What makes "On Shooting an Elephant" a descriptive essay?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By definition, a descriptive essay is a written account of an experience that allows for personal and artistic expression.  Therefore, figures of speech and much imagery, or language that appeals to the senses, is employed in the communication of the writer's "emotional reservoir," his account of experiences, both interior and exterior. The descriptive essay also leaves the reader with a clear impression and is well-organized with a thematic idea.  Certainly, then George Orwell's "On Shooting an Elephant" meets the criteria of a descriptive essay:


The theme of the oppression of imperialism and the dictates of conscience that arise from Colonialism prevail throughout Orwell's account of his having to shoot a rogue elephant.  He really does not want to kill the elephant; however, because he is a British officer and because he resents "the sneering yellow faces" of the Burmese who watch him, he shoots   Nevertheless, from the experience Orwell states,

...it was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism.

Emotional language and imagery

Especially in the part of the essay in which Orwell understands the evil of imperialism as he states that in order to remain the ruling colonial he must shoot the elephant, he employs emotional language and imagery,

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.

He also comments,

....every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

Regarding the elephant who may charge him when he aims his rifle, Orwell employs a simile,

I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller....

And, he uses auditory imagery in describing his shooting,

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick...but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd.

Clearly, from his artistic and thorough descriptions, the reader understands the author's attitude toward several separate subjects that are, notwithstanding, relative to imperialism.  George Orwell's "On Shooting an Elephant" is, an exemplary descriptive essay.