What is the implied meaning of the noise of the elephant in "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?comparison of the impicit meaning of the noise of the elephant to the Burma under English rule,...

What is the implied meaning of the noise of the elephant in "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

comparison of the impicit meaning of the noise of the elephant to the Burma under English rule, England's imperialism in the 1930's, Orwell's relationship with power, Orwell's confused identity, the relationship between masters and victims.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One interpretation of George Orwell's "On Shooting an Elephant" may well be that the elephant is symbolic and its dying a metaphor for imperialism.

When the elephant is shot by Orwell, a British colonial policeman, there is "a devilish roar of glee," the roar of conquering.  The elephant looks "suddenly striken," as despots might be as they realize that control of the subjects is lessening:

He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralyzed him wihout knocking him down.

In this state, the elephant--the great beast that it is--climbs "with desperate slowness" to his feet and is able to stand again, albeit weakly.  In his essay, Orwell describes how the Burmese have intentionally hurt him at a soccer game, yet he must do what the "natives" expect of him, wearing "a mask, and his face grows to fit it."  He must show the strength of the British conqueror.  So, he acts his role and tries to "tower upward...trumpeted, for the first and only time."  Yet, this final show of strength does not serve him, for he crashes and shakes the earth just as the failure of imperialistic power causes the British defeat.  By the time of Orwell's tenure in Burma, the country had become economically successful and felt that it should be independent.

Born in India, George Orwell came to Burma as a time when Burmese interests began to assert themselves.  This nationalism of Burma is what Orwell records in his essay "On Shooting an Elephant."  As Orwell doubts the legitimacy of the colonial government, so, too, does he doubt the legitimacy of his shooting the elephant, and states at the end that he "was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right...."

 

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