Shooting an Elephant

Source Analysis Assignment



Research Summery

Shooting an Elephant is a primary source, in essay format, that took place in the 1920's, in a White Burma run by the British. The author of the essay is George Orwell, who "held the post of Assistant Super-intendent in the British Imperial police in burma from 1922 to 1927" (Wikipedia, 2013). He wrote his essay in 1936, after retelling an experience in Burma, when he is called upon to shoot an aggressive elephant.

It is unknown whether the source truly happened, however, it does raise some interesting topics. Originally, it was assumed that during imperialism, it was better to be the conquerers, however, Orwell saying otherwise. He was a white conquerer who "was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British". He explains that the Burmese hated him, and "bailed [him] wherever it seemed safe to do so". He was "stuck between [his] hatred of the empire [he] served and [his] rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make [his] job impossible".

Orwell also believes "imperialism [is] an evil thing", which "destroys both the oppressor and the oppressed" (Ebate Man Hiking). This means that no good comes from imperialism. the conqueres who are guarding the foreign land had to suffer "sneering yellow faces ... [who had no]thing better to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans". They are also forced to discover "what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man" (K1 Internet Puplishing). The conquered suffer because foreigners can do whatever they wish in their land.

This code leads to an interesting summary of Shooting an Elephant


The point of view of the text is from a British man, a conquerer. Normally, this sort of bias is expected to ignore the faults in the British and emphasise those of the Burmese. However, since Orwell was stuck between his "hatred of the empire [he] served and [his] rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make [his] job impossible", there is very little bias.

The purpose of the essay is to explain the evils of imperialism. When Orwell heard about the elephant, he went to investigate, taking an elephant rifle with him. He took it to "defend [him]self if necessary" as he "had no intention of shooting the elephant". Once he had the rifle, though the Burmans started to get excited, wanting to see the elephant get shot.

When he arrived, the elephant was calmly "tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth". It was clear that he was harmless, so Orwell knew that he should not shoot him.

About to go home, Orwell looked over his shoulder, and saw the two thousand odd Burmans wanting to watch him shoot the elephant. He realised, at that moment, that he had to shoot the elephant to avoid looking a fool. Pondering that, he also "first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was [Orwell], the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd - seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality [he] was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind"

In the end, he shot the elephant, because otherwise "the crowd would laugh at [him, and] ... every white man's life in the East ... was one long struggle not to be laughed at". Orwell says that white men thought they were superior, and in control of the "natives", while in reality, the sheer will of the "natives" is enough to control what the "superiors" do, to avoid being laughed at.

At the end of the essay, Orwell admits that he "often wonder[s] whether any of [his colleagues] grasped that [he] had [shot the elephant] solely to avoid looking a fool".

Personally, I enjoyed reading George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant. It was very interesting that he was secretly against his own side. To me, the essay was like a fantasy novel, interesting and a "double agent". He managed to keep the suspense up; would he shoot the elephant, would he not? In the end, young George had bad faith, saying that "there was only one alternative".

I am sad that the elephant died; I am an elephant lover, and elephants are endangered, but that did not put me off. It was also interesting in the sense that I knew what Orwell was talking about when he said the elephant was going through "musth". Musth is ordinary bull elephant behaviour, when bulls become really aggressive. In the wild, an elephant going through musth is more likely to get to mate with the females as his mind is solely on mating. Bulls not in musth are more likely to give up when up against bulls in musth.

I also read another one of his essays, titled A Hanging, and one of novels, Animal Farm. I really enjoyed reading both of his essays, but not Animal Farm. I think he's writing style is more interesting in his essays: I was hooked through-out both, but when reading Animal Farm I was bored out of my brain


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