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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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Orwell's internal conflict in "Shooting an Elephant."

Summary:

In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell's internal conflict centers on his moral opposition to imperialism and his role as a colonial officer. He despises the oppressive British rule but feels compelled to conform to the expectations of the locals, ultimately leading him to shoot the elephant against his better judgment to avoid appearing weak.

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What is the internal conflict Orwell faces in the second paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant"?

In the second paragraph, Orwell faces internal conflict over the issue of imperialism. Specifically, he has realized that imperialism is an "evil thing," despite living and working in Burma, a British colony.

For Orwell, the real problem lies in the fact that he does not agree with British supremacy over the Burmese:" Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British."

Time and time again, he has seen evidence of British cruelty: Orwell presents a strong image of prisoners in cages, for example. But, no matter what he might think about the British treatment of the Burmese, he is forced to keep silent about it. Remember that he is a "young" and "ill-educated man:" he needs this job and cannot afford to make an enemy of his superiors. It is interesting to note that Orwell believes these feelings are a normal "by-product" of imperialism. In other words, he knows that other British officers feel this sense of guilt but, just like him, cannot voice it for fear of losing their position. Orwell realizes that the British Raj will not be brought down by words so he must continue until another opportunity comes along.

So, in this paragraph, the description of Orwell's conflict gives the reader a sense of the psychological burdens of imperialism, enabling the reader to understand an oppressive system from the perspective of the oppressors. 

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What is the internal conflict Orwell faces in the second paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant"?

The internal conflict that Orwell faces in the essay is that he embodies a job that he hates.  His internal conflict is present in the fact that he hates what he does and what it represents:

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. 

Orwell details his internal conflict as one in which he wishes the Empire to fail just as much, if not more, than the Burmese.  Yet, he needs a job and this is the job he has.  For Orwell, it is a self- hating internal conflict that requires him to don a uniform that embodies the very worst for him.  As he suggests, seeing "the dirty work of the Empire at close quarters," filled an intense self hatred within him.  His internal conflict is rooted in doing something he hates, but knowing that at this particular point in time, there is no escape for him. Orwell concludes that such internal conflict is a "normal by- product" for individuals in his position.  However, this does not alleviate the conflict he experiences in the exposition of the piece that sets the narrative in motion.

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In "Shooting an Elephant," how does the mutual hatred between Orwell and the Burmese cause internal conflict?

In the essay "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell describes an incident from his time as a police officer in Burma during the British Raj. He is summoned to handle a crisis concerning a rampaging elephant. However, by the time he has located the elephant, it has calmed down and is peacefully feeding in a paddy field. Orwell does not want to shoot it, but the angry mob that has gathered expects him to, so he does. Orwell does not hate the Burmese. In fact, he writes:

Theoretically - and secretly, of course - I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear.

Still, the Burmese people hate him because he is part of the imperialist force that is oppressing their country. They manifest this hatred in many little ways that Orwell describes such as tripping him on the football field, spitting upon Europeans, and jeering and shouting insults. Orwell writes:

With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

From this we can see that Orwell's internal conflict is brought about by the struggle between his sincere feelings of sympathy for the Burmese people and the terrible way he is treated by these people as a representative of their oppressors. He realizes that he has to shoot the elephant because he is "an absurd puppet pushed to and fro" by the will of the Burmese. He further perceives "that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys."

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In "Shooting an Elephant," how does the mutual hatred between Orwell and the Burmese cause internal conflict?

In "Shooting an Elephant," a mutual hatred exists between the Burmese people and George Orwell, a colonial police officer. The Burmese often humiliate and mock Orwell, as he tells the reader:

When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter.

Despite his treatment, however, Orwell feels sympathetic towards the Burmese people. They are a colonized people, forced to accept British rule and routinely subjected to brutal treatment. Orwell witnesses this firsthand and briefly describes it in the text:

The wretched prisoners, huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey cowed faces of the long-term convicts.

This creates a sense of internal conflict for Orwell because as much as he hates the way he is treated, he cannot accept the subjugation of the Burmese people as fair or humane. It is his own internal sense of justice, then, which creates this conflict. He cannot conceal his anti-imperial sentiments from his own self and this will eventually prompt him to leave the service and get out of Burma.

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