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What argument is Orwell making in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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raeoliviaa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:19 AM via web

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What argument is Orwell making in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:22 AM (Answer #1)

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In this powerful essay, George Orwell uses the symbol of when he was forced to shoot an elephant to describe the foolhardiness and inherent weakness of the colonial endeavour. He describes how the elephant did not need to be shot and how he really didn't want to shoot it. However, when he finally reaches the elephant, the crowd that is getting bigger with every moment pressurises him into shooting the elephant and he feels as if he is being looked at as if he were a "conjurer about to perform a trick." It is this moment that triggers an epiphany in Orwell's mind about the futility of what Britain is trying to achieve through her colonial exploits:

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grapsed the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd--seeming the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.

Thus it is that he realises the cental paradox that lies behind colonialism, that "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys." The narrator feels that people expect powerful action from him as he is the all-powerful white man who rules them. He cannot free himself from the role in which he has been cast and thus actually destroys his own freedom. It is this point that this essay so powerfully makes.

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