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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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

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Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant" is about the relation between the British imperialists and the natives of India. Orwell, who worked for the Imperial Indian police in the 1930s, writes a story about an elephant that had terrorized a village. He explains how he was pressed to shoot it, but he did not want to do it because he was against killing animals. He finally shot it after he was commanded to do so by his superiors. The incident is revealing of Orwell's feelings towards empire and imperialism as well as his ideas on moral responsibility.

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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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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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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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What is George Orwell's view on imperialism as revealed in the essay "Shooting an Elephant?"

George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” was written in 1936. He was working at the time for the Police force (*imperial Indian police). The elements that he presents in the story include the resentment and tension that he feels regarding the way this department had supremacy over the rest of the Indian natives and exploited, abused, and mistreated the citizens. In turn he, as a non-native, was also resented not only because he was part of this huge, abusive apparatus, but because he was a European.

The elephant in question was a real animal that was causing havoc in a village. As a white officer, he was supposed to take charge of the situation and was pressed to shoot it. He did it, grudgingly and against his moral nature, and killed it. The problem with this was that he realized that no matter  his position or status, he was in no way in control of himself and was coerced into committing an act that goes completely against his nature: The same happens with the imperialists bullying colonists into doing as they say. He was no different: He succumbed his external weaknesses and forfeited his inner strengths over the opression of the majority, and he acted just like the Imperialists he hated so much.


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What is George Orwell's view of Imperalism in Burma as portrayed in "Shooting an Elephant"?

In his excellent essay "Shooting an Elephant" George Orwell gives his own impression on "Empire" and imperialism based on first-hand experience. As a police officer serving in Burma during the time of its occupation, not only did he symbolise British rule but he became its agent. His whole experience of imperialism is condensed to one defining moment for Orwell - when he is forced to shoot an elephant against his wishes:

The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd - seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

This powerful quote displays how imperialism is depicted in this essay. Orwell, as the representative of British power, has come to embody the myth of the all-powerful Empire and now is trapped in this role. Colonialism therefore is shown as something that is wrong both in its impact on the "colonised" but equally wrong in its impact on the "colonisers," who are reduced into becoming little more than "hollow, posing dummies" whose whole existence and goal in life is "not to be laughed at."

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