An Analysis of Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”Erika Moreno-DaltonIn Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell finds himself in a difficult situationinvolving an elephant.
The fate of the elephant lies in his hands. Only he canmake the final decision. In the end, due to Orwell’s decision, the elephant laydying in a pool of blood. Orwell wins the sympathy of readers by expressing thepressure he feels as an Anglo-Indian in Burma, struggling with his morals, andshowing a sense of compassion for the dying animal.
Readers sympathize with Orwell because they can relate to his emotions in themoments before the shooting. Being the white leader, he should have been ableto make an independent decision, but was influenced by the natives (Orwell101). Orwell describes his feelings about being pressured to shoot theelephant: Here I was the white man with his gun, standing in front of theunarmed crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I wasonly an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind(101). Everyone has been in a situation in which he or she has been expected tobe a leader. For different reasons people are looked to as leaders, sometimesbecause of their race, ethnicity, or heritage.
In this case, Orwell waspictured as a leader because he was British and he worked for the British Empire. Readers are able to relate to the fact that he does not want to be humiliatedin front of the Burmese. He declares, Every white man’s life in the East, wasone long struggle not to be laughed at (101). Orwell compares the elephant tothe huge British Empire, and just as the elephant has lost control, he feelsthat when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys(100).
Secretly he hates the British Empire and is on the side of the Burmese(97). The elephant is equivalent to the British Empire ravaging through Burmaand disrupting the little bit of peace that they have. So in that instant hefelt that he had to kill the elephant. Another aspect that wins reader’s sympathy is Orwell’s struggle with what hethought was right and what the Burmese wanted him to do.
The readers have asense that he did not have ill-intent to kill the elephant. When Orwell says,As soon as I saw the Elephant I knew with certainty that I ought not shoot him(99). The readers know that cruelty or hatred for the beast was not his motive. Orwell repeats the he does not want to kill it and the readers sympathize withhim.
Almost everyone has been in a situation were he or she could not base adecision on personal beliefs and knows that going against those beliefs is verydifficult. Orwell explains, For it is the condition of his rule that he shallspend hid life in trying to impress the natives’ and so in every crisis he hasgot to do what the natives’ expect of him (100). Readers respect Orwell forhis sense of duty. He realizes the his decision must be based on the bestinterest of the Burmese.
Also, Orwell showed great feelings of compassion forthe dying animal. He was killing the animal because he had to. He did not feelstrong and powerful, as a hunter would; he felt weak and helpless. Orwell sovividly describes the elephant’s death, almost as it were giving him pain towatch.
The elephant lay, dying, very slowly and in great agony. . . (Orwell102). While the elephant lay dying Orwell can feel nothing but helplessness. Hedescribes the experience as dreadful to see the great beast lying there,powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to bee able to finishhim (102).
He felt helpless, with no bullets left in his gun; he was unable toput the elephant out of his misery. The compassion that he felt was obvious, hewaited so long for the animal to die but, could not stand it anymore and wentaway (Orwell 102). The detailed description that Orwell gives of the deathleaves the impression that he actually had feelings for the animal. If it werea routine killing he would have not even considered how the elephant felt. Orwell was very detailed about his feelings about the killing through out theessay.
Most readers have respect and sympathy for him because of his emotionalturmoil before the shooting, his struggle with his own feelings about killing,and his feelings of sadness for the elephant.Category: English