Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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What was Orwell's job in Lower Burma?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Orwell was a member of the Imperial Police and a sub-divisional officer in Burma. The narrator of "Shooting an Elephant," often taken to be Orwell himself, is also a subdivisional police officer in Burma. His job is to help keep order, the usual role of a police officer. He implies that his job involves working with Burmese prisoners, which gives him a view of the darker side of empire. He speaks of the "stinking cages" of the lock ups and of prisoners scarred on the buttocks from beatings.

As a sub-divisional police officer, the narrator/Orwell represents to the native people everything they hate in the unwanted and oppressive British rule. He sympathizes with the Burmese to the extent that he agrees with them that imperialism is a terrible system. On the other hand, because they bait and jeer at him, wanting him to fail and be humiliated, he also hates them.

The essay shows how difficult his job is. The narrator is caught between a rock and a hard place, having to do senseless things so that an imperial system he no longer believes in can look powerful and confident.

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Kelvin Brakus eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "Shooting An Elephant," George Orwell writes about his experiences while he was employed as a "sub-divisional police officer" in Moulmein, a town in Lower Burma. This means Orwell policed the town, alongside other Indians (as Burma was a province of India at this time) while representing the interests of the British Empire.

From the text, we can learn about Orwell's duties as the sub-divisional police officer. When an elephant goes on the land around Moulmein, for example, Orwell is called on by his superior to bring the situation under control. He has no love for this particular duty, nor for the job more generally, and it is clear from the text that he is "hated by large numbers of people" in Moulmein. They jeer and assault him at every given opportunity, though lack the "guts" to commit open rebellion. As such, Orwell experiences intense hatred towards his job:

As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.

Despite his hatred of the job, Orwell served in Burma for five years, from 1922 until 1927. (See the reference link provided.)

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