George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant George Orwell writes of his experience in British-ruled India in the early twentieth century as a sub-divisional police officer in the sovereign Southeast Asia state of Burma. His essay presents a powerful theme of inner conflict. Orwell’s strong inner conflict lies between what he believes as a human being and what he should do as an imperial police officer. Orwell immediately claims his perspective on British imperialism saying that it is evil and that he is fully against the British oppressors, even though he himself is a symbol of foreign oppression to the Burmese.
His conflict ultimately results from the fact that he hates the British Empire, which should make him pity the Burmese people, but he does not. This is made clear when he says: “All I knew that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (Orwell 1). In his story Orwell writes not only about his personal experience with the “wild” elephant but how the elephant’s rampaging spree is a metaphor exhibiting the destructive power of imperialism; the elephant destroys homes and even kills a man.
Orwell’s hostile feelings toward the British, imperialism, and the Burmese people are further revealed when sets the mood of the story by illustrating the setting in Burma to be a “cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains” (Orwell 2). Orwell then establishes himself as a “weak” character when he introduces the Burma people and how they completely disrespect the British officer by constantly laughing and mocking him. When Orwell finally finds the elephant, he admits that, “I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him”… nd that he “did not want to shoot the elephant” (Orwell 2). He ultimately falls into the expectations of the Burmese when he decides to shoot the elephant, despite the many reasons not to shoot it such as how it is worth more alive rather than dead. When he kills the elephant he goes against his will and moral belief, and Orwell uses the death of the elephant as another metaphor of British imperialism in Burma. The elephant is a symbol of Burma and its struggle to remain alive after three Anglo-Burmese wars starting in 1824 between the British oppressors and the Burmese.
Even after a third shot, the elephant survives, symbolizing how the Burmese are still alive but with less power, strength and hope than before the wars. Even though Orwell tries to justify his killing the elephant by stating, “legally I did the right thing, a mad elephant has to be killed,” he knows that the elephant could have been saved without unnecessary harm and this exemplifies the final collapse of his morals (Orwell 4). As the story develops, it becomes progressively evident that the natives have control over the white man who is supposed to be in power.
Orwell realizes that as the symbol of British oppression, he is actually the victim of the Burmese, and it is their expectations of how he should use his power that force him to do what they want. As I mentioned earlier, Orwell makes many comparisons throughout the story that demonstrate his weakness in character; he equates himself to a puppet being controlled with the Burman crowd behind him as the audience, as well as how he feels forced to wear a mask constantly and play the role of a white man.
Orwell does a great job at shedding light on the fact that humans can be influenced so easily as well as how the influences of imperialism produce harmful effects on both the victims and oppressors. Orwell is supposed to be the higher power as an imperial police officer but because he is subjected to the evils of imperialism he becomes the victim. Orwell leaves readers with a powerful ending implication that human beings will do almost anything and act in unimaginable ways just to “avoid looking a fool” (Orwell 4).
It is my opinion that Orwell’s essay succeeds in conveying its message because it combines personal experience and political opinion into a smooth reading story. Source Orwell, George. “George Orwell: ‘Shooting an Elephant'” George Orwell’s Library. New Writing. –GB, London. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. http://orwell. ru/library/articles/elephant/english/e_eleph