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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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Are there stereotypes portrayed in "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

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Orwell's narrator stereotypes the Burmese. He calls them "evil spirited little beasts," equating them with animals. He labels them twice as "yellow faces." He also groups them together as a mass that is "all happy and excited over this bit of fun." At the end of the essay, he even says he is glad the elephant killed the "coolie," as it put him, the narrator, in the right and gave him an unassailable legal pretext for his act. He shows no sorrow or remorse that a human being was killed, suggesting that the native was less than a person to him. 

The narrator himself consciously adopts the stereotype of the British colonial figure, cool and in command, doing what is expected in his own role: "A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things." He calls himself a "puppet" and a "dummy" and says his face has grown to fit the mask he wears. He is not a person, but a type, both in his own eyes and the eyes of the Burmese. He is enacting, not challenging, their stereotypes of the British ruling class. 

Interestingly, however, the narrator does not pull out any of the "white man's burden" stereotypes we might associate with Kipling. The narrator never pretends he is doing good for the Burmese, protecting them or sacrificing for their benefit. The essay maintains a consistent tone of disillusion with the British empire and what it does to the people caught up in it, which is to dehumanize everyone in the system by reducing them to types. 

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In “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell, the stereotypes present are portrayed by groups rather than individuals. There are three particularly notable ones: the Buddhist priests, the Burmese people in general, and the young European men who hear the story of the elephant. At the end of the first paragraph, the narrator claims that the young Buddhist priests were the worst group of people in Burma. He claims that there were thousands of them and that “none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.” Many religious and philosophical leaders, such as Buddhist priests, symbolize harmony and a depth of understanding. The narrator stereotypes all the young ones in Burma as delinquent and opposing forces of a true and respectable Buddhist priest. They are being labeled as lazy and false religious leaders. 

The narrator continually refers to the Burmese people as a group rather than a set of individuals. He describes the crowd that follows him to the elephant as a “sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes.” Despite the poverty he describes in the mass of people, he also stereotypes them as a bored or easily entertained mass. The parallel is most clear when he compares them to the English, saying that the elephant shooting “was a bit of fun to [the Burmese people], as it would be to an English crowd.” Here the stereotype is that they are not individuals but a single, mindless mass. 
The stereotype of young white men from the West appears at the end. Often this sort of group is seen as greedy or bloodthirsty. The narrator says there were differing opinions in Europe concerning the shooting. “The younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie.” Here readers see all of the young men in Europe as a greedy group with no regard for individual life beyond their own.
“Shooting an Elephant.” The Literature Network. Jalic Inc., 2000-2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

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