Shooting an Elephant by Geroge Orwell

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In his early twenties, George Orwell (1946) began a line of work he would later term “an unsuitable profession”: officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, which began his transformation into a writer of primarily political topics. His essay “Shooting an Elephant” describes his feelings of frustration in attempting to perform his duty – shooting a mad elephant discovered to have broken its chain, destroyed property, and killed a man – while avoiding the ridicule of the local population. (Orwell, 1936) The elephant can be seen to represent a number of individuals and groups in the story, held by various chains in their different circumstances.
Orwell (1936) began his narrative complaining of the animosity of the local population, but quickly moved to his own hatred of his position as a representative of the British imperial government. Though secretly sympathetic to the locals and their resentment of European intrusion into their country, he could not openly express or act upon that sentiment, and thus experienced the same derision as his countrymen. Recognizing the superior military capability of their occupiers, the Burmans limited their expression of this resentment to “safe” actions, from a plausibly accidental missed call in the course of a sporting event to insults and sneers on the public streets. (Orwell, 1936)
The action of the story commences within this framework of tension, of strong feelings muzzled by stronger fears. Receiving a telephone call one morning with the disturbing news of an elephant in the madness of musth, Orwell (1936) set out, equipped with only a small rifle and his determination to save face. Villagers in a poorer section of town claimed that the beast had destroyed dwellings and some shops in th...

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... and die, though its replacements were in Orwell’s estimation far worse.
The third elephant peeks from every paragraph in the essay: the most discussed, by far the most important and influential, and yet the most dangerously chained. It is Orwell himself, it is the Burmese population, it is the writer and readers of the essay, it is humanity. Its chain is natural human pride, that overwhelming conviction that a form of resolute determination will retain honor even in the face of failure. In saving face, in his perpetual struggle to avoid embarrassment, the man loses his convictions and himself, and in unintended ironic consequence, loses face as well.

Works Cited

Orwell, George. (1946). Why I Write. Retrieved from http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/897/
Orwell, George. (1936). Shooting an Elephant. Retrieved from http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/887/

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