Orwell describes the dead coolie as well as the dying elephant: What is the purpose of this comparison and contrast?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Subtly, Orwell suggests with the dead coolie, the subjugated and oppressed Burmese people, who are "wretched prisoners in the stinking cages."  The elephant, which is a classic symbol of strength and power, represents the British Empire, the oppressor.  Earlier in his essay, George Orwell states that he "did not even know the British Empire is dying."  So, like the English themselves in their overexpansion, Orwell disables the strength of the elephant by shooting it because he does wish to appear foolish before all those who have gathered at the scene. And, this once great animal dies slowly and painfully after it has crushed the coolie

For Orwell this shooting of the elephant is "enlightening," providing him with an insight into the nature of imperialism, an "evil thing," as he terms it.  For, the conqueror must constantly overpower and impress the oppressed, who cannot but hate those who rule him.  At the same time, imperialism is degrading for both sides, symbolized by both the death of the coolie and the slow death of the elephant.


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