George Orwell - Shooting an Elephant. Discursive Questions.

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  • Why does the narrator not want to shoot the elephant? (Minimum 3 reasons)

The narrator of Shooting an Elephant is George Orwell. He describes his social and inner conflict aesthetically, depicting himself as a “puppet” that is driven by the will of yellow faces:  the Burmese population. Orwell is the sub-divisional police officer of the town, and as an imperialist police officer in Burma he has to endure the natives’ overwhelming mockery and hatred.  

Orwell’s dilemma in Shooting an Elephant is foreshadowed by the essay’s title. He has to choose whether or not to shoot an elephant – an enormous animal, as he characterizes it. Orwell eventually shoots the elephant because he did not want to look like a “fool.” This, however, is after an internal conflict which is a motif that runs throughout the essay, making readers reflect on their own conflicts. There are multifarious reasons Orwell ought not to shoot the elephant. One of the poignant reasons is that it was only under the effect of its “must,” an uncontrollable stage that only the mahout knows how to deal with. This evokes the visual imagery in readers of an enraged elephant destroying everything, and then calming down. It elicits, however, the Burmese to envision the elephant as a piece of meat – they want to seize the chance of its “must” as a means, as a reason, to obtain its meat. This foments one other reason Orwell should not have shot the elephant: “it is vaguely uneasy” to shoot an elephant for sheer entertainment, and, in Orwell’s case, the elephant’s meat will also be stripped. This reveals the narrator’s empathy with the elephant and strengthens the inner, ethical voice in our narrator, later to be overshadowed by the need to meet expectations – one of the crucial themes in the essay is the effect of a crowd on one’s judgment. “As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him,” Orwell says. Orwell had simply brought a gun to defend himself rather than to shoot the elephant, but his spectators influenced him through their collective power – the diction of “certainty” assures readers that the ethical choice is not shooting the elephant, which exacerbates Orwell’s failure to do so because of the crowd’s effect.

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In addition, Orwell knew that the elephant was worth more alive. He allegorized the elephant to a piece of machinery – its destruction would be appalling and uneconomic. (In fact, in the ending of the essay, his opinion is confirmed by the young British citizens who said that the elephant is worth more than any coolie – which reveals the theme of superiority and pricing.) Orwell then brilliantly characterizes the elephant’s peacefulness to that of a cow. In this particular essay, Orwell’s usage of animals as symbols is pervasive: the elephant symbolizes the British Empire, the coolie symbolizes the Burmese ...

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