Orwell’s main insecurity is the fear of humiliation. The laughter and “jeering” of the Burmese people are a source of apprehension for Orwell. As a peace officer in an otherwise subordinate country, Orwell is subjected to laughter on many occasions. One of his first exposures to humiliation occurred at a football match when “the crowd yelled with hideous laughter… In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men met me everywhere, the insults
hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves”(2). Orwell takes the ridicule of the townspeople very personally. This is significant because it suggests that crowd’s mirth is the source of his humility. The narrative reveals that in the impending contact with the placid elephant, the possibility of jeering from onlookers convinces Orwell to destroy the animal. Orwell states, “For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse… And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do”(6). The duality of suggesting that humility and insecurity is the combined single attribute leading to the death of the animal is very problematic since the crowd’s pressure of humility is a subtle principal conflict that added immensely to Orwell’s decision.
The encumbrance of the crowd establishes a relationship between Orwell’s humility and his decision to kill the elephant. Ultimately, the mass ridicule will result in an elephant’s untimely death. Morally, Orwell objects to the killing of the elephant, yet he is driven by his insecurity of humiliation perpetuated by the townspeople of Burma. The two thousand strong group of locals following Orwell, advocates the killing of the elephant, both verbally and symbolically “They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them… besides they wanted the meat”(5). Unquestionably, the crowd added a considerable amount of pressure to the action of shooting the elephant.
Orwell hints at guilt for being a slave to his insecurities, which at some instances is the pressing will of the townspeople by suggesting “at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that
had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute… And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the
elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly”(6). This is a justification for his actions that can be construed as a sub-conscious recognition of his guilt, not for killing the elephant but to be at the mercy of his humility and the crowd’s pressing favor. He even attempts to prove that his actions had validity by stating “To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing--no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at”(6). The phrase “every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” refers to Orwell’s own fear of being laughed at. He had killed the elephant simply “to avoid looking like a fool”.
An amalgamate of several issues contributed to the death of the elephant. Among the most pressing is Orwell’s weak will. The struggle with humility manifested itself through the actions of the young Orwell. Though not to be totally condemned for the killing, the townspeople played a significant role in the death. Neither of the two had bad intentions when separate, yet the mix of insecurities and peer pressure ends in somewhat catastrophic results.
Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant. 1936.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is a well written essay that analyses the texts and the writer's language choices in detail and in depth. At times multiple interpretations of points could be considered to consider more than one reading of certain language choices at text, sentence and word level. 5 Stars