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Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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    In ”Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell demonstrates the vanity of imperialism and expresses its negative outcomes and how it can influence the country that is being run. By pointing out a minor conflict- shooting an elephant while serving as a police officer in Burma, Orwell uses his language to illustrate the downfalls of the imperialism and brings his audience into the immediacy of his world as colonial police officer. All through the story, Orwell indirectly expresses his political views and beliefs.

    He does this by conveying his feelings regarding his position as a police officer and then by making symbolic links between the issue in his story and in his political views. From the opening sentences, George Orwell uses powerful verbs and adjectives. For instance, some of the few strong adjectives he uses are: stinking,evil-spirited,utter,scarred,intolerable. And other verbs are: jeered,huddling,spit,clamped,baited,hooted.

    These wide choice of vocabulary choices conveys the reasoning behind his topic;because the conflict is stinking and dirty with people being restricted,beaten, and taunted, holding ruthless control over people messes with ethical and moral beliefs causing the destruction of freedom. The first paragraph of ”Shooting an Elephant” uses truthful yet offensive language to precisely describe his time in Burma such as ”hideous laughter” as he was describing the Burmese. From the first sentence we can spot irony in his saying ” I was hated by large numbers of people .. hat I have been important …”. Human nature tells us to like important people yet the Burmese disliked Orwell for being important. The irony shows how people there despised the British imperialism, further helping him bring out the subject and message of the story. To reach to the level of his audience Orwell uses colloquial language ”chucked up my job” to make the readers comprehend the dilemma of imperialism and paint out his hatred towards it. To him, imperialism was evil and immoral as they made lives more difficult.

    He tries to pull the audience in and convince them to side with him against imperialism by vividly describing the dreadful lives of the Burmese as ”wretched prisoners”. George Orwell uses intense imagery describing life for the Burmese, ”stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long term convicts” The intensity and the building-up of finding the elephant is a metaphor itself conveying the damaging power of imperialism: The elephant’s rioting escape destroying shelter,food, and killing a man who Orwell said had an expression of ”unendurable agony”.

    Orwell swings back and forth between using first person in his story to third person ”a white man” in order to illustrate parallels to his positions as a police officer and the aspects of being a British oppressor. Like how Orwell must perform the role of the brave yet heartless white officer, the British oppressors must retain their ”masks” as determined fearless actors- usually at the cost of personal values.

    As shown in Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell had to go against his instincts and shoot the elephant in order to achieve the people’s expectations. George Orwell spread out the long death of the elephant out in three paragraphs with long, periodic sentences. As Orwell said, ”In that instant, in too short a time … terrible change had come over the elephant”. Spreading out the sentences reflected his guilt and the intolerable pain he felt over shooting the elephant.

    The Burmese people reacted with a ”devilish roar of glee” after Orwell was forced to do something he didn’t want to do. George Orwell wanted to help people, but to do so he must kill. The story ends with him stating he was glad the coolie had been killed by the elephant because that gave him a reason to kill the elephant and lift up the guilt a little. He has to be thankful someone has been killed so he can protect the people. And that what was ironic about his story, the fear of being ridiculed than death itself.

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    Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell. (2016, Nov 25). Retrieved from

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