Shooting an Elephant Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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Compare and contrast the conflicts faced by Orwell in “Shooting an Elephant” to those faced by Gideon in “No Witchcraft for Sale.” To what unique revelation does Orwell’s position as a police officer lead him? How can Gideon’s ultimate decision not to share his knowledge be interpreted as an act of rebellion and an assertion of the dignity and worth of his culture?  

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Both men are being patronized and taunted to varying degrees for their positions. On one hand, Orwell is a British police officer in Burma and is a symbol of authority that the Burmese have come to resent. Constantly, he is being taunted and belittled by the local people with whom he ironically sympathizes. Gideon, on the other hand, is a native African who works as a cook for the Farquars. Kindhearted and patient, Gideon is beloved by all of his masters but becomes sad when forced to acknowledge the barrier between white and black in his environment. When Teddy is born, for example, Gideon feels very close to him in his youth. However, as Teddy ages and adopts the habits of the white masters, Gideon feels himself disconnecting from his young friend. Both men share the characteristic of being more than the world would have them be, as neither fit squarely into the preconceived notion that the society around them has pigeonholed them into.

In the case of Gideon, he is sad when it is shown that the Farquars think of him only a subservient tool, caring nothing for cultural sensitivity when they offer to give his secret to the doctor. As an act of defiance, Gideon walks them away from the house six miles in the heat before pulling up a plant at random and giving it to the doctor. Gideon is frustrated that his masters would not only give up his cultural secrets so easily but do not even consider the reason that he might find this offensive and unacceptable.

In the case of Orwell, he is put into an extraordinarily uncomfortable position when he is being prodded by the villagers to shoot the elephant, a concept that he finds wholly unappealing. However, he feels that if he does not act, he will be proving himself the foolish and impotent figure that all of the villagers think that he is. The revelation to which he comes is that when someone puts themselves in an unwarranted position of power, they are truly taking freedom away from themselves.

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