In "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, how does Orwell reconcile social construction and individual freedom?
In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell doesn't reconcile social construction and individual freedom: in the imperial world of Burma in which his narrator operates, the two are at odds. We learn from the start that the narrator feels deep personal alienation from his socially constructed role as an agent of empire. He "bitterly" hates his job enforcing the laws of the British Empire, but says he has to work out his "problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East." In other words, he is expected to keep a stiff upper lip and completely subordinate his personal feelings to the role he is expected to play. However, complicating his hatred of imperialism and his hatred of the abuses of empire, which he sees up close and personal, are his feelings of "rage" at how the colonial people of Burma make it almost impossible for him to do his job. For him "the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet in a Buddhist priest's gut." These violent emotions he calls "the normal by-products of imperialism." He understands that imperialism produces a passive aggression and hostility in colonized people that mirrors the open aggression and hostility of the conquerors. It creates a bitter enmity.
All of this comes to a head when the narrator must shoot an elephant that has rampaged and killed a native Burmese man. As a person, as a free individual, the narrator knows there is no reason to kill the elephant: the rampage is over, the elephant is no longer a threat and because elephants are hard to kill, its death will be slow torture. Yet the narrator kills the elephant anyway, because it is what his socially constructed role demands. If anything, the incident only makes clear to the narrator the huge disjunction between how he would behave if he were free to follow his conscience and the role he is forced to play by his society. As he says at the end, the only reason he shoots the elephant is so that he won't look like a "fool" in the eyes of the Burmese. His socially constructed role, in other words, trumps his individual freedom. Appearances (roles) are more important than reality.