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This depends, of course, on what you think the author's thesis is. To me, the major thesis of this essay is that colonization hurts both the colonized and the colonizers.
I believe that Orwell is saying that colonization makes the colonized act in fairly brutal ways. At the same time, it makes the colonizers act in certain ways that are against what they would like to do.
Some quotes in the essay...
if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress.
This one shows how the behavior of the colonized is made worse.
And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. 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.
This one shows that the colonizers are pushed to do things solely to maintain their image as controllers of the colony.
Orwell’s thesis is implied. One possible way of stating it is “Imperialistic rulers must behave so as not to lose face or power over the populace, even if it means doing something against their better judgment.” Orwell felt pressured by the people, almost overwhelmed by their power over him through their mere presence. In theory, he explains at the start of the selection, he “was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British” (2). But, in reality, Orwell says, he felt the common people of the country were “evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (2). During the shooting incident the people were “happy and excited,” and they watched him “as they would a conjurer about to perform a trick.” He resentfully saw himself as having to spend his life “trying to impress the ‘natives’” (7). He reports later that, as he fired a shot, the crowd emitted a “devilish roar of glee” (11). His choice of words shows that he resented and disliked the Burmese.
Orwell shoots the elephant because the two thousand native people standing behind him expect him to. They want vengeance for the man it killed, the meat the carcass will provide, and the entertainment of watching the shooting. “The people expected it of me and I had got to do it” (7), he writes. There is an implication that if he decided not to shoot the elephant, both he and the empire would suffer a loss of prestige, but the main concern in Orwell’s mind is the “long struggle not to be laughed at” (7). He is even afraid to “test” the animal’s mood by going closer for fear it might attack and kill him before he could shoot, thus giving the crowd a sight it would enjoy as much as the slaughter of the beast.
Despotic governments result from the need to maintain power over subtly resistant people. Such a government can rule only by fulfilling the people’s expectations and responding to every crisis with the expected force. Orwell points to the irony that he stood armed in front of an unarmed crowd, yet he was powerless to do as he wished or as his judgment told him. Instead, he felt himself “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind” (7).
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