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George Orwell - "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).

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Introduction

George Orwell - "Shooting an Elephant" (1936) Non Fiction "Shooting an Elephant", by George Orwell, is a highly effective piece of non-fiction. Although written about an event many years ago, in a society that no longer exists as it did then, the essay still holds relevance in the ideas it contains. It is how Orwell puts across his views on colonialism and human nature that I intend to investigate. The essay revolves around Orwell recounting an incident which he experienced as a policeman in colonial Burma, in the 1920's. Orwell was called to act when a tame elephant went 'must' and started ravaging a bazaar, killing one of the indigenous Indians. However, by the time he had located the elephant, the attack seemed to have passed, so there was no need to destroy it. Yet such was the pressure from the local populace, and Orwell's fear of being mocked, that he shot the elephant. When he first introduces himself to the reader, Orwell seems to be a fairly level-headed person, with his self- depreciating tone showing that he doesn't take himself too seriously in the 'great scheme' of things; drawing the reader to sympathise with him. This sympathy is extended further when the reader is made privy to the ambivalence of Orwell's feelings towards his position in Burma. In direct contrast to the majority of Westerners in the East at that time, Orwell was very conscious of the hypocrisy of his position and conflicting opinions, and found it all "perplexing and upsetting". "Perplexing" because he felt sympathetic towards the Burmese, and was against the Western domination of the colonial territories, and sided with the "evil thing" that was imperialism. ...read more.

Middle

Similarly, it was the will of the crowd that was beginning to control Orwell's actions - a puppet. This image is then furthered by Orwell drawing parallels to a "Hollow, posing dummy", holding many of the same connotations, posed into the positions that its owner or dresser dictate. No choice, subjugated to the will of others completely. This position which Orwell find himself in is summed up in his chilling conclusion; "I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys". Seemingly paradoxical, for a "tyrant", by definition, sacrifices others freedom for personal gain - so why should they lose freedom as a result? Yet in the context of Orwell, and Britain's situation at this time, the concept begins to make sense. Once people expect a given set of actions or set behaviour, the 'peer pressure' can compress those it is aimed at into the mould; so British citizens in the colonies, including Orwell, ended up losing their freedom as individuals, in order to conform to stereotypes they otherwise might not have followed. In Orwell's case, having sent for the rifle, the Burmese expect him to use it, else seem weak and indecisive - and "my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at". The ultimate sign of derision - laughter. The only other option for Orwell was to walk up to within 25-odd yards of the elephant, and see if it charged him; if not, then he had proved the attack of 'must' had passed, and would be justified in the eyes of the Burmese in not shooting the creature. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Orwell states that he was "very glad" that the man had been killed by the elephant, in that through it he could 'justify' his preservation of 'dignity', it might seem callous to some. Yet this desperation, this willingness to sacrifice anything also elicits a sort of sympathy in the reader, at how pathetic the situation has become - perhaps reflective of the mixed feelings of contempt and pity that the Orwell of 1936 seems to feel towards his younger self. There are several possible themes to this essay; the condemnation of the colonial system - perhaps seemingly without significance in today's post-colonial world. Yet there are possible parallels to modern day 'superpowers' and dictatorships, conforming to stereotypes, unwilling to back down from, say, war, for fear of changing perceptions. People still discriminate, still conform to other's standards against their will. There is also the idea that if you hate an enemy viciously enough, you demean yourself to the same level as them. Even if originally 'justifiably angry', following reasonable logic, in hatred, you degenerate into conforming to the same behavioural patterns as your enemies; hatred contaminates. Orwell himself is an example of this; he seemed reasonably level headed, yet as his hatred for the Burmese grew, he gradually degenerated to similar levels of cruelty. Perhaps because he was formed by their perceptions, and the Burmese seemed to have had a cruel streak in them - which coloured their expectations? Either way, it is clear that while world situations have changed radically, there are still many relevant issues that are demonstrated in Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant". Perhaps it would be fair to say that it is not so much Orwell's views on Colonialism that are shown in this essay, but his uncannily accurate observations of human nature. 2894 words 1 ...read more.

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