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George Orwell - Shooting an Elephant

Orwell makes use of formal diction when describing the elephant. He presents the elephant as a precious and peaceful animal which receives wild only when cornered or when it had gone ‘must.' It is a brave animal due to the fact that during its death; it resists death with brevity. Orwell chooses to display the elephant in this manner in order to deliver out its positive and negative traits. The animal can be both peaceable and savage depending on its mood and environment. He describes ‘and at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no greater dangerous than a cow. When in a wild mood, it can do immense harm like killing the Indian man whilst during its calm state of mind it feeds calmly. The image portrayed by these traits is one of a helpless tamed animal who seeks freedom when demented. The descriptive words imply that the elephant is mentally lost and displaced. Emotionally, Orwell associates the police officer as one who empathizes with the dying elephant but fears the natives ridiculing him the most.

The author has a bitter and accusatory tone which reflects his attitude towards the British and the Burmese. The British Empire oppressed the Burmese while the Burmese hated and laughed at him as a white police officer and jeered insults at him. Orwell first shows a no-nonsense attitude towards the elephant when he describes it as a peaceful and precious animal which did not deserve to be shot. The view changes to a satiric one during the continuous shooting of the elephant. The police officer shoots it for the first, second and third time to ensure its clean-cut death.

Orwell describes the elephant in smooth, complete thoughts that side with the elephant’s existence rather than its demise. He puts the thoughts down like this, ‘it seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him.' (Orwell 3) The author makes use of repetition in emphasizing the fact that the elephant became violent when it was ‘must.' He keeps punctuating the word ‘must' to depict sarcasm. The movement of the essay is quick with a fast change of scenes. Throughout the essay, there is a consistency of the elephant subject. The quick change of scenes starts from the bitter thoughts of the sub-divisional police officer to the natives reaction of the elephant and finally to the shooting scene.

The elephant description is organized. In the beginning, the elephant is violent and wild; destroying property and killing an Indian man causing the Burmese to panic. In the middle part, the elephant peacefully feeds and is accorded much value of which ‘destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery’ (Orwell 2).The end shows the image of a defeated, cornered and feeble elephant which dies in undeserved agony.

The most interesting element is the quick change of events which surprisingly does not distort the story. The bitter thoughts begin, ‘In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people.'(Orwell 1).The natives are bewildered by the animal's behavior and move happily to its killing. ‘They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant.’(Orwell 2)The shooting scene is full of remorse for the dying elephant as the natives run to skin it. ‘Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.’(Orwell 4)

The title shooting an elephant shows the extent of imperialism. The British emperor practiced dictatorship and oppression on the lives of the Burmese without opposition. Similarly, the sub-divisional police officer shot the elephant against his will, under the pressure of gaining approval from the natives. Orwell seeks to show the effect of colonialism on the deliberate shooting of the elephant. He exposes the lack of freedom to one's decision in the quickly changing scenes of the essay. Similarly, it shows that European imperialistic regimes was hated by some of the Europeans themselves and the tyranny of the regimes may to a great extent be driven by the need to look powerful before the subject as it was what they expected of them as with this they could maintain their control by spreading fear among the defenceless natives. However, even with collapse of imperialism, the succeeding regimes were even more oppressive.

“The fall of the imperial regimes in Burma brought more harm than good because the imperialist would have brought more social and economic development”

August 31, 2021

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