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Shooting an Elephant

September 12, 2008 by ape36 · No Comments · Uncategorized

1. The first sentence of the essay is, “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.” The assumption Orwell makes is that one needs to be important to be hated by large numbers of people. He also makes the assumption that he has never been important at any other point in his life. 

2. Orwell uses humor and irony in the first paragraph when describing how difficult the native peoples make his job. It is funny and ironic when he says the Buddhist priests were the worst of all, because I would expect Buddhist priests to be more peaceful, and definitely not the worst people of the bunch. Orwell says that the Buddhist priests just stood on the street corner and mock the Europeans. His phrasing makes it funny: “None of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.” I don’t normally think of a priest as someone who “doesn’t have anything to do.”

3. Orwell hates imperialism, and he hates his role in it. He makes this very clear in the first few paragraphs of the essay: “For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.” (303). He goes on to use examples and description of the prison to explain why he hates imperialism. He added that he felt this way because he was ill educated and didn’t know that the British Empire was dying, or that the younger empires were worse than the British Empire, showing that his attitude has shifted since when he was in Burma.

4. Orwell expresses a strong hatred towards the native peoples because their insults made his job a lot more difficult. Orwell was just trying to do his job, he didn’t believe in imperialism, and got very frustrated when he was taunted. He wrote, “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” (303). Orwell seems ambivalent, he hated imperialism but part of him thought “the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.” (303). Orwell is frustrated with his situation, he hates imperialism and hates the way the native peoples treat him.

5. Orwell hates his job, and believes that the sooner he leaves, the better. He believes that his job makes him appear in control, but he is not. He describes himself as “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.” (306). He has to think about the natives’ expectations before acting, and his opinion is that the white man’s position in Burma ends the white man’s freedom.

6. In the second paragraph, Orwell wrote, “Feelings like these are the normal byproducts of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.” (303) He also explained that he hated imperialism, using the phrase, “and secretly, of course.” (303) “And secretly, of course” and “if you can catch him off duty” suggests that when the police officers were on duty, they had to appear a certain way to the native peoples. Orwell mentions later in the essay, when he is thinking about shooting the elephant, that when the white man becomes the ruler of a country, he becomes a puppet, and “he wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” (306). The Anglo-Indian officials ignore their own feelings about imperialism, and act like puppets, the way they are supposed to. Orwell didn’t want to shoot the elephant, but he did anyway, for the same reasons he only opposes imperialism secretly.

7. The effect of the phrase “merely ravaging their homes” is to emphasize that the native peoples didn’t have great living conditions, so even when their homes were being ruined, “they had not shown much interest in the elephant.” (305). Earlier in the essay, Orwell describes their homes: “It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm-leaf, winding all over a steep hillside.” (304). The native peoples didn’t have very much to lose, so they hadn’t been interested in the elephant, until they saw that he was going to be shot. Orwell wrote, “It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd.” (305). Comparing the native peoples to the English crowd shows that these two very different cultures are both entertained by an elephant being shot. It doesn’t happen every day, it’s exciting, and so a crowd gathers. 

8. Orwell doesn’t think he will shoot the elephant, until he sees the crowd of more than two thousand people around him. His decision to shoot the elephant is heavily influenced by the expectations of these two thousand people. He believes that his position in Burma is no more than that of a puppet’s. And he knows that if he did walk away, “The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.” The last sentence of the essay is, “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.” (309). He shoots the elephant because people expect him to, and he would rather do what he knows is wrong than be laughed at.

9. In paragraph 11, Orwell describes the death of the elephant in great detail. The quote “At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees.” (308). Orwell knows that shooting the elephant was wrong, and when he shot the elephant, he tried to do it in a way that would kill it quickly. He is waiting for the elephant to die, and keeps shooting in the hopes that it will help. The long description of the elephant’s death shows that Orwell feels very guilty for the pain the elephant is in. The characterization of the time period shows that Orwell is a compassionate person. He couldn’t just shoot the elephant and walk away without feeling anything, he continues to try and kill the elephant, and watches as the elephant is in agony. He only leaves when he can’t bear to watch anymore.

10. The description of the elephant dying is long and drawn out, because Orwell watched the elephant die and it took the elephant a long time to die. “He sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him.” (308). These words paint a picture in the reader’s head, making the death very dramatic. The words describing the dead Indian are also very image provoking: “His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony.” The description of the dead Indian is shorter and less emotional, for a few reasons. Orwell did not witness the death of the Indian, he only saw the dead Indian. Also, Orwell did not cause this death, or feel an attachment to this death. He killed the elephant, and felt responsible for its suffering, but he felt nothing for the Indian. He was even grateful later that the Indian had died, because it gave him a solid reason for killing the elephant. 

11. The Europeans had two different perspectives on the elephant killing. The older men thought that Orwell was right to shoot the elephant, because the elephant had gone mad and killed, so killing the elephant was the right thing to do. The younger men thought that Orwell was wrong, because elephants are worth quite a bit of money. The younger men considered the Indian the elephant killed worthless; therefore the Indian’s death wasn’t a good justification for killing the elephant.

12. Orwell is in Burma, but he makes it very clear that he doesn’t believe Imperialism is a good thing for Burma or for Britain. He hates imperialism, but he also hates the natives. He ends up shooting the elephant because people expect him to, even though he knows it is wrong. He feels that he and Britain as a whole have no control, and are mere puppets. This describes the larger story of Imperialism very well. Imperialism often ends up being detrimental to both countries involved, and the natives of the occupied country are more opposed and more powerful than expected. Today, this compares well to the Iraq War. Not all soldiers fighting in it agree with pushing democracy on another country, and the war has lasted much longer and become more complicated than expected. 

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