Critical Analysis of ''Shooting an Elephant'' by George Orwell
Shooting an Elephant is a short story by George Orwell. It contains arguments with regard to imperialism, conqueror and conquered, as well as conscience. In his story, he proves his argument by illustrating the shooting an an enraged elephant which had fortuitously killed a Coolie. For this reason, the law permitted the British Raj to shoot the elephant. From within him, he knew he wanted to prove to the natives that he was a hero. The central point in the story Shooting an Elephant is imperialism (Orwell 42). The last one is known to affect both the oppressor and the oppressed. As it is a dissolute relationship of power, it forces the oppressor to act dissolutely to keep up an appearance of being the “sahib” and being right in every act he does (Orwell 43).
Orwell demonstrates his wrath in opposition to the British empire in which he works. Imperialism as defined in the English dictionary is a policy of extending the power and influence of a nation by military force or through establishing colonies. It results in abuse of power and evil acts that crush the will and feelings of the oppressor forcing them to do things against their culture. The Indians and Burmese had to go through the oppressing ordeal when the Europeans imposed imperialism in their country. In 1617, the British was permitted by the imperial of the time, Mughal to establish the East India Company in India. Gradually, they strengthened their roots in Burma and India and started demonstrating their tyrannical power over the poor natives. The narrator also illustrates the poor conditions that the people of Burma lived in British jails. In the cells, the Burmese’s were treated with cruelty by the British rulers (Brown and Trimbur 2012). These actions were hurtful and perplexing, and bearing in mind that imperialism was evil, Orwell had made up his mind to quit his sub-divisional police officer’s job.
Even though, the writer is secretly and theoretically against the British, he is seen to be in rage and sheer heat against the Burmese. This can be evidenced by the fact that the Burmese are in anger and anguish, which makes them insult all police officers they encounter, including the narrator. In paragraph 2, the main character calls the natives, “Evil-spirited little beasts” meaning that he seems to be fed up with their acts.
Besides, the situation of the narrator throughout the essay is revealed as one of less prominence. He claims that despite being from the ruling class, people from Burma hate and ignore him too. The hero states, “I was hated by large numbers of people, the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me” (Brown and Trimbur 2012). It is only after killing the elephant that he was perceived as important. As a police officer, he was a target for mockery of the people of Burma similar to any European who offered an easy target.
Contrary to his description of the locals as little natives, Orwell terms the elephant as a great beast. This means that he valued the elephant more than the natives. Somehow, this is paradoxical as his job was humiliating and it forced him to see the unjust work of the empire he was serving. The writer labels Buddhist priest (people of goodwill and peace) as the worst people ever. The author even proclaims of how he would spear a Buddhist priest.
After killing the elephant, Orwell consoled himself by saying it had killed the Coolie, and this supported him legally. Nevertheless, he keeps wondering whether people will identify with his reasons for killing the elephant for his only wish was to uphold his pride.
The conscience of the narrator disturbs him largely as he is trapped amid the rage of the empire he served, and his wrath of the evil spirited beasts who made his job difficult. The literary hero is seen to take sides with people from Burma and against the British. He argues that such feelings are a by-product of imperialism. This makes the imperialists empathize with the natives. However, since they do not treat their conquerors in a friendly manner, they feel less guilty and continue treating them badly.
Were Orwell’s reasons for killing the elephant justified? Even though, he decided to shoot the animal, his reasons were not straightforward. The writer said that his final decision was to avoid looking as a fool in the eyes of the natives, and this was extremely shameful (Orwell 42-49). Evidently, the narrator was in conflict with himself regarding his rationale. In spite of the moral and ethical pain he suffered, in my opinion, Orwell was justified to kill the elephant. As a police officer, he had the responsibility of showing solidarity amongst all people. Arguably, if he had not shot the elephant, the existence of the troops in Burma could have gotten worse.
One of the best reasons to justify the author’s decision to shoot the animal is the fact that it had killed a Coolie. In many nations, killing is a dangerous crime, and those involved in the same are condemned to life imprisonment or death. The question in this case is why should the elephant face a different sentence. The Coolie had been taken away from his family forever and his dreams shattered. The contributions and the role he played both in his family and society at large had been cut short. Probably, if it has not been shot, the elephant would have killed another human being. Orwell did not have an option in this case, and he made the right decision. The Burmese did not have any defense on this, and they were dependent on the Europeans’ assistance. Besides, they were helpless and lacked weapons to defend themselves. In this case, what could have been done? Permit the animal to destroy the whole sector?
The elephant had also destroyed individuals property, and this is another justification why it was shot. It had killed a cow, destroyed a bamboo hut, as well as devouring the stocks of a fruit stall. It denied some natives a livelihood and left a family without shelter by doing so. The elephant had also destroyed a government trash vehicle and a municipal rubbish van. In sheer destruction of the property, Orwell was justified to kill the animal.
Morally and legally, the narrator was justified in his decision by the principles of the British government. His choice to shoot the elephant assisted in maintaining and restoring order. Though his ethical and moral code made him feel he had done the wrong thing, he had to do it. Although the character wanted to look good in the eyes of the natives whom he termed as inferior, he had an obligation as a police officer of preserving peace and maintaining order.
Lastly, he wanted to maintain respect and order in the community. The presence of the British had to be kept where discipline and respect are sustained. This is because if the literary hero failed to do so, the anarchy that would rule would make codes and laws harder to implement. Moreover, it was the wish of everyone for him to save them from the elephant. Orwell says he could feel the people’s will, pressing him irresistibly. If he indicated any sign of weakness, everything would end up in chaos. At the same time, the writer realized the British rule to the natives was useless and void.
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