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Shooting an Elephant

for English ii final

olga snoofanooka

on 1 June 2014

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Transcript of Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell's
Shooting an Elephant

Short Summary
Shooting an Elephant is set in Myanmar, Lower Burma. The narrator has begun to question British influence in the East. He is divided, part of him is “all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors,” yet he also experiences the first on break between him and the people. The narrator claims to be young and ill educated, therefore, not being able to stand independently of his ties; stuck in his occupation, one he bitterly despises.

One day, the narrator is to contain a raging elephant who has already disturbed the town and its people. The elephant is in must, a state of rage, and the only person that can control the elephant in this state, the mahout, is 12 hours away. He sets out into town, taking a rifle with him, for self defense, in search of the elephant. He finds it difficult to track it down because of the vague information he is given by the villagers.

Finally he heads in the right direction after hearing about a coolie’s, laborer’s death, after the elephant stepped on him. A crowd has gathered and seeing the rifle, and the fact that the narrator just sent for an even stronger one, thought that he was going to shoot the elephant. The narrator has no intention of doing so, yet pressured by the crowd, he proceeds to do so, even though the elephant’s rage must have worn off. He shows his reluctance, by personifying the elephant, changing his pronoun to address it from it to he, and concluding it “murder to shoot the elephant.”
Despite his reluctance, the narrator realizes the humility that he would behold if he doesn’t carry out what he started, as every white man must be collected and above the situation. Therefore he shoots the elephant.

Afterwards, the elephant is still not dead, three shots latter, the rest, and the elephant is as wounded as when the first shot hit him. The elephant lies there, suffering, unable to live, yet unable to dies. It hurts the narrator to see the elephant in such agony, yet the crowd does not, glad, and sets out to the corpse to carve away some meat. He left.

The narrator then states he was glad for the coolie’s death, as it put him in the right legally. The elephant’s owner was infuriated, yet could not do anything for he was a mere Indian. The elephant became the unwilling victim of imperialist rule, simply to save his own reputation, just as the people.
Language and Style
Point of View
The atmosphere in Shooting an Elephant is tense, as the diction is rather frank and joyless. This is established by situation; as the narrator despises his occupation, yet the people are pinned against him as well as the fact the natives view him as one with the crown. Towards the beginning, the narrator discloses that he is a police officer, hating his job, and sees first hand the scrutinies of the British upon the Burmese. The detached tone adds to the atmosphere of helplessness. The narrator feels no sense of belonging, hating the empire, yet sworn to serve it, and then addressing the people as “evil spirited little beasts,” that ganged up against him.

The disposition of the crowd and narrator is done of course indirectly. In such a short piece, Orwell still managed to pull it off by giving a decent amount of background for the narrator and his relation to the people which he serves above. The crowd is characterized by their eagerness for meat, their ignorance for the officer, and their overall indifference for anything but the meat.
The connotation of major vocabulary is dire and to the extreme, “perplexing,” “wretched,” etc. Mainly towards the end the connotation grows to become even more helpless,a s the narrator feels pledged to kill the elephant against his will, as he is powerless to end its life or undue its pain. He becomes indifferent to the crowd describing them as “devilish.” The change that must be noted of the most is the changing from it to he, as the narrator becomes more attached and more reluctant to perform the act. “He” has the connotation of a person, a thing with value, whereas “it” is a disposable, replaceable item.

The imagery used is rather frank and candid. It reveals facts without an effort to cover up the grimness of the situation. Towards the beginning, as the narrator describes his position, he describes day to day sights such as, “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lockups, the gray, cowed faces of the long term convicts.” Then as The speaker moves on to take action against the rampaging elephant, he describes the state of the laborer “He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony… The friction of the great best’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit.” There is much sadness in the story, as death is prevalent in the story, therefore imagery of suffering is present as well. The most memorable imagery is where the narrator discloses the agony of the elephants last moments.”The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause.”

Shooting an Elephant is known for its Irony. The officer is meant to be resolute, yet is swayed by the opinions of the crowd, carrying out decisions that are not his own, based on those he is supposed to keep down. This shows the weakness of imperialism, as the actions are based on what others expect, not the personal image of greatness, rather having it formed by those around.
In a sense, Shooting an Elephant is an allegory for imperialism. The officer being the British, the crowd being the rest of the world, and the elephant the victims of british imperialism. This was done subtly and effectively, as it is a good story and demonstrates a theme on its own, yet the step back as one realizes that it is in fact an allegory deepen the moral and expand it to be something to mock the world as a whole.
The story is told in first person so the reader could be exposed deeply into the inner struggles of the officer, therefore carrying more weight as if it was focused on the crowd just as equally as the narrator.
Colonial Policeman
the Crowd
The Colonial Policeman is a British officer, and belongs to a governing body that is in control of the land. He is hated by the people, and inside struggles dealing with the rejection and insults of the natives. Personally he is all against imperialism and all for the Burmese people, and he feels he had administered. His insecurity and yearn for pride interferes with his sympathy for the people, as he submits to the unspoken rules of society. So when he is called to contain the elephant, he is not the one calling the shots, the crowd and the situation is. The British officer arrives late and has to track the elephant down, as it has already left the market in devastation and chaos. The elephant is valuable, as it is a working elephant, killing it would enrage the owner. When the elephant calms down, and grazes, the crowd still wants it dead. In the meantime, he personally struggles. His attachment becomes visible as he changes the pronoun he addresses it with, from it to he. He personifies the elephant further by addressing the aura the elephant creates as a grandmotherly one. After he shoots the elephant, he describes its death and misery in grim detail, showing connection to it as well as recognition that his act was wrong. He cannot bear to see the consequences of his actions any longer, so he flees the scene, leaving the elephant in the hands of the crowd, letting them carve away at its flesh.
The crowd is the source of violence, the main antagonist, pressuring him, wanting the meat. They want to see some “fun” by having the elephant shot. They do not state it directly, but the officer feels that it could damage his pride and respect if he backs down from the two guns he now has, and lets the elephant live. The crowd itself isn’t evil, as they are in it for the elephant’s meat; being poor, they could not afford it any other way. The officer states that a gentleman must act resolute, and must do what the “natives” expect of him. If he backed down from administering death to the elephant, then he would appear confused, not a decisive leader he wants and must be. Therefore the crowd knows that in the end the elephant will be shot. They indirectly antagonize him, as the officer only fears their disrespect of him, outward appearance rather than what is right and just. After he concludes to shoot the elephant, the crowd proceeds indifferently claiming the elephants flesh as their own.
The elephant is the deepest symbol in the whole of the story. It is the victim of British imperialism, falling under the oppression of those above, stricken by pain and oppression of the officer, only seeking to gain acceptance by his peers, ones he feels higher than, yet their picture of him important enough for him to kill an elephant. The officer represents Britain, the crowd the rest of the world. The elephant the Burmese people. The officer seeks to kill the elephant to impress the rest of the world, even though they are already established higher. The Burmese people are an object for the British to express their decisive and powerful facade; yet revealing through the policeman, they are not, simply looking for social standing.
The narrator deals with three main conflicts, one with Imperialism’s hold on Burma, one with the mockery of the Burmese people because he is an ambassador of British oppression. Third, there is the conflict with his conscience and self-image. All three conflicts cloud his ability to make objective decisions. The first two conflicts stage the narrator for the last and most predominant conflict, as he feels torn between his belonging to Britain, the people, or what is right. In a way the officer is pledged to all of them, his occupation as being a British policeman, his role to be a gentleman, collected, decisive, and resolute meaning he must act with purpose and maintain a happy crowd, and then to what is right, letting the elephant live what is right, but sadly gets the short end of the stick as outwardly image is more important to the officer.

The first two conflicts are established early on as the narrator is unfolding the circumstances of the case. The narrator is torn between his loyalty to the British or the people. The people reject him, taunting him regularly, yet he realizes the unjust imperialism that is helping administer. Yet as he is faced whether to let the elephant live or cause its death, the two loyalties outweigh the desire for correctness.

These conflicts drive the plot by showing how society often outweighs a blatantly clear decision. Causing a calm animal to die for the crowd and country. External pressures outweighed a strong internal one. It shows human weakness; garnering acceptance greater than allowing life. In the end the narrator loses both, as he states that people may have questioned his true motives for ending the elephant, rather than administering justice for the slave that died at the foot of the elephant. His desire for acceptance of the people and a resolute genteen image caused him to act as he did, abandoning the elephant, ending it, then walking away from the act.
Orwell’s tone in Shooting an Elephant is frustrated, and submitted to his actions, yet detached from the authorities, recognizing his fault yet still in the same pattern. The tone is helpless, nonetheless frustrated towards Imperialism, exemplified in phrases such as “There was only one alternative,” “I committed myself when I sent for the rifle.” These show submission as the narrator feels he is unable to act on his own instincts, rather must follow those prescribed by those above, or social norms. The tone delivers the purpose to show the loss of personal liberty of the speaker, showing dependence and will of those above, barring the speaker to act as he wishes or believes to be right. The tone subtly reveals the hypocrisy of Imperialism, as it deprives itself of self judgment by prescribing norms, and a sense that even those “above” must fall in place with the established tradition.
The setting in shooting an elephant is present day Burma, past colonial India. The setting exemplifies imperialism, a poor bamboo town and marketplace that is oppressively ruled by the British and their soldiers. The natives, that otherwise would be wealthy and influential are kept down unarmed by the British; misdeeds carried out against them have no way of being corrected, as they are weaponless and without rights simply because they are Indian. This time period contributes to the theme, because it connotates that those in power would be decisive leaders, unaffected by the worries of commoners. A British officer, therefore, should fit that mask. Instead we are given a look into his inner conflict, how the crowd passes by him, any respect for him gone when he pulls the trigger. They have no need for him past that point, what they could not do has been done for them.

Reality and the expected juxtaposed here; opposites. Expectations are dissolved with this inside perspective of the inner struggles of one that is thought to be above the conflict, an ambassador of the British empire, yet still human, one that comes down under those he believes to have surpassed.

Imperialism traps even those in power, as the narrator is unable to speak out for what he believes, rather stuck to the norms of society still pretexted by convention.
Author's Purpose
Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant reveals many candid truths about human nature. Predominantly showing the hypocrisy of imperialism and the white man’s superiority. It is summed up in this quote, “Here was I, a white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd- seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.” Imperialism comes of as a collected goal of conquer, yet in reality, those who lead put on masks in attempt to fit the conventional sahib, master in colonial India. Those in power put on a mask, and their face grows to fit it. The only reason the narrator proceeded to kill the elephant was to seek the approval of the yellow faces legally below him; worth less than an elephant to the white youth. Yet somehow there is weakness, their disapproval is costlier than the white man’s. Imperialists appear to be one thing, yet reality is far different, they appear to be collected, firm; his actions definate. However, they seek the good will of the natives, and do what the natives expect of them. It is a struggle for pride, not righteousness. Even in death, pride is more important.
Orwell also presents a theme of following social norms. The narrator killed the elephant not because of the destruction, or because of its demonic rage, rather because he was trying to gain the acceptance of those that he doesn’t even care about. Because of his submission to social norms, he gained no respect, lost respect for himself, and had to witness a peaceful beast suffering. Simply following social norms does not garner any respect, simply sacrificing yourself and others for nothing.
Lastly, another purpose is showing that others have to pay for imperialism. The natives defenseless, the elephant dead, its owner enraged yet powerless. The only way they have to fight back is by subtle acts of refusing to acknowledge the European’s presence, as by purposefully staining dresses of the elite, or by not calling a foul on the soccer field. Overall those little things have influence, as then they can collectively control a man with a gun. No one is important until they have a decision to make, the riffle powerfully symbolizing that in life and death. The elephant defied that as the people did, unable to die or live.
"They have not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot."
"They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching."
"Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd- seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind."
"For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it."
"When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick- one never does when a shot goes home- but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went from the crowd."
"It seemed dreadful to see the great beast lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him."
"And afterward I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."
This quote demonstrates that people do not pay attention to things the authorities will do nothing about, but when the law steps in, there is suddenly a crowd. The theme outlined here is that force is needed to get attention, an imperialistic power does so by conquering and setting up its own government.
This quote shows the brevity of admiration that comes from force and appeasement. It does not last long because it did not go over what was wanted, rather only has the ability to come in below. Force is a way to momentarily gain attention, but it backfires in the long run, leaving a guilty conscience.
This shows how imperialism is two faced; one being the decisive leader that it is, but the other not seen is the inner turmoil and actions that a nation must undergo if it is to succeed as one. More broadly it demonstrates how appearances are deceptive, one may act tough, yet is it to impress others he views below himself, yet somehow their opinion of him still matters?
This quote demonstrates the condition of man. Being strong entails doing what others expect; what they expect is a mask that is put on, and through time it becomes you. The theme is that being of authority isn’t respect, as it is doing what is expected.
The narrator is focused on his acceptance by the people who hate him, as much as he fears killing the elephant, his wanting to be accepted by the people is greater than the elephant's right to live, as the crowds reaction carries more weight than does the elephant's state on the narrator.
This is the result of the officers actions, trying to please others leaves you with a guilty conscience, and no more acceptance or respect than before. The elephant is laying there in agony, no one cares but the narrator, and thus feels wholly responsible for the elephants death, as much as he wishes to conceive himself into thinking otherwise.
This shows his indifference to the elephant, and the laborer. He accepts death if it helps him look better. Yet inside he is all torn up about him, it is nagging on his conscience forever, as can be assumed from the last sentence, as he ponders that question frequently. He feels some may have caught on, showing that doing the expected and not being true to yourself doesn’t end in respect, the opposite.
Literary Criticism
Orwell is remembered for his political works. Even his most harmless essays have the overarching allegory for political factors playing in his day.
His essays are remarkable because they never fail to surprise you, it is the subject, or the insight. A rather straightforward essay on Dickens, with a more or less obvious conclusion can end up in a totally different final judgment. Reading his works is going on a journey, and glad to have ended where it was. His ability is to persuade you that if you experienced what he had, you would have felt the same way.
In Shooting an Elephant there is the beautiful recount of what has happened, persuading the reader there is no other way to have viewed what had happened. Yet this event is to demonstrate the futility of imperialism. As he stated that the only goal for white men is not to be laughed at. His conclusion , as absurd as it seems, makes sense, it is there unquestioned; he had killed the elephant to “avoid looking a fool.”
He hated England yet loved it at the same time. You see hate in some of his works, but that is countered by everything else.
His books and legacy come from him as a political writer. 1984 still remains a great fictional breaking of totalitarianism, and every 8th grader has read Animal Farm. His works always question why society is the way it is. Orwell could maintain his style because of his experience, when he talked of poverty it was because he experienced it, when he talked of war is because he had seen people die. His experiences translated into his hatred of authority.
Orwell lived in a time that gave him understanding of condition. He could empathise with many throughout history, and could most importantly tell the truth.
Orwell’s style is plain, which diffuses a honest and direct mood; someone with set political opinions. The subjects of almost all of his essays were things he didn’t like, themselves self contradiction. His most famous claim, all art is propaganda argued that poetry could survive totalitarianism as prose could not, because if poetry was translated it would be unimportant to everyone, including the poet. He presents all his arguments in his sharp plain style, there is no room to disagree and still hold dignity. As much as he could persuade his way right, he was wrong about many things such as the citizens’ ability to overthrow totalitarianism.
He was wrong and contradicted himself. He was insightful about the dangers of communist thought control thought, but did not foresee future revolutions.
The logic in Orwell’s essays in contradictions and oversights is that he writes towards the end of war and in post war’ foreseeing Stalin’s control. He depicts these issues through his books.
foreseeing Stalin’s control. He depicts these issues through his books.
He was right about communism in one sense, it could spread. A solution would be to adopt the solutions of the generation prior. Yet he is unable to adopt them as his own writings and philosophies were shaped through experience, imperialism in Burma, English coal mines, and the Spanish civil war.
He let politics animate his works.
As the war goes on and ends, Orwell senses peril even more, seeing literature differently, as he feels that it doesn’t matter who wins, the world will again split against itself, and literature will not survive, this landscape can be seen in 1984, and the essays, Prevention of Literature, Politics and the English Language, and Writers and Leviathan.
This occurs in 1984, a man in a dreary room that is 35 yet looks 50, looking for a place for his typewriter, bald, and wearing glasses. This hero of the book is a book reviewer as a prisoner in a future regime.
Orwell keeps the question of literature’s place in society alive. In Writers and Leviathan he argues writers must be different from their political work. He was a realist, knowing that politics was dirty business.
He never quit, his freedom shrunk, and was living in his fictional 1984 realm, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.
It is hard to tell where the pessimism comes from, weather from his tuberculosis, or just society as a whole.
Orwell did not attend university, he went to Eton and then to Burma. He never used fancy terms. He was not a literary critic. He was interested in literature, used formats because people consumed them.
People may claim Orwell’s style to be a facade, along with his name that he changed from eric Blair to George Orwell . Orwell did not want fame, he was mostly a struggling writer, yet producing books quickly, yet he is a great practitioner of prose. Animal Farm was turned down by many publishers out of fear of angering Britain’s ally. Yet Orwell became a household name. He did everything, but most importantly, he told the truth. His style works for him because of experience, it cannot be reproduced.
Works Cited
Gessen, Keith. "Eternal Vigilence." New Statesman. N.p., 28 May 2009. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2009/06/orwell-essays-64257-spain>.
Paxman, Jeremy. "The Genius of George Orwell." The Telegraph. N.p., 05 June 2009. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/5453633/The-genius-of-George-Orwell.html>.
Between righteousness and men,
Born to the world and its temporary treasures,
Belonging elsewhere then,
Bribed by earthly pleasures.

Rotten fruit;
Unpicked, hanging from low branches,
Surrounding trees dead at the root,
Appeasement that ends in ashes.

The tree firm, tall, and whole;
Its fruit is love,
Sustenance for the soul,
Yet it dangles above.

"Move on with life,
The fool in the tree runs out of breath"
Screams the world with strife;
Its branches administer death.

Scale the tree with endurance;
Men's admiration fades,
Yet we have a powerful alliance,
The one who gives strength prevades.

Be humble and holy,
Reach for righteousness,
Lift up your eyes longignly'
For there is life.
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