What are the kairos and the structural elements in the non-fiction essay, "Shooting an Elephant' by George Orwell? 

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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kairos: Rhetorical analysis of any sort begins with some orientation to the kairos ... the exigencies and constraints of place, time, culture, and audience that affect choices made by speakers and authors to influence that moment.... (Silva Rhetoricae, Brigham Young University)

Since "Shooting an Elephant" is retrospective discussion of what happened in the past, the kairos that is of most importance is the kairos in place in the events of the past as they occurred in the past. Orwell's job is to re-establish this kairos for his readers to evoke a different time and place where a different set of "exigencies and constraints" are current.

Orwell emphasizes the kairos in the opening paragraphs. "Kairos" is a Greek term in rhetoric that signifies the time, place and culture that determine, undergird, influence and generate an author's communication. To this are added the demands (the exigencies) of the place and time, such as how a British police officer in India is expected to behave (shoot an elephant), and the restrictions (the constraints) of the time and place, such as what a police officer may not do.

Colonial India in the time of Orwell's narrative is strained by oppression and building hatred. Moulmein, in Lower Burma, was then a peasant area where emotional restraint in local unschooled peasants was strained and broken whenever it seemed safe to do so. Enough adversity had come from British colonialism that some British government and civil workers in India and Burma were beginning to question colonialism and to inwardly rebel against it. At the same time, there were expectations of what the British should do with their greater power and their weapons to protect the people in their charge. This is a brief description of the kairos set up in the early paragraphs by Orwell: the place, time, the exigencies (expectations of protection) and the constraints (legal limits restraining behavior).

They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. ... It was a bit of fun to them, ... besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant....

The structure of the essay is a straightforward narrative piece that looks backward through a present first-person narrator who always speaks in the past tense about events that happened in a specific chronological place and time. Each event occurred as the result of a causative first event creating a cause and effect chain of chronological events until he reaches his final conclusion: "I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."

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