Free Will in Shooting an Elephant and Antigone

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Free Will in Shooting an Elephant and Antigone

Free will can be defined as: “The right, given to humans by God, to make their own decisions.” A mans free will cannot be destroyed by any power other than God. Humans can always exercise their free will when making decisions. However, when their decisions come in conflict with the laws set by a higher power, they might face consequences based on how they choose to use their free will. The more restrictions imposed upon someone’s free will the more restricted their ability to make decisions become. The extent to which someone may exercise their free will can be defined as their “freedom.” Therefore, the more laws imposed upon someone’s free will the more restricted their freedom. Although no power, save God, can destroy free will, they can limit and even destroy someones freedom. In the essay Shooting an Elephant George Orwell argues that, “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Orwell, 704). Free will is indestructible; an example of Orwell’s destruction of freedom but preservation of free will is given in his essay. In Antigone an example of how even though higher powers can limit your decisions they cannot stop you from exercising your free will.

According to Orwell his freedom was destroyed when he took on the role of the tyrant. His job was that of a sub-divisional police officer in Lower Burma. A crisis arose in which he was faced with a hard decision to make. An elephant had gone on a rampage in the village and had destroyed countless huts and killed a man. When Orwell came upon the elephant it was clear to him that it had calmed down and that the elephant would cause no more harm to anyone. Orwell was faced with a decision: he could either shoot the beast or wait until his master came to get him. However, this decision was made much more complicated. Orwell was surrounded by two thousand Burmans who, as Orwell said, “were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a magic trick.” Although the Burmans were all underneath him and subject to him, he was very concerned about what they thought he should do. He was so concerned in fact he concluded that he had to do as they wished of him.

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"Free Will in Shooting an Elephant and Antigone." 18 Mar 2018
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His freedom to chose whether or not to kill the elephant had been destroyed by himself. How was Orwell able to destroy his own freedom? Orwell explains:

I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy … 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. I had got to shoot the elephant.

When Orwell decided to put himself in a position over the Burmans and limit their freedom, he destroyed his own.

Orwell’s free will, however, was never destroyed or hampered. At any time during this destructive event Orwell could have decided to do contrary to what the mob of Burmans wished. When he was faced with the decision of whether or not to shoot the elephant he could of decided to not to shoot it. In fact, that is exactly what he wanted to do: “I did not want to shoot the elephant.” Actually, his decision to listen to the mob and not to his own conscience was, in itself, an act of free will. Free will is indestructible and present in all decisions.

Antigone’s implementation of free will gives a good example of how freedom may be destroyed, but free will remains unyielding. Antigone’s freedom was hampered by Creon’s law. Creon’s law prohibited the mourning and/or burial of Polyneices. Polyneices was Antigone’s brother and it is obvious that she loved him very much. Although the penalty for disobeying the new law was death, Antigone disobeyed the law any way: “Ismene. I am going to bury him. Will you come?” Antigone acted in contrary to the views of both her sister and Creon. Due to Antigone’s decision to exercise her free will in contrary to the law placed by a higher power, she suffered the consequence, which was death. This example shows us that although higher powers can try to limit our freedom they cannot limit our free will.

Freedom is very important to mankind. Wars have been fought to preserve freedom. Why? Because freedom can be taken away and destroyed by man. Sometimes in order to preserve our freedom man must fight for it and take it back from the man who has taken it away. However, free will has always been an inherited quality of mankind. We need not fight for it for it cannot be taken away or destroyed. Free will is indestructible.

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