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What is the selection's thesis? What's his main idea?

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anjames1989 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 24, 2010 at 3:33 PM via web

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What is the selection's thesis? What's his main idea?

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted January 24, 2010 at 6:41 PM (Answer #1)

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anjames1989,

Orwell's widely anthologized non-fiction essay "Shooting an Elephant" has an implied thesis: “Imperialistic rulers must behave so as not to lose face or power over the populace, even if it 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, Orwell says, 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,” 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 British 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.

Despotic governments result from the need to maintain power over subtly resistant people. Such a government can rule only by fulfilling the people’s expectations and responding to every crisis with the expected force. Orwell points to the irony that he stood armed in front of an unarmed crowd, yet he was powerless to do as he wished or as his judgment told him. Instead, he felt himself “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind” (7).

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 24, 2010 at 10:29 PM (Answer #2)

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To me, the thesis and main point of Orwell's essay is that imperialism is bad.  He argues that it is bad for the ruling people and he argues that it is bad for the people who are ruled.

Orwell shows in the beginning of the essay how colonialism degrades the colonized people.  They come to hate the colonizers so much that they will spit on them out of spite whenever they get the chance.  Orwell feels that this sort of fairly inhuman behavior would not happen without colonialism.

Orwell also shows that the colonizers come to hate the people they rule.  They hate them, in part, because the people force the colonizers to do things (like shooting the elephant) that they do not want to do.

Imperialism, to Orwell, causes both the rulers and the ruled to lose their dignity and their integrity.

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