In "Shooting an Elephant," analyze how using a cultural criticism lens better helps the reader to gain meaning from the text.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the lens of cultural criticism is important to use in analyzing Orwell's short story because cultural identity plays such a large role in understanding Orwell's predicament in the story.  Using the lens of cultural criticism helps the reader to understand the layers of antagonism that would exist between the British culture and the Burmese culture.  For example, the moment in which the British officer confronts the elephant is one where cultural identity drives the action. Orwell notes that the elephant no longer poses a threat.  Yet, the Burmese villagers watching him expect him to take action.  In this conflict, cultural reality exists.  Viewing this moment through the lens of cultural criticism, one fully understands and grasps how Orwell as the British officer is compelled to represent the savage British stereotype and how the Burmese who want the elephant's blood capitulate to the savages intrinsic to the Burmese stereotype.  This moment is one where the sad nature of each side is revealed to be the case precisely because of cultural notions of the good locking each one into roles that they cannot escape.  The tragic conditions of Orwell's short story are amplified and fully developed because of viewing this moment through the lens of cultural criticism.  Even the closing sentiment of the short story is one that can be accentuated in its understanding through the lens of cultural criticism:  

I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Analyzing this line through a lens of cultural criticism shows how cultural identity locks individuals into roles that challenge individuals to act in a way that is defined by cultural notions of the good.  Orwell admits that the killing of the elephant, taking action, was not out of his own volition.  Rather, he was compelled to take action based perception of his own culture and his perception of Burmese culture.  In this, cultural criticism would reveal the intense glare that is a part of cultural identity.  Through this lens, greater understanding of the theme in Orwell's story emerges.

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