article, he stated, “I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be.

The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die…. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise.” (463) When Orwell decided to kill the elephant and took his duty as police officer, he also needed to take responsibility for this elephant’s life. Based on morals and ethics, after shooting the elephant Orwell wanted end its life soon and did not make elephant suffering from pain. Even though he can not change others thoughts and save the elephant, he tried to shoulder responsibility for the elephant’s life after making decision. At this point, McCarthy behaved like what Orwell did after she decided to kill the dog. She said, “Helping with the anesthesia, I thought, would be taking full responsibility for what I was doning, something that was very important to me. I was going to face what I was doing… Maybe in part I thought of it as my penance.” (482) McCarthy really struggled for choosing to kill the dogs or not. However, after making the decision, McCarthy insisted on helping with the anesthesia because she knew she needed to take charge of dogs’ lives.

When she decided to kill the dog, it carried with responsibility which means to start an incident from the beginning to the ending and treat every part seriously. After this experience, McCarthy firmly thought dog lab was really wrong for her and she made a decision to make some changes which also can be regarded as the way to shoulder responsibility. It is not difficult to find the common point that both authors choose to take their responsibility after making the choice in terms of morals and ethics. As the member of society, people need to realize the significant of taking the responsibility after making decisions. In modern society, there are always conflicts occur between what a person want to do and what others or the society what him to do about moral problems. However, it is not hard to make the decision because when people compared with the consequence which two options would caused, they can always find the better choice for the situation.

After making decisions, people need to think about their responsibility. Both George Orwell and Claire McCarthy show the good quality after making decision which is not only shoulder their responsibility but also try to make change when they feel their decision are not good at all. At beginning of Orwell’s article, it was easy to tell his resentful for imperialism and implied he would leave his job and sought for change one day. Similarly, at the ending of McCarthy, she suggested after her experiment she realized doing dog lab was not the method she wanted to learn and she would like to change the other way to go. Accordingly, when people faced moral decisions, as the member of modern society, they need to choose they way which they can obtain better consequence and have ability to take the responsibility. These are people’s basic obligations to deal with moral conflicts.

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Making Moral Decisions: George Orwell and Claire McCarthy. (2016, May 13). Retrieved from

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