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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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What are Orwell's feelings towards imperialism in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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In Orwell's poignant short story "Shooting an Elephant," he describes the oppressive, corrupting nature of imperialism, which influences him to act against his conscience by shooting a tranquil elephant. In the short story, Orwell illustrates how imperialism not only dehumanizes and controls the native population but also the way that agents of imperialist regimes are forced to behave against their will in order to maintain a resolute, callous appearance, which reflects the oppressive imperialist regime.

When the British police officer is followed by a massive crowd while he is looking for an escaped elephant, he succumbs to the peer pressure and realizes that he must shoot the peaceful animal to impress the Natives and avoid being laughed at. Before the officer shoots the elephant, he experiences an epiphany, which emphasizes Orwell's negative feelings regarding imperialism. Orwell writes,

I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. [15]

Overall, Orwell feels that imperialist regimes not only oppress and dehumanize the native population but also suppress individuality by forcing its agents to behave and appear as resolute, callous authority figures at all times. Agents of imperialist regimes like the British police officer suppress their emotions and act against their conscience as they play their designated role.

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Orwell was making a commentary on the evils of Imperialism. Orwell himself comments on his role in the system of imperialism, "all I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served ... I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind."

Shooting an Elephant sets up a situation where the narrator is forced to do something against his moral will but yet as a representative of the British he must do this. In effect the narrator realizes that upholding Imperialism is not only taking away the freedom of the people the system oppresses (in the story the Burmanese) but it is also injuring the narrator. His freedom is also being sacrificed at the hands of the system. Therefore Orwell is commenting that the system of Imperialism is evil not only to the people who are being put under its rule but ultimately it is also evil to the Imperialists themselves.

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How does Orwell feel about his experiences with imperialism?

The story, Shooting an Elephant, makes clear Orwell's feeling that imperialism was an evil. Orwell had gone to Burma in to serve in the Indian Imperial Police. The experiences he had there is retold partially in Shooting an Elephant.
In narrator is forced to shoot an elephant to preserve colonial rule. In this action, Orwell is making clear how imperialism is not only evil for the people who are oppressed by it (in the essay, the Burmanese), but also evil for those who are carrying it out. It is a system in which there are very few winners and the commoner on both sides of the divide are losers.

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