In "Shooting an Elephant," how does Orwell describe his feelings about the British Empire, before and after he left it and finished writing the essay?

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Orwell describes his feelings about the incident, within the confines of the essay. Orwell’s overall impression of the incident and his thesis and or theme is implied. One possible way of stating it is this:

Members of a ruling imperialistic class feel compelled to behave so as not to lose face or power over the populace, even if that means doing something against their better judgment.

Orwell felt pressured by the people, almost overwhelmed by their power over him through their mere presence. In theory, he explains at the start of the selection, he “was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British” (2). But, in reality, he felt the common people of the country were “evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (2). During the shooting incident, the people were “happy and excited,” he says, and they watched him “as they would a conjurer about to perform a trick.” He resentfully saw himself as having to spend his life “trying to impress the ‘natives’” (7). He reports later that, as he fired a shot, the crowd emitted a “devilish roar of glee” (11). His choice of words shows that he resented and disliked the Burmese.

Orwell shoots the elephant because the two thousand native people standing behind him expect him to. They want vengeance for the man it killed, the meat the carcass will provide, and the entertainment of watching the shooting. “The people expected it of me and I had got to do it” (7), he writes. There is an implication that if he decided not to shoot the elephant, both he and the empire would suffer a loss of prestige, but the main concern in Orwell’s mind is the “long struggle not to be laughed at” (7). He is even afraid to “test” the animal’s mood by going closer for fear it might attack and kill him before he could shoot, thus giving the crowd a sight it would enjoy as much as the slaughter of the beast.

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