In Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," what is the Burmese attitude towards imperialism? 

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

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In "Shooting an Elephant," the Burmese people have a very negative attitude towards imperialism. This is shown clearly in the first paragraph when Orwell is describing his experience as a sub-divisional police officer. The Burmese, for example, take every opportunity to vent their discontent towards colonial officers by spitting at European women or jeering at British officers.

As Orwell comments, however, none of the Burmese have the "guts to raise a riot." In other words, the Burmese will only vent their discontent if they think it is safe to do so. In the second paragraph, the reason for this becomes clear: the Burmese are treated very cruelly by the British, and the fear of physical violence keeps them in a state of submission. Orwell describes, for instance, the "wretched" Burmese prisoners who are kept in cages and beaten with bamboo sticks. 

The Burmese, therefore, hate the system of imperialism because it is used to oppress them. But they are unable to overcome imperialism since there is a constant threat of physical violence.

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sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Shooting Elephant.  In the first sentence of the story the narrator is explicit about the Burmese attitudes toward him as a representative of the imperial power:  “In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter.”  He goes on to say how people spit on him, jeer at him, and generally insult him.  On calling him to shoot the elephant, they are in a way testing him, which is why he carries out the deed:  to try to save face in a hopeless situation that he finds morally wrong and constantly embarrassing.

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renelane's profile pic

renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The Burmese people do not like imperialism, to say the least. The industrialized British have occupied the poor Burmese territory without the acceptance of its people. The Burmese truly hate the British people for being in their country, and the British are extremely condescending of the Burmese people.

There is an uneasy existence between the two. The narrator is uncomfortable with his role in the situation. He realizes he is being mocked by the Burmese people with regards to the elephant, and in the end feels pressured to shoot it because of their animosity.

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