Shooting an Elephant
And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at. ” At firs glance it may seem that this sentence is really not important in comparison with lots of others in the, in my opinion, insanely great and perfectly written short story, “Shooting an Elephant”. This sentence is later reinforced at the end, “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool. However, this small fact is crucial to the developments of the story, but there are more complex and wonderful themes told by Orwell, in perfectly built sentences, and sometimes extremely graphic, and on the other side, deep and inner, sensible, rather than visible, descriptions. Writing abut this particular topic doesn’t give me the freedom to analyze the structure of the work, but I should at least mention how sentences are precisely and fluently laid on over another.
The main topic of this short essay would focus on the contrasts, which are one of the key elements of this story, hand in hand with symbols. I would like to present an overview of these elements and my interpretations. The introductory contrast of this piece is off course the contrast between the Europeans, the “invaders”, and the Indians respectively. The Europeans, colonizing and invading the land of the Burman Indians, were subject to great hatred and public humiliation.
As the author notes “No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. ” Later on, “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.
Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism”, Orwell’s inner conflict shows that even though he secretly justifies the natives hatred, and even though he has come to realize his “hatred of the empire <he> served”, he still expressed his “rage against the evilspirited little beasts who tried to make <his> job impossible”. This is one aspect of the main contrast and the inner clash of the narrator: at first hating the empire and the system to which he belonged o, secretly supporting the Burmans in their “fight” against the oppressors, but acting buff, dominant and european as it is expected of him. This is later on ingeniously coined “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. ” A small but a one worth mentioning contrast, would be the one when the sub-inspectors (native) call the narrator for help. It is similar to the one later on, when the crowd, in their excitement, forgets the hatred and turns to the european dominator.
A very important contrast follows. The one I mentioned in the firs sentence of this essay. The one that would eventually lead to the culmination. The sole white man, with a weapon, expected to show his dominance and cold heartedness, and the enormous ecstatic crowd behind him, for a moment setting aside all the differences and supporting the oppressor. That would be the visual, outer aspect of this scene, but what about the inner? The final, the most important contrast is the decision to shoot the elephant.
Not only because his first decision was not to shoot it, but mainly because the fine descriptions of the inner fight of the main character. “And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. 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.
I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. ” So there it is, the main conflict, his thoughts and emotions battling, and the shooting of the elephant contrasting to the original, personal feeling (that he should not kill it), overridden by the greater, universal and mandatory cold heartedness and mercilessness in fact MASKED another personal feeling, fear. Fear of public humiliation. A complex storm of thoughts and feelings produced the result in the end.
The main message of the story, in my opinion, lays in the bolded, quoted text. A message I would roughly translate as: as he lost his freedom in turning tyrant, the freedom of choosing not to kill the animal, so does Britain by invading and ruling other countries. This story is actually a strong critique of the then existing British Empire, expressed from a personal, retrospective view. The scene of shooting the elephant symbolizes the British suppressing the Indians.
The fall and long death of the animal shows the strength and resistance of the natives, and the regret, sympathy and regret (which is not really noted, but rather felt by the actions) the main character feels when he is trying to finish off the animal sends a message for the British Empire to rather stop “killing the elephants” possibly comparing his resentment to a future one on a larger scale… A great story that sends your mind running and thinking for hours after reading it cannot be so greatly analyzed in a short essay. But I hope I have done so, at least for one aspect of it.