Please explain the following quote from "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell."And it was at that moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the...

Please explain the following quote from "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell.

"And it was at that 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."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is always important to try not to look at quotes from texts in isolation, but to look at them in the context of the paragraph from which they are taken and the context of the work as a whole. This quote is drawn from probably one of the most important paragraphs of the essay as a whole, as it details the sudden epiphany that Orwell experiences as he realises that he is going to have to shoot the elephant after all. The narrator has just described the crowd that throngs around him as looking at him as if he were "a conjurer about to perform a trick." This helps us understand the nature of Orwell's epiphany. He feels the pressure of the expectations of the crowd, who want to see some kind of powerful and magical action from him. He realises that he has embodied the myth of the all-powerful Empire and now cannot shake this role off. Because of this, he realises that "when a white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys."

Whilst white man has gained power over this territory, this is a perfect example that demonstrates the true "hollowness" and "futility" of that power and rule, because they have gained that power but only by exchanging their freedom in return. Taking on the role of white colonialists results in the power that they gain only being at best a sham or a pretense, as Orwell discovers.

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