George Orwell was an English writer who is responsible for many moving and powerful novels in the 20th century, and he made significant contributions to literature in his lifetime. He wrote Animal Farm and 1984, which are both dystopian novels that explore the dangers of authority in society. Orwell’s original name was Eric Arthur Blair, but he decided to change his name so that his family wouldn’t get embarrassed by his work. Another reason for using a pen name was to switch publishers; when an author is under contract, his or her publisher own the rights to any future work, so a publisher change is sometimes necessary. Orwell was beloved by many people, and his writing moved and inspired many people, pushing them forward towards progress.
His essay “Shooting an Elephant” explores some of the same themes he does in his other work, and it shows why taking over another group by force has negative outcomes for both the people being taken over and the people in charge. Just like many authors, George Orwell used his own experiences for inspiration. One day, an incident took place that gave Orwell a bit of insight into the true nature of imperialism and the reasons behind it. Orwell received a call from a policeman informing him that there was a rouge elephant damaging property in town. Orwell headed towards the affected area, and on his way, he heard from locals that the elephant wasn’t wild, but a domesticated one that has had a must attack. Must occurs when a tame elephant held in chains breaks loose and they go wild. Orwell’s staff found where the elephant was last spotted. Orwell found a corpse and ordered a subordinate to bring him a gun strong enough to kill an elephant.
George Orwell’s position in shooting the elephant was that he did not intend to shoot the elephant; he only got the gun so he could protect himself if needed. When he saw the elephant, he became convinced that there was no need to shoot the elephant. In his defense, he had to kill the elephant because people needed to be safe. Who knows what would have happened if he didn’t shoot the elephant? Orwell does feel guilty for what he has done. To understand this better, one must speculate what the situation would have been had he not done it.
Orwell also fills in as the sub-divisional cop of Moulmein, a town in the British state of Burma. Since he is a military occupier, he is despised by a great part of the town. Orwell’s writing demonstrates his argument that imperialism is bad for all and the negative way he felt toward killing the elephant. He felt like he had no reason to shoot the elephant, but the danger that it could cause the civilians around him caused him to do what needs to be done. In spite of the fact that the Burmese never arranged a full revolt, they expressed their negative feelings towards annoying Europeans at each chance. The Burmese noticed Orwell amid soccer matches and followed him as he strolled down the road.
The youthful Buddhist clerics tormented him the most. The manhandling he experiences from the Burmese confuses Orwell, since he is ‘theoretically – and secretly” (1) on their side, even though he is technically part of the British Empire that has taken over. His work dealing with prisoners offers him a true perspective of ‘the dirty work of Empire’ (1) and makes him feel regretful for his part in imperialism. His argument is persuasive, and Orwell uses his story well to get his point across.
He is technically in charge, so he should not feel all the anger and pain he feels, but his role in killing the elephant and keeping the Burmese people under his watch brings up those feelings for him. Most readers should be able to relate to the pain of seeing another living thing in pain, so the incident with the elephant is very effective. His argument seems to come mostly from the heart, as well as the facts of his situation (imperialism), and he is able to persuade the reader to see his point of view through the combination of these views. Orwell still can’t seem to comprehend that the British domain is winding down and will, before long, be built upon with surprisingly more dreadful situations.
Nonetheless, while Orwell considers the domain an area of harsh oppression, he also abhors the disrespectful Burmese who torment him despite everything. This clashing attitude is run of the mill for officers in the British Raj. Orwell clarifies at some point that a minor episode gives him understanding into the genuine idea of colonialism and the explanations for it. He gets a call from another policeman, advising him that a maverick elephant has been causing harm in the town. Orwell makes a beeline for the influenced region. In transit, local people clarify that the elephant isn’t wild, but instead a trained one that has had an assault of ‘must.’ ‘Must’ happens when tame elephants, held in chains, break their limitations and go crazy.
The Burmese have been not able limit the elephant. Its ‘mahout,’ or handler, sought after it in the wrong direction and is currently twelve hours away. In its frenzy, the elephant has devastated open and private property and slaughtered domesticated animals. The part I found the most interesting and engaging was the section where Orwell describes the act of shooting the elephant. You can feel his pain and discomfort at having to shoot the animal through his words and memories. Orwell describes the crowd of people watching as “devilish,” which shows the reader how he feels about the people acting excited to witness death (5). Orwell also uses very descriptive metaphors to help paint a picture of the elephant dying by describing the creature “like a huge rock toppling” and “reaching skywards like a tree” (5).
The elephant is a living thing who doesn’t deserve this fate and we can sense that through Orwell’s description. Overall, Orwell’s piece demonstrates the negatives of imperialism. He realizes that not only is it harmful for the people living under British rule, but life is also stressful and unhappy for him, one of the people in charge, partly because of the way those under him view and treat him. This is an important essay because our world is in a time of turmoil, and it could be very helpful for people to read about Orwell’s experiences and understand the lesson he learned about freedom and imperialism.