How is language and/or wording used to express the topic of the essay, "Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Firstly, language and wording can be analyzed from a linguistic perspective or from a literary perspective. Secondly, the topic of this casually crafted essay is diluted somewhat as the closing throws a red herring (i.e., false clue) over the topic in a possible attempt to relieve tension or  provide an ironically humorous, self-deprecating ending to the story told in the essay. Or perhaps it is added as an illustration of the topic of the essay (the casual crafting of the story makes it difficult to know which for sure, although the final suggestion seems likely). Thirdly, the actual topic of the essay is his traitorous statement and its dramatic proof:

I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. ... if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse.

Looking at the language and words from a linguistic perspective, one might say the topic is expressed through the use of dramatic adjectives and verbs. Looking at the language and words from a literary perspective, one might say the topic is expressed through the literary device of tone and the rhetorical devices of ethos and pathos.  

From a linguistic perspective, as the opening sentences confirm, Orwell uses strong adjectives and verbs. For example, some strong adjectives (i.e., modifiers of nouns) he uses are, dirty, stinking, evil-spirited, scarred, utter, intolerable. Some strong verbs are, hooted, jeered, flogged, huddling, clamped, spit, baited. These vocabulary choices express the reasoning behind the expression of the topic: because the situation is dirty and stinking with people being clamped down, flogged and baited, holding tyrannical control over another people violates ingrained moral and ethical beliefs thereby destroying the moral, spiritual, and physical freedom of the oppressor.

From a literary perspective, the tone of subdued, even depressed, contemplation expresses the topic by indicating the profound impact loss of freedom from tyrannical control produces on an oppressor:    

with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism

Additionally, the rhetorical device of ethos provides the narrators credentials for speaking about the topic thus giving his remarks credibility and authenticity. Ethos is defined as an ethical appeal that establishes the moral character of the speaker. The rhetorical device of pathos expresses the topic through the narrator's stifled emotion and the natives' unrestrained emotion:

I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited .... They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer .... They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching.

Pathos is defined as an appeal to a listener's/reader's emotions in an attempt to persuade to the speaker's/writer's point of view or message.

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Shooting an Elephant

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