In 'Shooting an Elephant', what is Orwell's attitude to imperialism as revealed in the first two paragraphs?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Orwell’s attitude towards Imperialism is one of antipathy, and this comes through quite strongly in the opening two paragraphs. The narrator of the story uses negative terms throughout to describe himself and his situation as a serving officer of empire. At the same time, although he hates the empire and his own part in it, feeling 'an intolerable sense of guilt’, he empathises with the natives only in theory; in actuality he resents and despises them even as they resent and despise him. He describes them variously as 'petty', 'bitter', 'wretched', 'hideous'. In fact, at one point he expresses frankly murderous feelings towards them:

With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts.

 The narrator here displays not just hate but real viciousness towards his colonial subjects. However, it is important to realise that he is not naturally ill-disposed towards the colonised peoples; rather it is the whole system under which he serves that causes him to feel like this. Such destructive feelings are 'the normal by-products’ of Imperialism, as he sardonically remarks. It poisons his whole outlook and leaves him with nowhere to turn.

The narrator is looking back in retrospect to this time; his older, wiser self can see more clearly the confusion and rage that affected his younger self. Although he observes that the British Empire was not as bad as some other empires, he recognises that Imperialism has a detrimental effect on everyone, both the rulers and the ruled, and renders normal, decent human intercourse impossible. 

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