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In "Shooting an Elephant," what does Orwell's change of mind say about him?
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High School Teacher
Orwell, at first, did not want to shoot the elephant. It was just eating and not showing a mad disposition at the moment despite the fact it had, just shortly before this, killed a man. Orwell, even though he was British and a subdivisional police officer for the British in the Burmese town of Moulmein, disliked British Imperialism. He considered the British to be oppressors of the people whose lands they occupied. When he was called upon to kill the elephant, he hesitated because he could see no reason to kill such an animal. The more he thought about it, however, the more he feared what might happen if he didn't do it. There were more than 2000 people standing around waiting for him to shoot. He realized that if he didn't shoot to kill the animal and it charged at him, he would probably be killed and the Burmese watching the incident would do nothing because they hated the British, thus hating him. "A white man mustn't be frightened in front of 'natives'; and so, in general, he isn't frightened." Orwell feared the crowd might even laugh at him. "That would never do. There was only one alternative." Orwell shot the elephant despite the disgust he felt for himself.
Posted by luannw on April 18, 2011 at 8:24 PM (Answer #1)
High School Teacher
The way that the presence of "the natives" pressurises Orwell into shooting the elephant, against his better judgement, precisely emphasises the central point of Orwell's essay. By playing the role of white master, colonisers ironically only destroy their own freedom rather than the freedom of others. The youthful Orwell reflects that he could have done something different to avoid shooting the elelphant, but interestingly what stops him is the threat of being laughed at:
The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on, and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.
We are thus presented with a youthful George Orwell who is desperate to save some form of face and is willing to go against his better judgement in order to do so. He is a perfect example of how when "the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys." It is interesting to reflect though that the older Orwell who is of course looking back and narrating the story does not say that he would have done any different if he could go back, which perhaps reflects the immense pressure facing the younger Orwell.
Posted by accessteacher on April 18, 2011 at 8:25 PM (Answer #2)
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