Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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Was Orwell a victim or oppressor?

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One of Orwell's most compelling arguments in "Shooting an Elephant" (and one which recurs throughout his work, particularly in 1984) is that oppressive structures oppress everyone. The primary victims of colonialism are the colonized people, but the colonists also suffer. Even at the highest levels, colonialism is a corrupting influence, but Orwell writes from the perspective of a low-level official of the British Empire, a sub-divisional police officer in Burma. In this position, Orwell says, "you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters." He also describes being divided in his allegiance, or perhaps more accurately in his lack of allegiance. Theoretically, he hates imperialism, and his sympathies are all with the Burmese. In practice, however, he finds many of the local people infuriating and is constantly afraid of looking foolish in front of them.

The scene that Orwell finds when he catches up with the elephant provides a telling commentary on his position. There is a harmless...

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