The natives are described as "sneering" and "wretched" in Shooting an Elephant. Analyze this diction.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well spotted. It is a curious fact that Orwell's feelings towards the natives in Burma where he works seem to be ambivalent at best. He professes sympathy for them and overtly opposes colonialism, but then goes on to talk about the Burmese natives in rather derogatory ways, deriding them and belittling them. Note the following example that comes from the opening paragraph of this fascinating essay:

In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves.

This is an ambivalence that becomes more defined when Orwell says the following, in which Orwell identifies the rather curious position he finds himself in:

All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.

There is immense irony in this statement, as although Orwell hates the notion of empire and the way that it classifies some humans as being "better" and "more powerful" than others, at the same time, he expresses the same kind of condescending and resentful attitude that characterises empire and colonialism. Thus we can see how the diction in this essay points towards a curioius ambivalence in Orwell himself and his thoughts and attitudes towards colonialism and the people he has ostensibly gone to Burma to rule.

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Shooting an Elephant

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