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An Analysis of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" Essay

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"Shooting an Elephant" is one of the most popular of George Orwell's essays. Like his essays "A hanging" and "How the Poor Die", it is chiefly autobiographical. It deals with his experience as a police-officer in Burma. After having completed his education, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police, and served in Burma, from 1922 to 1927, as an Assistant Superintendent of Police. His experiences as an officer in Burma were bitter. He was often a victim of the hostility and injustices at the hands of his colleagues and officers. Peter Stansky and William Abrahams in their book The Unknown Orwell write "He was friendless and inexperienced, not certain of what to expect and fearful of proving to be inadequate, a predictable failure."

Orwell could not grow a liking for the oppressive British colonial rule in Burma, and felt ashamed of being a part of it. He was disturbed by the conflict of loyalties going on in his heart because of the fact that he was at once opposed to the dirty work of Imperialistic feelings, but could not express them properly. He loathed the tyrannous and oppressive rule of a handful of British on a large number of Burmese people. He belonged to the class of oppressors but had sympathy with the uneasiness of conscience made it difficult for him to continue in the service of Imperial Police. The native people's hatred for the British and the strong anti-English feeling and atmosphere in Burma created more difficulties for him. Ultimately, Orwell gave up his job in Burma, and left for England in August, 1927. In the `Autobiographical Note', he explains the reasons for having to leave this job thus: "I gave it up partly because the climate had ruined my health, partly because I already had vague ideas of writing b...


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...t it is not what the essay is chiefly about. The essay is actually concerned mainly with the writer's own personality and his views on various matters such as the evils of tyranny and oppression associated with imperialism. It succeeds in presenting the contradictions in the writer's thought and feeling and clarifying his complex attitude towards the British Raj. According to Keith Alldritt, "Shooting an Elephant marks an important stage in Orwell's career because it shows his first discovery of a form appropriate to his needs .........Shooting an Elephant is a transitional essay. It contains vestiges of the early symbolist manner and it also points forward to the mature essays of the forties." The essay is, as Tom Hopkinson points out, "an example of his prose style at its most lucid and precise." It is also emblematic of Orwell's moral nature and human concern.



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