SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT, George Orwell: Commentary

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SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT by George Orwell: Commentary

Political, social & ethical issues raised in Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant" create a controversial storyline in which the events metaphorically symbolize the colonial imperialism of the time. Set in Burma, 1936, the context is based around the anti-European attitudes existent post the Anglo-Burmese Wars.

Orwell's positions, as police officer for the despotic British governments, required him to hold authority over the Burmese, consequently attracting hatred for his role. He expresses mixed emotions over his position and the disdainful attitudes directed towards him from the people around. "All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beast who tried to make my job impossible."

Racial issues are also addressed, with obvious distinctions made between the Indians/Burmese ("Coolies" "yellow faces") & the Europeans ("white men.") Orwell then presents a horrific description of the Indian corpses, killed by an elephant on a rampage through the village, of which the main events are centralized.

His depiction of the corpse is extremely chilling, detailing its physical position & a facial expression, which reveals the "unendurable agony" it had suffered just moments ago.

This occurrence sets the legal pre-text for Orwell to kill the offending elephant; however this was not his original intention, despite his prompt request of an elephant rifle. A crowd of Burmans emerge and rapidly increase in number following a rumor that Orwell was preparing to shoot the elephant. This news excited the previously impassive crowd, creating immense pressure on Orwell, whose decision would determine the fate of the elephant. He describes the sense of self-worth he felt holding the rifle "… with the magical rifle… I was momentarily worth watching."

His feelings of a foolish appearance mitigated upon...