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Essay on Shooting an Elephant

In: English and Literature

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Shooting an elephant
- By George Orwell

Imperialism is the appellation for a policy, where a ruler in a country attempts to oppress another country. This is mainly the theme and point in the essay “Shooting an elephant”
The story is written by the author George Orwell, and centers about this problem which was going on between the British and the Burmese.
The essay is written as a metaphor describing the British imperialism, and gives the readers an insight in how George's opposition against the imperialism is expressed.
Another theme in the story is the meeting between two cultures – in where it describes the burmese, that despise the British. Apart from that, George himself is going though a process of self-deception, which is showed clearly in this story.

George Orwell was born on 25th June 1903, and was a well known English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. George Orwell was one of the most influential English writers in the 20th century, and is mostly known for the novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and the novella “Animal Farm”.
George Orwell was working in The British Imperial Police from 1922-1927, where he wrote the essay “Shooting an elephant” as a reflection about the British imperialism in India.

The setting is in Moulmein in Lower Burma in the 1920's, and is taking place in a poor city.
“It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm-leaf, winding all over a steep hillside.” (Page 112, line 12-14)

The society is described poorly, supposedly where a large amount of the Burmese population is placed in a lower caste system. This is seen when the narrator is describing the Indian black Dravidian coolie who is found dead.
A Dravidian is a lower-caste Indian who speaks his own language, Dravidian. The essay “Shooting an elephant” is based on a true deed. The story is therefore told by a first person narrator. The reader get to hear the story though the main character's point of view, because he hear it as George Orwell actually experienced it.

“I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him.” (page 114, line 5-6)
In this quote we are not only informed about the main character's actions – but we also get to hear his inner thoughts, about how he is certain that he shouldn't shoot the elephant.

The main character in “Shooting an elephant” is in this case also the narrator of the story. He is a British police officer working in colonial Burma, during a period of the British imperialism. Under this period Burma was a part of the British-controlled India, and was being managed as a province until 1937, where the country became a separate self-governing colony.
The main character sympathize with the Burmese people, and he takes their side privately. But because of his duty as a colonial policeman, he knows he ought to shoot the elephant.
The narrator knows that if he doesn't shoot the elephant, it would make him seem like a coward - and his official position as police officer, is therefore taking over his emotional and moral position.
The story's plot is build up chronological, and we are immediately informed about how George Orwell's perspective on the British imperialism is.

“All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.” (Page 110, line 20-23)

“I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British” (Page 110, line 23-24)
The elephant in the story is supposed to be a metaphor for the destructive power of the imperialism, which is what George is trying to illustrate with the mad elephant ravaging the city. The elephant is in this way, a symbol of the British Empire, and the idea of the elephant dying slowly, demonstrates the death of the British power.

The essay presents a theme of inner conflict. Orwell torn between what he believes as a human being, and what he should do as a police officer.
Under the slow death of the elephant, the narrator moral conscience appears, but he knows that because of his job as a police officer it is necessary and it is expected of him, although it is not what he wanted.

“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. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.” (Page 118, line 20-24)

“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Page 115, line 2)

The narrator realizes that by being forced to follow the strict laws and shoot the elephant he is being morally ambivalent, because he is going against his principles, and doing what he is actually against.

“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Page 115, line 2)

This quote is describing how he is loosing his freedom by enforcing the British rule, and in this way concurrently oppressing the Burmese at the same time.

Orwell's experience as an English officer in India gives the reader an insight of the British imperialism. George's final act by shooting the elephant is a symbol of the British attempting to oppress the Burmese.
Overall, this essay is apart from the imperialism, focusing on the self-deception, which is described in the way George Orwell is following the overwhelming and strict expectations by shooting the elephant, instead of stand up for what he believes in.

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