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What is the overall effect of Orwell's references to certain senses in describing the...

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equus2012 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 13, 2011 at 8:47 AM via web

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What is the overall effect of Orwell's references to certain senses in describing the death of the elephant?

"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 13, 2011 at 10:58 AM (Answer #1)

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The elephant is his "mysterious, terrible change" from a magnificent animal to a stricken, pain-racked, semi-parlyzed victim is tragic to Orwell.  The visual picture of the elephant as shrunken and "immensely old" almost makes him symbolic of the British colonialism which is in its waning days.  Once powerful, the elephant sags to his knees as his mouth slobbers pitifully. He seems to have lost his ability to think with the shot to the head.  Orwell writes, "One could have imagined him thousands of years old." 

In an effort to put the large beast out of its misery, Orwell fires a sencond shot; however, the proud animal attempts to stand, and does, albeit weakly, with his legs weakening and his head drooping.  So, Orwell shoots a third time: 

You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree.

This proud, but defeated animal trumpets one time--his final cry against death. When he falls over, Orwell writes that the ground shook where he lay. Then, when Orwell sees that the elephant is still not dead, he fires where he believes the heart is, but the "tortured gasps" continue for hours:

He was dying very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further.

Indeed, the death of the mighty elephant is a most brutal, yet poignant experience for Orwell as he senses the pathos of this dying creature of Nature as he narrates, then reflects.  By contrast, after he leaves, the Burmese people strip it almost to the bones.  The clash of the personal, ethical culture of  Westerner with his institutional culture is apparent in the shooting of the elephant.  For, Orwell's feelings that the elephant is a simple victim are counter to his duties as a colonial policeman.

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