How does Orwell feel about the Burmans in "Shooting and Elephant"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From his introduction, George Orwell seems to have ambivalent feelings about the Burmese.   On the one hand, he states that he is theoretically and secretly "all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British and he feels an "intolerable sense of guilt" for the "wretched prisoners."   On the other hand, he writes that he feels rage toward the "evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make his job impossible:

With one part of my mind I though of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down...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.

It is ironic that Orwell is exploited by those who are themselves exploited by the British. Because of the conduct expected of a British official, Orwell cannot allow the elephant to live, as he knows that he should.  As he contemplates whether to allow the elephant to live or to shoot it in order to display his lack of fear, Orwell thinks that if anything goes wrong,

those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on, and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill.  And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh.  That would never do.

And, so Orwell shoots the elephant "solely to avoid looking like a fool."  And, like the Burmans who hate their British oppressors, Orwell hates his oppressors in this situation, the Burmans, whom he blames for his comprising of his principles:  "They were going to have their bit of fun, after all," Orwell writes bitterly.

tsabtahi | Student

orwel demonstrates conflicting emotions towards the natives.'theoratically and secretly' he is compassionate with the burmese the intense sympathy he displays towards the living and dying elphant.but he has to perform what he is forced to.thus his profession brings him into a position of an oppresor to be hated by the they mock him in every possible way and do their best to make his 'job impossible'.therefore his rancor towards those 'sneering yellow faces' is also overpowering.

in a word orwel is a mere puppet,but with a compassinate mind, forced to perform beyond his will to hate and to oppress and be hated in return......     

epollock | Student

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, 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,” he says, 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.

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Shooting an Elephant

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