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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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Analysis of the First Two Paragraphs of George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"

Summary:

In the first two paragraphs of "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell reflects on the complexities of imperialism. He describes his internal conflict and resentment towards the oppressive British rule in Burma, as well as the mutual hatred between the Burmese and the English. This sets the stage for the moral and political dilemmas he faces throughout the essay.

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What is the tone in the first two paragraphs of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"?

George Orwell’s short story "Shooting an Elephant" opens with the narrator discussing his setting and station in life at the time. The tone of the first two paragraphs is serious and conveys an individual’s conflict between long-held beliefs about the world and real-life experiences in that world. “I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing,” states the narrator at the beginning of paragraph two. He opens the story by declaring that he was hated by most people in Burma, speaking in the tone of one ostracized from the rest of the world. He also claims to hate his job, but at the same time is impressing upon the reader that his treatment by the Burmese people is awful. Later in that second paragraph, the narrator shares that “I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated . . .” The overall tone expresses a highly stressful situation. The narrator clearly illustrates that he had solidly formed opinions concerning the British Empire, but that he was too uninformed to fully understand his own beliefs and role in the Burmese society.

“Shooting an Elephant.” The Literature Network. Jalic Inc., 2000-2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

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What is the tone in the first two paragraphs of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"?

The mood of "Shooting an Elephant" might best be described as one of carefully controlled anger. This seems to have been the mood with which Orwell approached his duties in the Burmese Imperial police, and the story is written in the same spirit.

Orwell creates this mood through the plainness and directness of his style. He often sounds bitter, but he never gives way to polemical fury. This is at least partly because his anger lacks a single clearly identifiable target. On an everyday level, he is angry with the Burmese people, who do everything they can to make his life difficult and, in his view, compel him to shoot the elephant. However, he recognizes that the Burmese people are not the true villains, that he and the other Europeans in Burma are even more culpable, and that the rotten system of imperialism is the biggest culprit of all.

Orwell understands that he did nothing at the time to challenge the status quo. He shot the elephant because this was what was expected of him. He describes himself as "young and ill-educated" at the time. He can write deprecatingly about it now, but this does not change the past, nor does he suggest that he would do anything different if he had the opportunity to revise his decision. The mood of controlled anger in the piece is therefore allied with one of resignation in the face of the inevitable.

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What is the tone used in the essay, "Shooting an Elephant"?

In the essay "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, the narrator recounts an experience he has while serving as a police officer in Moulmein, a town in Lower Burma. He explains that because he is a European, the Burmese despise him. They shout jeers and insults at him and even trip him when he played soccer. This confuses him because he sympathizes with the Burmese and their plight. He has decided that the British are oppressors and that the subjugation of the locals is wrong. Sometimes the harassment of the Burmese is almost more than he can bear.

One day he receives a phone call that a crazed elephant is running loose in the village. He grabs a rifle, jumps on a pony, and goes to investigate. The elephant has been wreaking damage and killed a local. The narrator sends for a larger rifle and continues on foot. When he catches up with the elephant, it has calmed down. The narrator does not want to kill it, but he senses the mood of the huge crowd behind him and does it anyway because that is what he is expected to do.

The tone in a work of literature reflects the writer's attitude and feelings toward the subject he is writing about. The author's choice of words and phrases determine tone.

The tone in "Shooting an Elephant" is a mix of different attitudes and feelings that reflects the emotional conflict inherent in the author's situation. For example, the tone expresses the author's frustration due to the complexity of the political and social situation. The tone expresses the uncertainty the author feels between his sympathy for the Burmese and his duty to the British. The tone expresses the author's helplessness against powerful social forces that pull him in opposite directions. The tone expresses the author's anger at the British for their colonial policies and at the Burmese for their harassment. Finally, the tone expresses the irony that the author is forced to act contrary to his personal beliefs by both the British and by the Burmese.

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What is the tone used in the essay, "Shooting an Elephant"?

Throughout "Shooting an Elephant," the narrator's tone is both candid and frank as he talks openly and honestly about his experiences as a sub-divisional police officer in Burma. In the second paragraph, for example, the speaker admits that he, like all imperial officers, felt very conflicted about his role. On the one hand, he hated imperialism because of its tyranny but, on the other hand, he hated the Burmese people for the way they treated him. In addition, he also admits that he had no choice but to continue working in Burma because he needed a job. By confessing these thoughts and feelings, the narrator develops a strong sense of honesty with his audience.

Later, when the narrator shoots the elephant, the tone becomes depressing as he describes this animal in its final moments. He uses visual imagery to convey this change of tone. He highlights the "desperate slowness" of the elephant, for example, and the crashing of its body after he fires the final shot.

The candid tone resumes in the closing paragraphs of the essay. He wonders if anybody realized his true motives for shooting the elephant—namely, that he shot the elephant because he did not want to "look a fool" in front of the Burmese.

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What is the tone used in the essay, "Shooting an Elephant"?

The tone Orwell's narrative adopts toward his readers is friendly, revealing, and informal. This approach draws the reader in. We trust his voice because he shares intimate details of his experience: he is hated, he is conflicted.

The tone is particularly effective because this approach allows the narrator to reveal glimpses of his personality that we might not otherwise get to see. For instance, when he speaks of the conflict he feels, his voice is the voice of a worker trying to do the right thing in an impossible (from his perspective) situation:"I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. Later, the narrator reveals his racism and alienation when he refers to the people watching him as a "sea of yellow faces.

Because he is so honest about his difficulties, we can follow him and share in his experience. We may never have had to shoot an elephant, but many of us have performed an act we knew in our heart to be wrong
because we felt forced to wear a particular mask or because we wanted to avoid humiliation.His tone allows us to see ourselves in him.

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What is the tone used in the essay, "Shooting an Elephant"?

Tone is the author's attitude toward the subject he is writing about. Critics have debated whether Orwell is apologizing for or condemning imperialism. Either way, Orwell is against imperialism, when a more powerful country governs and controls a less powerful one. The British ruled India in 1930s when Orwell was a colonial official. He felt the hatred, distrust, and resentment of the Burmese people toward officials of the British empire and agreed with them that Britain shouldn't have been there. Yet, he also experienced his hatred of the natives when they treated him terribly.

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What is the tone in the first two paragraphs of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"?

Tone, the expression of the author's attitude, plays an integral part in Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant"; his attitude toward his subject matter is a reflection of his feelings as a policeman.

In his analysis of the incident that begins with his call to attend to a frenzied elephant that is "ravaging the bazaar," Orwell expresses a rather sardonic and bitter tone because he realizes there is no diplomatic way to resolve this dilemma since it is closely tied to the very nature of imperialism. Rational human intercourse is impossible; he must demonstrate that he is one of the rulers.

In his essay, George Orwell perceives the incident as indicative of the conundrum of imperialism. Imperialism demands a particular posture on the part of the rulers as well as on the side of those who are ruled. After officer Orwell responds to the call about the ravaging elephant, he discovers a coolie's body crushed by the elephant. However, when Orwell comes upon the elephant, who has calmed down and is peacefully grazing, he observes, "I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him." Moreover, he has no desire to shoot the elephant. However, when he "look[s] at the sea of yellow faces" watching him," he knows that he will shoot it. 

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hand, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.

Although he is an officer of the ruling government, Orwell feels like a puppet forced to do the bidding of "the sea of the natives." They "expect" him to shoot the massive animal because he has brought a rifle with him. Because of this expectation from the natives, Orwell finds himself loathing them; they force him as an officer of the government to appear resolute, "to know his own mind and do definite things." If he does not shoot the massive animal, Orwell knows that he will appear weak and indecisive. Also, if anything were to go wrong as he approaches the elephant, the natives "would see me pursued, caught, trampled on. . . . And if that happened it was quite possible that some of them would laugh." While he does the right thing legally because the elephant has killed a man, Orwell knows that he shoots this elephant who has quieted down and is grazing peacefully "solely to avoid looking like a fool," and his action causes him to become cynical.

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What is the tone and setting of "Shooting an Elephant?"

In a clever and typically British wry remark, the introductory sentence of "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell indicates the relationship between the Burmese and himself, a relationship that extends to the one between the British and the Burmese people:

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people--the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

Later in the passage, Orwell writes,

Theoretically--and secretly, of course--I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressor, the British.  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.

Thus, it can be deduced from statements such as the above-mentioned that Orwell resents his post with what he calls as a "despotic government."  For close readers, those words that indicate the author's feelings are what determine the author's attitude or tone toward his subject. And, of course, Orwell's actions, such as his reluctance to perform his assignment suggest as well that he is not in agreement with what his duties demand.

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What is the tone and setting of "Shooting an Elephant?"

The setting of this story is Burma, what is now Myanmar.  The story is set some time in the 1920s or 1930s.  At that time, Burma was a colony of the British Empire.  This fact really has an impact on the setting and the tone of the story.  It impacts the setting because the narrator is one of very few white people among a population of Asians.

I would say that the tone of the story is somewhat regretful and unhappy.  The narrator is thinking back on a part of his life when he did something, when he was forced to do something, that he did not want to do.  He regrets having shot the elephant, but more to the point he regrets having been part of colonialism and imperialism.  He thinks those were harmful to both colonized and colonizers and he regrets his involvement.

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What is the purpose of the first two paragraphs in 'Shooting an Elephant'?

The first two paragraphs set the context for all that follows. They define imperialism, the narrator’s point of view in relation to it, and they also characterize the dynamics of the village where he lived during the time of the incident.  It is important for us to know that he didn’t like what he was doing, for this helps us understand the fact that he acted against his moral conscience in killing the elephant—he does it to save face. These paragraphs establish the “ethos” of the narrator. Because of what he says here, we understand him as reasonable, a man with self-understanding, someone we will believe as he goes about telling the story. Without this foundation, we might not fully perceive the irony of the story, which is that in killing the elephant he is “being ruled” even though he is the man in power. We sympathize with him and fully understand the act he commits.

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What can you infer about the narrator from the first two paragraphs of "Shooting an Elephant"?

In the first sentence of the short-story, Orwell mentions that he was hated by large numbers of people and says that his time as a British officer stationed in Lower Burma was "the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me." Orwell's statement about his lack of importance indicates that he has relatively low-esteem and lacks confidence. Orwell then mentions how he was continually baited, ridiculed, and laughed at by the native Burmese citizens. Orwell also says that the insults and jeering got on his nerves, which indicates that he is under a lot of stress and has a rather sensitive disposition. Orwell is also portrayed as a vulnerable young man, who struggles to defend himself against the disparaging remarks from the Burmese citizens.

In the second paragraph, Orwell describes his anti-imperialist beliefs and favors the Burmese people while opposing Britain's colonial rule. Orwell also mentions that he bitterly hates his job as a British police officer and is filled with a sense of guilt after witnessing the oppressed, tortured Burmese prisoners. The narrator's views and concerns regarding European imperialism and the oppressed Burmese citizens reveal that he is a sympathetic, honest individual. He openly discloses his resentment towards Britain's colonial rule, which depicts him as a reliable, genuine person. The fact that he struggles to accept his position as a British police officer stationed in Lower Burma reveals that he is also a relatively confused, perplexed young man.

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What can you infer about the narrator from the first two paragraphs of "Shooting an Elephant"?

From the first two paragraphs of "Shooting an Elephant," it is clear that Orwell hates his job as a colonial police officer because of the way locals treat him. Orwell appears to resent that the locals use "petty" and small-scale forms of harassment against him, like tripping him up during a football field, rather than openly attacking the imperialist system, as he comments, "No one had the guts to raise a riot."

It is also clear Orwell has a strong sense of social justice. This is made clear by his reaction to the treatment of some Burmese prisoners who are locked in cages and beaten by their British captors. While these observations fill him with a sense of shame, he cannot escape his resentment of the locals who treat him so badly:

All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.

That Orwell recognizes these feelings as a "normal by-product" of working in such an environment suggests he is aware of the moral implications of his role in Burma and that he carried it out reluctantly.

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Why does Orwell begin his narrative in the third paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant"?

It is important to recognize that Orwell's story about the elephant is itself meant to illustrate and illuminate his larger critique of Colonialism, and the effect that it has on the people charged with enforcing it. With that in mind, these earlier paragraphs play an important role within the structure of the essay. If you remove them, and begin with the narrative of the elephant, the essay loses much of its cogency, and its critique of colonialism becomes weaker as a result.

This section provides the reader with context, not just into Orwell's occupation as a colonial police officer, but also as to the daily realities of what that experience entails. He describes the disdain that the people in the colonized world have towards him and other colonizers, as well as the disdain which he himself feels towards them. It is from these foundations that Orwell can further build his case, using his example of the elephant as an example illustrating how the colonizers themselves can find themselves under the power of the colonized, and coerced by the colonial system itself.

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Why does Orwell begin his narrative in the third paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant"?

In the essay "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell tells of an incident that happened to him when he was a police officer in Moulmein, a town in Lower Burma. He is asked to do something about a rampaging elephant. By the time Orwell tracks the elephant down, it has killed someone and he has no choice but to shoot it. He doesn't want to harm the elephant now that it has calmed down, but the crowd urges him on until he is forced to act so he can save face. Orwell is distraught as he watches the elephant die in great pain.

Orwell doesn't begin the narrative until the third paragraph because he first wants to describe the background of the situation. It gives much more depth and emotional impact to the narrative when readers understand that although Orwell works for the British, his sympathies are with the Burmese people. He doesn't like the way that the crowds bait him, trip him up, and insult him, but he hates his job and has come to the conclusion that imperialism is evil. He is appalled by the way that the British treat the Burmese convicts. Orwell is torn between his duty to serve the British Empire and his sympathy for the people that the British have subjugated.

All this is necessary background in order for readers to understand the feelings that Orwell conveys as he sets out to search for the runaway elephant, finds it, and kills it.

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Why does Orwell begin his narrative in the third paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant"?

The first two paragraphs of this excellent and thought provoking essay serve to establish the context of the narrative of the shooting of the elephant, point towards the conflicted feelings that Orwell feels as a colonial officer, and lastly, indicates the message of the entire essay. In many ways, they are the most important parts of the entire essay - the actual story of shooting the elephant just proves what Orwell has already stated.

In these paragraphs, on the one hand, Orwell had decided that he "was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British." Yet, on the other hand, he talks of his "rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible" and he dreams of the joy of bayoneting a Buddhist priest. Clearly this irony points towards some conflicted feelings and the cultural conflicts of colonialism.

The second paragraph tells us what Orwell learnt from the elephant narrative and thus points towards the message of the essay:

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. 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 - the real motives for which despotic governments act.

It is these "real motives" that are explored through the rest of the essay and the way that the actual power and position that white men assume destroys their own "freedom" and converts them into "absurd puppets" who are "pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind."

Thus the first two paragraphs are crucial for establishing the setting, establishing the conflicted loyalties of the narrator and pointing towards the overarching message of this essay.

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What does the first paragraph of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" accomplish?

Orwell's first paragraph builds pathos or sympathy for the narrator. Before we learn of the specific power he wields as a colonial police officer allowed to carry a gun, we discover the ways in which he is despised and powerless. He says he is hated because all Europeans are hated. But rather then simply state that the European overlords are hated, he gives specific examples of how this hatred is expressed. For example, a European woman going to bazaars alone will probably end up with betel juice spit all over her dress. The narrator himself has been purposely tripped more the once while playing soccer, while the Burmese crowds laughed him. He is also routinely jeered and hooted at from a safe distance by both young men and Buddhist priests. These are mild forms of aggression, but they communicate hostility and anger.

By conveying the tense environment into which he has been thrown, the narrator offers a context that allows readers to understand why he would feel compelled to unnecessarily kill an elephant. The Burmese are oppressed, but the Europeans are also victims of a system that dehumanizes them as well as their subjects.

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What does the first paragraph of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" accomplish?

In the first paragraph, Orwell provides the setting of the short story and gives insight into the narrator's difficult position as a colonial British police officer, who is stationed in Lower Burma. The narrator recalls the anti-European sentiment throughout the town where he was stationed and elaborates on the way that the native Burmese citizens continually jeered and mocked him. The narrator is portrayed as a relatively sensitive, frustrated young man who is in a tough position. The narrator also mentions that the Buddhist priests made his life difficult and admits that the derogatory remarks and rude behavior of the Burmese citizens got on his nerves. Orwell is able to illustrate the difficult life of a young, inexperienced British police officer stationed in an occupied foreign land. The first paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant" allows the reader to sympathize with the narrator and understand the daily difficulties he faces as an authoritative colonial figure in a foreign land. While the native Burmese citizens do not have the "guts" to riot, they torment their oppressors by mocking and ridiculing them. The narrator is clearly frustrated with being insulted on an everyday basis and is sick of being bullied by the native Burmese citizens.

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