Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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How does the older George Orwell feel about his younger self in "Shooting an Elephant?" 

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Orwell does not look back at his stint as a imperial policeman in Burma very fondly. He tells the reader that in this job, "you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters." Generally, he thinks that colonialism is immoral, but he also remembers that he despised the Burmese people--and they felt the same way about him. Above all, he remembers looking back that imperialism involved playing a role. As a young...

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cassandro | Student

The older Orwell sees his younger self as the reluctant puppet of a corrupt empire. Throughout the essay, he discusses the disconnect between his feelings and the actions he must take as an English policeman in Burma. He is hated by the Burmese people he polices and hates the British Empire he serves, but he nonetheless acts according to the expectations of both. He states his feelings explicitly in the second paragraph when he writes, "Theoretically -- and secretly, of course -- I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear."

As the essay progresses, the disconnect between Orwell's inner desires and outward obligations manifests itself in his confrontation with the mad elephant. He gets word that an elephant is wreaking havoc throughout the village, and he is called upon to stabilize the situation. He arrives in one of the poorer quarters and finds the elephant has trampled and killed a Burmese man. At this point, he realizes he may have to kill the elephant and calls for an elephant rifle. He receives one and gets word that the elephant is in the paddy fields. A crowd gathers behind Orwell as he approaches the elephant, now innocently eating grass. "I halted on the road," he writes. "As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty I ought not to shoot him." He makes up his mind to watch the elephant for signs of violent behavior and leave if he shows none. Then his awareness shifts to the crowd behind him and the role he must play. "And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it." Ultimately, he does shoot the elephant several times and kills it, because the role in which he has been cast supersedes his individual thoughts and feelings. He is truly a prop of the empire.