In "Shooting an Elephant", what is Orwell's opinion of the Burmese? Of the British Raj? What conflict in him do these attitudes create?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short answer to this question is that Orwell (or, more accurately, his narrator) doesn't have much use for either the British Raj or the Burmese people. He makes his hatred for the former clear very early in the essay when he tells the reader that "theoretically...and secretly...I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British." He saw the brutality of the Raj firsthand and up close, and he finds it revolting.

But at the same time, he has a deep feeling of contempt—hatred, really—for the Burmese people. He remembers that he felt "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."

He says the Raj is an "unspeakable tyranny," yet fantasizes about bayoneting a Buddhist priest. The point is that, as Orwell observes, feelings like this are a "natural byproduct" of empire. Despite all the rhetoric about "civilization," the British Empire was fundamentally based upon power and violence. As an imperial policeman, Orwell came face to face with that reality in the incident portrayed in the piece. The Burmese expect him to act violently because he is an imperial representative. Thus he has to act in this way, and this highlights how he has been corrupted by association with imperialism. The fact that he could hate both the empire and the people subject to it is an example of the twisted reality of being involved in the business end of the British Empire.

troutmiller eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell is very conflicted by his position in this story.  He is stuck in a position of an authority he does not support.  He had "already made up his mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner [he] chucked up [his] job and got out of it the better."  His biggest problem was that he supported the Burmese.  He hated seeing the "dirty work of Empire at close quarters."  He saw "the wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lockups..."  He felt guilt for what the British were doing to the Burmese, but he worked for them and had to do his job.

The worst part about his position is that the people he really truly supported (the Burmese) made his job very difficult.  He sees the British Raj as "an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down upon the will of prostrate peoples." Yet, the way that the Burmese and the Buddist priests treated him made him want to violently fight back.   These priests were the worst and made his daily work difficult and frustrating.  That would laugh and jeer at him and even throw things at him.  Little did they know how he really felt, but they made his situation worse for taking their frustrations out on someone who sympathized with them.

user4795500 | Student

What historical/political developments might the author be prefiguring in paragraph 2 ?

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Shooting an Elephant

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