Shooting an Elephant is an autobiographic reflection written by Orwell, the only character in the piece which doubles as the narrator. Orwell was working in Moulmein as a sub-divisional police officer in Burma, which was a British colony at the time. In the Shooting an Elephant, it is evident that the narrator has mixed feelings about his participation in the British Empire. Orwell recognizes that the British Empire is an oppressive and reprehensive institution. On the other hand, Orwell hates the aggrieved burns who abuse him because of his position in the Imperial police force. This essay describes how Orwell’s experience of shooting an elephant gives him insight into the manner in which imperialism deforms the freedoms of the colonists as well as how it afflicts the colonized.
Imperialism in Shooting an Elephant
Orwell serves in the British police force during a time of imperialist rule when great empires dominated subordinate nations such as Burma to take advantage of their resources. The British Empire believed that it was a white man’s burden to civilize savages in these countries. However, writers such as Orwell broke imperialism to the question whether or not European colonizers were in control. Orwell reveals his opposition to imperialism by using parallel between a Burmese elephant and the British Empire to pass a message on imperialism (Sarkar, 2016). Orwell feels that in actuality, the nature of imperialism is horrendous because it destroyed the freedoms of the British Empire as much as they justified their actions to the ‘savages.’
Orwell is best positioned to give this story because as a British officer, he had better knowledge of the truth of imperialism. Imperialism is a vice because it does not educate the locals who the British emperor felt that they were savage. Orwell depicts the native’s hatred by giving an example of a European woman who was spat on by the locals if she attempted to walk through the bazaars on her own. This is an indication that imperialism created hatred of the colonizers because of the inhumane acts they perpetrated on the natives. It would be expected that Orwell would do his job without feeling guilty. However, the inhumane acts such as flogging the locals for no particular reason created an internal conflict between what Orwell did not want to do and what he was forced to do by the British Empire. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
This autobiographic reflection begins with Orwell’s claiming his outlook on British imperialism by stating that he is fully against the oppressors and that imperialism is a vice. Orwell’s perspective on the British rule is rather surprising given that he is a British officer in Burma. Nonetheless, he feels a deep hatred and guilt towards the British Empire and himself (Montgomery, 2013). Orwell does not only write about his experience with the elephant but also how shooting the elephant metaphorically reflects his views on British imperialism. His feelings are hostile towards imperialism and Britain’s excuse for their actions in conquering Burma.
Orwell chose the elephant as a symbol of the British Empire. He draws a connection between an elephant and the British Empire using physical characteristics and its effect on Burma. The colossal nature of the elephant was analogous to the size of the British Empire, which signified its unstoppable power. Both elements share hideousness in the effect it causes on Burma. Orwell describes imperialism as stinky, intolerable, dirty, and evil and creates a parallel with an elephant by describing it as terrorizing and wild.
Orwell sets the mood of the story by illustrating the setting of the story as a ‘cloud stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains.’ The mood sets the Orwell’s tone as upsetting and weak. He depicts himself as a weak character when he writes about the Burma people and how they mock and laugh at him because he is a British police officer. Other metaphor he uses when he writes about himself builds o his character as a weak man. He compares himself to a lead actor in a piece, a performer about to execute a trick, and a puppet that poses as a dummy and wears a mask (Murphy, 2013). Since he held the magic rifle, the locals expect him to shoot the elephant but more so because he is a white man.
At this point, Orwell comes to the realization of the actual position that the white held in the East and how imperialism can hurt both the victims and their oppressors. Orwell explicates how the oppressor destroys his freedoms when he turns tyrant. He further explains the need for the white man to consistently impress the locals and act as they expect of them. His perspective is an indication that the natives have power over the white man. Therefore, Orwell has to complete his role as expected of him and realizes that all through he has been a victim of the Burmese people. Orwell felt that he was subject to the expectations of the Burmese people and he had to use his power to meet these expectations.
Orwell compares himself to an actor in the play with the Burma people behind him as the audience. He uses this metaphor when he aims to shoot the elephant in the head to display double-edged sword factor for imperialism. Orwell feels like a puppet that is controlled by both the British Empire and the Burmese people. He uses this image to demonstrate the weakness and helplessness of his character and feels like he has been forced to wear a mask and play the part of an authoritative white man. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
Details in Orwell’s story demonstrate the failure of the British Emperor on the actions he took to conquer Burma. Orwell’s work of shooting the elephant is symbolism for the destruction of imperialism. His action is an indication that he was also indirectly a puppet of the natives because he succumbed to the pressure of the Burmese people and killed the elephant. Orwell’s feelings of guilt and alienation are clearly portrayed by how he immediately departs from the crowd once he kills the elephant (Melia, 2015). His loss of control is equivalent to the loss of real power of the British colony over Burma. More so, shooting the elephant symbolizes the British emperor’s failure in managing his colonies.
Shooting an Elephant in a reflection that proves that destruction of imperialism is inevitable. The British company never truly had full power over Burma. Orwell successfully draws a parallel between the British Empire and the elephant to establish the true nature of imperialism. Just like the elephant, the British colony’s justification the Burmese people ends up in dreadful fatality (Maiti, 2015). By shooting the elephant, Orwell demonstrates the shift in power since he is forced by the supposed conquered Burmese to destroy British Empire, which proofs that the presence of white men in the East is futile. Therefore, imperialism at its best is deceptive and horrendous.
Tone in Shooting an Elephant
Orwell’s tone in the narrative is revealing, informal and friendly. His tone captures the attention of the reader because he builds the trust of the reader by sharing intimate details of his hatred and confliction. More so, his approach to narrating the story reveals a glimpse of his persona that in most narrations the reader does not get to see. For example, his voice when he speaks of conflict is the view of a person under authority trying to do act right in an impossible situation. More particularly, he says, ‘I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.’ He speaks of his alienation and that of the locals when he refers to the crowd of Burmese people watching him as an ‘a sea of yellow faces’ (Murphy, 2013). It is easy for the reader to follow and share about his experiences because he is very honest about his challenges; as much as most of the readers have never had to shoot an elephant. However, the readers empathize with Orwell because many have had to act in a manner that feels wrong because then they wanted to avoid dishonor or they were forced to wear a particular ‘mask.’[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Orwell uses his moral dilemma to communicate to the reader the evils that emanate from imperialism and colonial politics. He successfully blends his personal thoughts, political opinions, and commentary into the narrative, which makes the story easy to read as well as shows the influences of imperialism on the colonized and the oppressors. Orwell explains imperialism by perfectly transforming himself from a position of supposedly high power into a victim of his tragedy of shooting an elephant. He implies that it is a tragedy that human beings would go to all lengths to do some things just to avoid dishonor and humiliation.
Maiti, K. (2015). Designating an Animal Victim: Violent Sparagmos in Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant. Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies, 6(1).
Melia, P. (2015). Imperial Orwell. Atlantis. Journal of the Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies, 37(2), 11-25.
Montgomery, K. (2013). Shooting An Elephant: How the British Became the Leading Imperialist in Africa and the World.
Murphy, R. F. (2013). Exterminating the Elephant in” Heart of Darkness.” The Conradian: the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (UK), 38(2), 1.
Sarkar, S. (2016). ‘To Avoid Looking a Fool’ or Repressed Ethnocentrism-A Postcolonial View of George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant. International Journal of Research, 3(01), 850-853.