Power of the Oppressed in George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant

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Power of the Oppressed Exposed in Shooting an Elephant

In Burma, the Indian Imperial Police consisted of British officers who, in theory, supported the extension of power and dominion of a nation, which is the basis of imperialism. George Orwell decided to follow family tradition when he went to Burma to work for the Indian Imperial Police, yet "when he realized how much against their will the Burmese were ruled by the British, he felt increasingly ashamed of his role as an alien police officer" (Britannica). In his narrative, "Shooting An Elephant", George Orwell realizes that throughout his entire rule in Burma he is actually the victim of the Burmese, and it is their expectations of what he should do with his power that force him to do what they want.

Looking back upon his experience as an officer of the imperialistic regime, Orwell recalls a crucial morning when he is asked to deal with an elephant that has escaped from its "mahout" or caretaker, and "has gone must" (310). On this day Orwell realizes that he is unable to make choices according to his own beliefs but must act according to the demands of the "natives" who have been deprived of their own country. Orwell acknowledges that "imperialism [is] an evil thing and the sooner [he] chucked up [his] job and got out of it the better" (310). He is constantly reminded of the abuse inflicted upon the native people as he observes at first hand the "wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the gray, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, and the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos" (310). Very prevalent is the anti-European sentiment among the "natives" of Burma; this prejudice nearly makes his job impossible. T...

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..."natives" feel obliged to test the imperialists’ authority (or lack thereof) as a means of keeping some control over their country. The imperialists believe that they are keeping control by acting resolutely, but as Orwell shows in "Shooting An Elephant", they put on this act to satisfy and appease the wishes of the "natives." In imperialism, the oppressed indirectly hold the actual power and control over those that falsely believe to be the oppressors.

Works Cited

Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1946. Rpt. The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues across the Disciplines. 7th ed. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Smyer, Richard I. Primal Dream and Primal Crime : Orwell's Development as a Psychological Novelist, University of MissouriPress, Colombia 1979.

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