What are some thoughts and feelings about the characters and their actions in "Shooting an Elephant"?
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There is an interesting ambivalence in the character of Orwell as the policeman who is desperately trying to perform his job. He talks of how he understands the hatred of the Burmese, but at the same time, at various points in his narrative, he is clearly very denigrating about the "natives" and their ways. It is interesting that he is clearly impacted more than he would think by colonialism.
The imperial policeman is sympathetic because his position is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he's in a position of power, and needs to maintain that. On the other hand, the source of his power, imperialism, is morally wrong so he has no real leg to stand on.
Another thing to consider, Orwell (the policeman) may be sympathetic to a British reader, but I can also see how someone from India might read the story and feel no sympathy for the policeman. Afterall, he didn't have to go to India, he could have refused. He doesn't have to be part of the machine of imperialism.
Orwell, the imperial policeman, is the main character in the short story. Since he also wrote the story we, the readers, are made to feel sympathetic toward him and his situation. He doesn't want to be an imperial policeman for the British while living so far away from home in Burma. The natives hate him and he feels the weight of that constantly.
We are also made to feel sympathetic toward the natives as well because Orwell understands their hatred. They do not appreciate being rules by a country so far removed from their own because the country cannot possibly know what is best for them as a people.
The elephant is the innocent victim of this struggle between imperialism and the native Burmese people and so we feel sympathetic for it too because it is literally caught in the middle. The elephant suffers a horrible death because Orwell shoots it with the wrong gun and so it lies there suffering while Orwell feels horrible and the natives cannot wait to strip it for it's usable commodities.
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