Source Analysis Assignment

By Lydia McKeown-West

Shooting An Elephant

Scan this ode to find a link to the text Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell.
Shooting An Elephant is an essay wriiten by George Orwell who is an Englishman that once worked for Britain as an imperial officer in Burma. He wrote in 1936 reflecting on his experience as an officer, it is therefore a primary source as he has a first hand experience of this event.

We can learn many things about imperialism from this source including not only how imperialism affects the natives but also the officers, we also learn what imperialism does to the world, a nation and then ultimately what it does to individual.

The objective of this essay was to convey a couple of mesages to the reader on the ethics of imperialism. He wanted the readers to understand that imperialism had an evil side to it and that doing what is legal or right and doing what is ethically correct can be very different.

This text conveys the views of an individual which we don't see often when reading sources about imperialism.

The tensions between the two races in the text gives an insight to how it might have been like living at that time, in that place. Orwell tells us about the difficulties of being a police officer and that "As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so." The Burmese gave the officers a hard time and "tried to make ... [their] job impossible." Although George Orwell himself may have been innocent the symbolism of an English officer in Burma lead the Burmese to "hate" him although in another circumstance they may have been friends.

As an officer, George Orwell knew that “imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner ...[he] chucked up ...[his] job and got out of it the better.” excerpt from shooting an elephant. Although Orwell is working for the imperial side he views it negatively he exclaims to have seen "the dirty work of Empire at close quarters".

The Elephant in the text was a way Orwell could present his views on imperialism to his audience. He used it to show us how violent and ruthless imperialism may be. The way the Elephant stormed through the village destroying people's houses, killing life stock and destroying food stands. Allegorised how the conquerers come and destroy everything that lay in their path to take control of the people, but doing by using violence. When Orwell "rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud" it represents the way the conquerers result to ruthless killing to gain and keep order.

The Elephant also conveyed the idea that the affects of imperialism will stay for a long long time. Alok Kai, a historian that studies George Orwell's works believes that “The death agony of the wounded elephant is a kind of extended reproach, a sudden and unexpected image of that colonial damage which can neither be undone nor decently, quickly, buried” (Orwell and the Politics of despair, page 41)

George Orwell and the politics of despair (photo 2)

The long and painful death of the elephant can also symbolise the determination of the natives to be free. The natives give up their lives to the imperial power yet they keep on enduring the pain and won't let them win.

Orwell tells us about the unknown side of imperialism he states: "a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes." this tells us that at a distance from where the imperial action is taking place it seems good but as officers have first hand experience with it they see it differently and no longer look at it in the same way (see photo 3).

Imperialism is a global concern that involves a handful of different empires conquering and discovering new places around the world. George Orwell explains to us that it is more than just one country by telling us "I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it." he is trying to tell readers that it is a world wide issue.

A Vertext by Joe Scotese (photo 3)

The painting below I think represents well the ideas of George Orwell as the Elephant is depicted in three different lights this can show all the things that the elephant represents but also can show how the officers view changed on imperialism as they gradually become more experienced with it.
George Orwell takes on different perspectives through this text and he doesn't just say that it is good or bad he explains the tensions, cruelty and pressure of imperialism. The text really teaches you a lot about the time and the place while under imperial power and I think that is what a historical text is supposed to do. Orwell keeps his view point balanced as he equally criticises the English as he does the Burmese an example of this is his opposing minds: " With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. " this shows that Orwell places no bias in his text.

The only thing that is not included in the essay is the positive aspects of imperialism as a whole it doesn't really give you a view of why they are doing it but rather how.

Apart from that I think this is a very reliable source that doesn't place any bias and can teach you a lot about imperialism.

I though this text really opened you up to how it was to live in a country conquered by an imperial power rather than just what imperialism does as a whole. It was interesting seeing the tensions between the two groups and how they live together.

It taught me that the people working for the imperial side weren't necessarily mean or cruel and a lot of them didn't really realise what it consisted of.

I believe that Shooting an Elephant is a reliable source that can teach you a lot not only about the time but also values in life.