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Short Story Response – “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

Shooting an elephant by George Orwell, an anti-imperialist writer, is a political piece of work that explores the dystopian world of the British imperialism in 19th century India. This essay opens in Moulmein, an underdeveloped city in Lower Burma, which is governed by the British Empire. Orwell, the narrator of the story, is a colonial policeman of this British India province who is highly disregarded by the Burmese and is portrayed as a mere puppet of a colonising force. The target audience of this essay is thus ought to be the colonising British population, along with Europeans, who are criticized to be the criminal minds behind an aggressively corrupt system of imperialism. Orwell makes several assumptions in Shooting an elephant that strengthens the readers understanding of the British colonisation in India and one of the most powerful tools he uses to do so is perspectives. The underlying image that Orwell creates is that “Imperialism was an evil thing” (1936, p. 1). In the narrator’s perspective, the elephant is metaphorized to represent an innocent, “unarmed native crowd” (Orwell 1936, p. 3) in a colonised zone and the narrator sees himself as a “white man with a gun” (Orwell 1936, p. 3). On the contrary, in the eyes of the native Burmese population, the narrator draws the elephant out to be perceived as a danger, perhaps an embodiment of the British colonizers, and the himself to be seen as a nationalist native majority seeking revenge. In the first viewpoint, the narrator emphasizes the gun in order to show a controlling weapon that gives leverage to the colonizers. This weapon symbolises the power of imperialism and how it is used to exploit the innocent unarmed natives. In the second viewpoint, Orwell expresses how imperialism has had a contagious effect that aggravated the anger in natives who now want to burn down the British Empire, personified as the elephant, and gain their sense of power back. In both cases imperialism leads to violence, anger and outrage, reiterating that is an ‘evil thing.’ (Orwell 1936, p. 1)

Short Story Response – “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

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Shooting an elephant by George Orwell, an anti-imperialist writer, is a political piece of work that explores the dystopian world of the British imperialism in 19th century India. This essay opens in Moulmein, an underdeveloped city in Lower Burma, which is governed by the British Empire. Orwell, the narrator of the story, is a colonial policeman of this British India province who is highly disregarded by the Burmese and is portrayed as a mere puppet of a colonising force. The target audience of this essay is thus ought to be the colonising British population, along with Europeans, who are criticized to be the criminal minds behind an aggressively corrupt system of imperialism. Orwell makes several assumptions in Shooting an elephant that strengthens the readers understanding of the British colonisation in India and one of the most powerful tools he uses to do so is perspectives. The underlying image that Orwell creates is that “Imperialism was an evil thing” (1936, p. 1). In the narrator’s perspective, the elephant is metaphorized to represent an innocent, “unarmed native crowd” (Orwell 1936, p. 3) in a colonised zone and the narrator sees himself as a “white man with a gun” (Orwell 1936, p. 3). On the contrary, in the eyes of the native Burmese population, the narrator draws the elephant out to be perceived as a danger, perhaps an embodiment of the British colonizers, and the himself to be seen as a nationalist native majority seeking revenge. In the first viewpoint, the narrator emphasizes the gun in order to show a controlling weapon that gives leverage to the colonizers. This weapon symbolises the power of imperialism and how it is used to exploit the innocent unarmed natives. In the second viewpoint, Orwell expresses how imperialism has had a contagious effect that aggravated the anger in natives who now want to burn down the British Empire, personified as the elephant, and gain their sense of power back. In both cases imperialism leads to violence, anger and outrage, reiterating that is an ‘evil thing.’ (Orwell 1936, p. 1)

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Another assumption that Orwell outlines in this story is that people are not born imperialists but rather are forced to become imperialists. Orwell uses his own guilt in the shooting of the elephant to highlight this idea. In the story, throughout his journey to the paddy fields where the elephant is, Orwell emphasizes that he has no intention of killing the elephant. “Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him.” (1936, p. 2) In fact he thought the elephant to be a beneficial resource that could be used to work the field or like Orwell mentions “a huge and costly piece of machinery.” (1936, p. 2) Yet, because of the two thousand Burmese people, who were standing behind him with the expectation of seeing the elephant dead, he was pressurized to shoot the elephant in order to gain his position in the society. As Orwell would agree “feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism” (1936, p. 1). His subconscious guilt co-insides with his own perspective of seeing himself as merely a ‘white man with a gun (a powerful advantage),’ and a follower of the colonizing force who is now compelled to shoot an innocent elephant. This notion, again, takes us back to Orwell’s principal assumption that Imperialism is an evil thing that influences people to do evil things.

A third concept that Orwell throws light upon is that Imperialism is so vigorous that it has the ability to break the bond of an entire nation. The Burmese locals are a perfect example of this. Orwell mentions that the Burmese locals had “sneering yellow faces” and are very unruly in their behavior. They “spit beetle juice all over her (European woman) dress” and “jeer at Europeans.” (Orwell 1936, p. 1) Moreover, instead of helping another fellow Burmese get back his elephant and help tame him, all that the locals want is to the see the elephant lying dead and savour its meat because they can not stand the idea of having an additional dominating force around them. “I was told they (the Burmese) had stripped his (the elephant) body almost to the bones by the afternoon.” (Orwell 1936, p. 4) This attitude is the result of imperialism. Instead of collaborating with each other and using their mass number to defend their country and drive out the British imperialists, imperialism has influenced these locals to become exactly the savages, they view the colonizers to be.

These various claims, made by Orwell, has opened my mind to a different side of imperialism, especially the idea that people are not born imperialists. It has furthered my understanding on the severity and influential power of colonizers who essentially are just a small group of people from another country that use their class and education as a weapon to exploit the less educated. This idea of colonialism is however not a historical tale; it still continues today in its various forms. One example is how western governments use their commercial and political powers to exploit the Republic of Congo, along with other African countries, for their natural resources via illegal trades, bribery and secret deals, forever hindering their growth and development to become wealthy. Furthermore, the article titled The Man Who Lived by Snigdha Poonam co-relates to modern day imperialism where social media, particularly WhatsApp, is the driver of the madness and chaos. The article talks about how a a group of four people had been arrested for spreading rumours over social media regarding the fake news of the death of a man named Rahul Upadhyay. “My family received nearly 400 phone calls in those two days asking about my death and offering condolences,” said Upadhyay (Poonam 2018, p. 4). I see this as a form of imperialism because four people used WhatsApp as an influential weapon to convince four hundred people that an alive man was dead in just a span of hours, creating unnecessary banter in the country.

Furthermore, in Shooting an elephant we see colonisation between two countries or two different races of people. However, our class discussions on the Indian Legend The Mahabharata made me realise that the notion of capture and rule is seen even between genders of the same race or religion. Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, is held captive not only by a male demon Ravan but in fact perpetually lives under the control of her own husband to the lengths that she has to walk into flames of fire to prove her chastity to her husband, because hers words are not enough. In my opinion, that is colonisation too!

Finally, in conclusion, I would agree to Orwell’s assumptions on colonisation and imperialism being corrupt systems that only bring one-sided benefits because I can relate them to modern day scenarios where humanity can sometimes be blinded-sighted by the greed for power and dominance over others.

Works Cited

  1. Orwell, George. ‘Shooting an Elephant.’ Blackboard Learn, 1938, blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1039132-dt-content-rid-3298321_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/Pols360-S08-Reading-ShootingAnElephant.pdf.
  2. Poonam, Snigdha. ‘The Man Who Lived.’ Blackboard Learn, 23 Dec. 2018, blackboard.babson.edu/ bbcswebdav/pid-1007251-dt-content-rid-3237926_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/ The%20Man%20Who%20Lived%20.pdf.
  3. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1039132-dt-content-rid-3298321_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/Pols360-S08-Reading-ShootingAnElephant.pdf
  4. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1039132-dt-content-rid-3298321_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/Pols360-S08-Reading-ShootingAnElephant.pdf
  5. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1039132-dt-content-rid-3298321_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/Pols360-S08-Reading-ShootingAnElephant.pdf
  6. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1039132-dt-content-rid-3298321_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/Pols360-S08-Reading-ShootingAnElephant.pdf
  7. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1007251-dt-content-rid-3237926_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/The%20Man%20Who%20Lived%20.pdf
  8. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1007251-dt-content-rid-3237926_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/The%20Man%20Who%20Lived%20.pdf
  9. http://blackboard.babson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1007251-dt-content-rid-3237926_1/courses/2019Spring-HSS2006-01/The%20Man%20Who%20Lived%20.pdf

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Short Story Response - "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
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Shooting an elephant by George Orwell, an anti-imperialist writer, is a political piece of work that explores the dystopian world of the British imperialism in 19th century India. This essay opens in Moulmein, an underdeveloped city in Lower Burma, which is governed by the British Empire. Orwell, the narrator of the story, is a colonial policeman of this British India province who is highly disregarded by the Burmese and is portrayed as a mere puppet of a colonising force. The target audience of
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