Shooting An Elephant Essay, Research Paper
Lacking to Say the Least
Upon reading such works as George Orwell s Shooting an Elephant, one realizes just how ineffective an imperialistic government is. Imperialism has been considered by some to be a perfectly adequate form of government. Unfortunately, these people are usually the ones who never experience Imperialism firsthand. The flaws of Imperialism are made painfully evident in Orwell s essay. It is certainly impossible to truly understand what it must have been like to live under an imperialistic government without firsthand knowledge. However, Orwell shows the vast difference between the ideals of imperialism and this system of government s unfortunate realities.
One way in which Orwell reveals the chasm between the ideals and realities of imperialism is through his usage of the word hate. Through his experience with a renegade elephant, Orwell explains why imperialism as a political system is so very flawed. Hated by the men and women who s job it was for him to protect, Orwell comes to realize just how futile Imperialism is. Orwell says, Theoretically and secretly, of course I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British, (NR 842) Orwell is saying that even though he is hated and mocked by the Burmese on a daily basis he realizes and understands their feeling for him and other Europeans. Orwell is constantly jeered at and insulted, yet he understands why the Burmese hate him. He realizes that their oppression under British rule is the reason he is hated. The British government s rule has caused him to be 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 (NR 843). He is forced to endure theses evil spirited little beasts on a daily basis, all their insults and mockery, he still knows that they have reason to hate him and the government he represents. This is a strong statement made by Orwell here. On a daily basis he endures all the hate-bred actions and comments of people he is merely serving in the name of England. The many usages of the word hate, coupled with both the Burmese and Orwell s hatred for one another, shows ill feelings and uncooperativeness. There is so much hate that both factions refuse to agree on anything. How can a political system function when neither the people nor the government can agree on anything? When an order is issued and that same order s not obeyed the government is not functioning properly. When every order and law that is passed is ignored and violated something is wrong in Burma. Through this, Orwell shows how Imperialism has made him both hate the Burmese, yet perfectly understand why they despise him.
When confronted with the decision of whether or not to shoot the elephant, Orwell further realizes the utter futility of an Imperialistic rule. Orwell realizes that it is not the ruling country that has the power, but rather the country that is being ruled. This is a strange concept that upon taking over another country, the ruling country loses power through gaining it. A famous quote of Orwell s sums this ironic situation up quite nicely. When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys. (NR 845) This is quite ironic in that you would expect that if a county has the power to assume control over another, than they would be the ones in control. This proves Orwell s theory again in that in no way should the British lose their freedom when they took over Burma. In an idealistic imperialistic government, the governing should hold the power, not the governed. Here Orwell states another major fault of Imperialism, the simple fact that you cannot rule a country peacefully and happily when the oppressed people don t wish to be ruled.
Deliberating on the elephant s fate, Orwell shows another side of Imperialism that is quite faulty and strays from it s ideals. Orwell is faced with the decision of whether or not to shoot the elephant. On one hand, the elephant is worth a lot more alive to its owner than dead. He also realizes that the recent aggressions of this particular elephant were most likely due to its mating instinct, and that at the moment the elephant is probably harmless. However, due to the ineffectiveness of Imperialism, and the insubordination it creates, Orwell realizes that it is no longer his decision to shoot the elephant. He is forced to settle on pleasing the crowd now, for he is nothing more than a puppet:
Here I was, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed too and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. (NR 845)
This quote is another of Orwell s acknowledgements of the many faults of Imperialism. It is impossible to ever control a country which has dissimilar beliefs, customs, and ways of life. Orwell states that he no longer did what he felt was right or proper in the situation. He has lost his ability to reason, finding it quickly replaced with the desire to merely satisfy the mob. Orwell realizes that in the beginning he was foolish and tried to make decisions based on morals and reasoning. However, and most unfortunately, he realizes now that he is nothing more than a puppet doing whatever the people want from him.
For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the natives and so in every crisis he has got to do what the natives expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. (NR 845)
Certainly coming to grips with the fact that you have no control over your own life is a depressing realization. Here Orwell shows another difference from the ideals of imperialism and its grim realities. Instead of doing what he feels he should do in the situation, he must act to please the crowd. Orwell cannot consider the owner s impending loss of a perfectly good animal. He must not let his personal feeling get in the way of what the natives want. He must kill this elephant because he has no choice but to impress the people. Whether they want him to kill the elephant for entertainment or its meat, he must kill it or face being hated even more. Through this Orwell shows that in an imperialistic rule one can no longer act on what he or she believes is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it is also another of the many consequences of such a flawed system of government. Orwell s loss of individuality once again proves that imperialism has vast gaps between its ideal, and what actually happens. One would think that a man such as Orwell should have all the power, and be free to do whatever he feels. He should be a god and the people should obey him. He rules over them according to definition, yet they refuse to obey. He now no longer has the ability to act for himself.
From George Orwell s essay Shooting an Elephant, it is easy to see just how flawed Imperialistic governments really are. It is nothing more than common sense to know that any attempts to take control of another country and retain the conquered s loyalty will be anything but ineffective. Here the realities differ so much from their ideals, that it is clear Imperialism fails everywhere it exists. While the idea of governing a country through imperialism might seem like an effective means for the tyrant, George Orwell has shown through Shooting an Elephant that it is a near impossibility.