An analysis of the short story: of shooting an elephant

An analysis of the short story: of shooting an elephant

            The short story entitled “Of Shooting an Elephant” is centered on the theme of living the life of a stranger. The story was about the experience of a sahib, narrated by himself, in the land of the Burmese he called “men with the yellow faces”.  At the beginning of the story, I would say that the writer has the skill of using word tensions in order to make an ordinary experience an appealing one. Extracting the gist of the story, it tells about a young policeman who did not like personally like his job but do the work for the sake of attending to his responsibilities. In Burma, they are regarded as ordinary strangers who do not have the right to commit mistake if they do not want to be laughed at. The incident of shooting the elephant therefore, by coincidence, gave the sahib the chance to be at the center of the attention of the yellow faces.

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            The writer tried to place the reader in the setting by introducing the idea of imperialism instead of describing the place itself using the usual process of utilizing series of adjectives to make the situation clear. By the word “imperialism”, the writer somehow required a simple knowledge of the reader of what must be the situation of a town or city if it is under the power of a stranger’s empire. “Imperialism was an evil thing” (Orwell, George page 142). To elaborate what he meant by the evil of imperialism, Orwell did mention just few situations that indirectly say about the evil of imperialism but somehow by reflecting on his own feelings about his experience as a police, the reader will know how it is to be in an imperial land where strangers like him can be counted in fewer than the fingers of the human hands. With a different skin color compared to the general yellow-faced ones, the writer wanted to convey that it is nearly a sin to have a white skin or any other complexion other than the yellow skins in Burma. The writer would like to stress that being a stranger means one has to make his every step exact and accurate according to the Burmese norms.

            There is one striking sentence that the writer used to stress one truth about his job. “I was stuck between my hatred with the Empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirit little beast who tried to make my job impossible” (Orwell, page 143). The writer can simply say that he hates his job and he did not choose to be a police or to serve with the British government. He can simply say that he hates that somebody who had not given him the opportunity to land the job he desired.  The writer instead made use of metaphor (little beast) to pull the reader into curiosity of who that little beast be and why has that person compared to a little beast. He expressed some form of hypocrisy in his own acts by saying that “secretly I was all for the Burmese and all against the oppressors” (Orwell, page 143, line 17-18). Putting it in a straightforward manner, the writer just wanted to say that he does not like what he is doing but he does not have any choice.

            The sahib was brought into another situation wherein his hated job will force him to do another thing he hates: of shooting an elephant. The narration of the event, that is the chasing of the elephant, was actually presented in a way that placed the reader’s emotion in an alternate high-low state. Notice that in the first few lines of page 144, Orwell has started narrating how the elephant had probably escaped from his owner (line 3) and then went to the town to ransack the fruit stalls, destroyed a hut and turned over a van (lines 8-10). Orwell suddenly shifted focus by turning the reader’s attention to the sub-inspector’s quarters as he had described in the beginning of the next paragraph (par. 2, lines 3-4). He made his readers get more excited by inserting a description of the climate, “…it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains” (line 5).  The gap between the climax and the denouement got wider when Orwell preferred to express his frustration with the chaotic information he got from the crowd as with the exact location of the chased elephant (lines 7-8).

            Despite the expected serious narration of events, the writer managed to place some humor in the course of the story. By visualizing the description of the dead Indian who had been the victim of the elephant, the reader’s emotions will likely have pity on the dreadful appearance of the dead man “sprawled in the mud” (page 144, par. 2, lines 18-19). In the first few lines of page 145, Orwell went on to say, “…his face was coated with mud…eyes wide open, teeth bared and grinding…” (page145, lines 5-6). The humor was presented in a short sentence after the full dreadful description of the dead man. Note that the sentence was placed in a parenthesis to denote a stressed meaning or possibly to make the humor more noticeable to the reader “(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen look devilish)” (page 145, lines 6-7).

            Orwell in the next paragraph took the reader’s attention from the dead man to the elephant-chasing situation. The said paragraph was set aside for giving the reader a good and clear picture of the place; the paddy field, the faces of the crowd and how eager or patiently they waited for the next big thing to come. Bulk of page 145 (paragraph 2) was a description of the sahib’s feelings about the situation, his hesitation to shoot the elephant but also his instinct of doing what the crowd is expecting him, of course to shoot the elephant. “It was a bit fun of them…besides they want the meat.” Orwell also made his point clear: he had no intention of shooting the elephant but his situation told him that he had no choice. He expressed his frustration by comparing himself to “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro…” (Orwell, page 146). He made his bitterness obvious by telling that the sahib wears a mask whose face grows as he wears it (page 146, par. 2). These statements were made probably to stress how worse his emotional state at that moment. It is even more appealing to the readers to use the words puppet and mask rather than plainly saying that “he has no choice.”

            The climax of the story was presented in page 148 as the sahib shoot the elephant, the action he took as it is what he thought was the thing the crowd was expecting. However, Orwell used some extension of the climax as he narrated the death of the elephant in pieces. That is, he managed to narrate every detail of the elephant’s death from the time it was shot the first time until the last bullet was buried into the animal’s body. The style of the common narrative was there: a description of event, piece by piece by mentioning little details to keep the reader’s attention and emotion stuck to the situation. It is a way of placing the reader’s attention and little by little making him internalize the emotions that the writer would like to convey in the story. Orwell’s story ended, like the fairy tales, with a happy ending. The sahib shot the elephant down, killed it, as the crowd wanted it to be. He has proven his instinct true by narrating what happened to the dead elephant and how the Burmese reacted on his actions. In the end, the writer was able to prove that the situation made him really important in the eyes of the yellow-faced people, a thing that the first time had happened in his whole life (page 142, lines 1-3).

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