Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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How did the natives feel about Orwell in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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A large group of natives, some two thousand people, end up following Orwell as he locates the elephant which has gone wild and killed a man. Though the elephant no longer seems to be having its attack of "must," Orwell quickly realizes that the people still expect him to shoot it; they want him to, even, and they want the meat after the kill. He says, "They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching."

Orwell is well aware that the natives do not like him and that the only reason they find him remotely interesting in this moment is because he has sent for the elephant rifle, a move that implies an intention to kill the huge beast. He is conscious of their individual wills behind him, urging him forward to kill it. Orwell says that it was at this very moment that he first came to understands the futility of white people's authority in the East.

Anyone watching the scene would think that he is the "leading actor," but he knows that he was only an "absurd puppet" whose strings were being pulled by the natives, though they were unarmed. He realizes that he is not actually in control of his actions—though he does not want to shoot the elephant, he feels as though he has to. He says:

To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me

And his life, as well as the lives of all other colonizers in the East, was simply a fight to avoid being laughed at.

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