George Orwells

“Shooting An Elephant” Essay, Research Paper

In George Orwell’s essay “Shooting An Elephant,” he writes about racial prejudice. Orwell is a British officer in Burma. The author is, “for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British”(842). Orwell feels caught in the middle of this cultural struggle. He sympathizes with the oppressed people of India, but is treated poorly, since he is viewed as one of the oppressors. He comes to terms with the role he plays in this vicious cycle of oppression , as an imperial servant, and the influence it has on him to shoot an elephant.

The Burmese people are treated as second class citizens in their own country. They are oppressed, by the British empire, that has invaded their land. Being a police officer Orwell sees first hand brutality prisoners experience, “huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scared buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos”(842); but like so many Europeans he feels helpless to do anything about the atrocities he witnesses.

Orwell is not forced to acknowledge these atrocities until he is put into the position to shoot an elephant. After, the elephant kills a native, the Burmese people look for the elephant to be killed. While contemplating on whether to shoot the elephant or not, his motives become personal. The author views himself as an Anglo-Indian that refused, “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”(845). Orwell gives the impression, that the standards placed on him, as a white man, and his ego, have put him in a position, to have to shoot and kill the elephant. Being a minority among natives Orwell comes to realize that, “[his] whole life, [and] every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at”(845). No matter how much the author refuses in his mind, to shoot the elephant. The crowd urges Orwell to kill and he as a, “white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened”(846).

After Orwell shoots and kills the elephant he, “[perceives] in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys”(845). The author also, comes to realize that he is part of a society, that places more value on an elephant, than on a human life. Orwell hears comments like, “it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie”(847).

At the end of the essay it is disturbing to think, that Orwell is actually part of the vicious cycle, instead of part of the solution when he ends with the comment; “I often wonder whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool”(847).


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