Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant: Reflections on Imperialism Essay

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Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant: Reflections on Imperialism

During the years (1823-1886) as British Empire had control over Burma, a British Indian Imperial Police named George Orwell wrote an outstanding essay/story through which he expressed the morality of British Imperialism and the hatred of the Burmese towards this Empire. The use of a certain type of language has made this story different from others. The use of symbolism and metaphors is one of the most important uses of language that Orwell uses to describe the relationship of himself with the elephant and the crowd with the Burmese people. In actual fact the story itself is regarded as a metaphor for British imperialism. One of the most common symbols in the story is the mad elephant which is a symbol of the British Empire. Similar to the elephant, the empire is big and powerful. When the elephant raids the town (bazaar), he symbolizes the British Empire raiding the economy of Burma. When it kills the veliger (coolie), he signifies the British dominating the natives. There the elephant was hated by the natives similar to the Empire. An alternative use of language in the essay is the use of irony through which he expresses the story in calm way even though when he’s discussing very upsetting events.

The essay opens with a discussion of him being hated, yet he seems quite an elegant person, and one of the least likely people to be hated. He wants to help people, but must do so by killing the elephant. As discussed the elephant was evidenced to be a symbol of the Empire and the fact that Orwell was associated with the Empire made it really hard for him to shoot the elephant. But he has to in order to not look like a fool the story finally ends with him saying “And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed” He holds the position of police officer yet is glad by the death of a villager because it provided him a reason to why he killed the elephant. Orwell also uses the technique of imagery to the strongest degree to expand his argument. In the moment that the he looks back on the crowd of natives behind him, he portrays the people as a “sea of yellow faces”, hungry for action and excitement. Indeed, during the course of the next few scenes, Orwell feels this power as a solid force forcing him to shoot the elephant. Most use of the imagery occurs during the shooting and the death of the elephant as he describes the scene “A mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered.

He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time – it might have been five seconds, I dare say – he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old.” Then after he fired his last two shots into the elephant, he describes the blood and the agony of the elephant. Orwell’s use of imagery here is to make the reader/audience feel/see the pain of both the elephant and the regret of his own as he fell into the noble pressure that the Burmese had over him. The use of language this story has a massive effect on the audience. It is written in a way to portray how the British Empire had an impact on the Burmese people and their economy without the audience realising it. The uses of language and literary devices in this story give the audience a different idea of what going on. But in fact when it’s reviewed in depth it has a different meaning.


Orwell, 1936: Shooting An Elephant by George Orwell. 2014. Shooting An Elephant by George Orwell. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/887/. [Accessed 03 April 2014]. British Empire in Burma, 1823-1886: History of Burma . 2014. History of Burma . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cfob.org/HistoryofBurma/historyOfBurma.shtml. [Accessed 03 April 2014].Coringhee coolie: George Orwell – Shooting An Elephant | Poetry Genius. 2014. George Orwell – Shooting An Elephant | Poetry Genius. [ONLINE] Available at: http://poetry.rapgenius.com/George-orwell-shooting-an-elephant-annotated#note-1685017. [Accessed 02 April 2014].

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