Shooting an Elephant

1 January 2017

When the word“dictator” comes to mind, humans are dolorous and empathetic. A great proof of this fact was observed during the early parts of the 20th century when oppression and iron fisted rule was established as a social normalcy in much of the world. The oppressive days of totalitarianism have passed and were marked by the death of the infamous and grandiose era of imperialism. Nonetheless, it left a bad imprint upon the countries and people that were involved.

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To understand the conflict and struggles entailed by imperialism and its oppression, Shooting an Elephant written by George Orwell in the early 1900s uses the example of British controlled Myanmar, an area at the time known as Burma. This event affected the author’s perception of imperialism in a negative connotation. In his essay, Orwell recounts what he personified as one of his most adventurous experiences as an imperial officer in India. To the general readers, it would appear that Orwell was telling a story about his own life.

However, his real intentions is to portray a picture of how imperialism influenced the lives of both the imperialistic officer and the natives within the colonized nations. Throughout his essay, Orwell effectively uses the rhetorical devices of metaphor, imagery, and tone in order to illustrate the absolute iniquity of imperialism. Orwell begins his essay by first claiming his perspective on British imperialism as an evil that he is fully against.

Orwell’s point is demonstrated by the portrayal finding of an elephant as a metaphor to show the destructive and unethical power of imperialism. We can see the destruction of imperialism when Orwell depicts “An elephant was ravaging the bazaar” (Orwell 285) and “It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo huts, kill a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock;” (Orwell 286). Orwell uses this metaphor of an elephant’s rage and destruction of homes, theft of food shelves, and even killings as an exemplification to the inner working of imperialism.

Metaphorically, Orwell expands his argument about how imperialism is tyrannical towards to the Burmese people by comparing an elephant’s rage to that of the British Empire’s invasion of Burma and its destruction of the native life. Similarly, the elephant’s theft of food represents the barrage of pilfering the British Empire’s imperialism has brought upon the Burmese people. They try to implement their aim of domination upon Burma without any care upon the Burmese way of life.

This event not only makes the oppressed country become the victims of the imperialism, but it also is the foundation of Orwell’s dilemma regarding the killing of an elephant or the peer pressure he feels towards killing. In short, the use of metaphorical devices found throughout Orwell’s narrative help emphasizing the similarities of imperialism to that of an elephant ravaging through a town, illustrating the catastrophic effects it has upon the Burmese people. Beyond the use of metaphorical techniques, Orwell also uses vivid imagery to the strongest extent, to further his stand against the imperial forces.

Under the oppression of British imperialism, the Burmese people become “wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts” (Orwell 285). Orwell applies negative connotations such as “wretched”, “cowed”, and “flogged” to describe harsh images of prisoners and convicts that have been stripped and locked up against their own will. Orwell uses such forms of extreme imagery to highlight imperialism and its brutal and vicious practices.

Orwell also uses strong images to portray the horrifying impact of imperialism upon native British citizens as well. I had had to think out of my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East” (Orwell 285). As Orwell mulls over the critical decision of killing an elephant, he comes upon the realization that the “white man” must be able to display strength and authority when people demand it. Orwell juxtaposes the role of the ever-powerful “white man” against his strongest image “an absurd puppet” whose actions have no free will of their own, but rather are a reflection of the puppeteer.

Although Orwell believes the “white man” with the “magical gun” as being technically in power, he feels degraded and oppressed by the natives-the puppeteer and their will. He recognizes the true position of whites in the East and how imperialism has hurt both the oppressed people as well as the oppressor themselves. Orwell’s reflection of native British workers exemplifies the role of a puppet victimized by both the Burmese people and the orders of their own regime.

Orwell’s statement of caving in to the unrelenting pressure of the natives by killing an elephant as well as the proceeding image of a pitiful creature rotting in pain imprinted his argument of oppressor into the minds of the readers. The violent images of a dying elephant emphasize the awful, sad, even perhaps disgusting reality of the circumstance established by imperialism. Orwell chooses strong words such as “thick blood”, “tortured breathing”, and “great agony” to help increasing the audience’s anger through his strong emotion associate imperialism to such a gruesome tragedy.

As a result of his personal experiences within a moral dilemma, George Orwell conveys to the reader the evils of imperialism and the double-edged sword that runs in the direction of both the conqueror and the conquered. In addition to imagery, Orwell uses a negative tone to portray an environment to the readers of repulsion towards to the figure of imperialism and it atrocities. The tone of the essay set by Orwell delineates the setting to be “a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains” (Orwell 286). Orwell’s depiction gives the readers a sensation of a dark atmosphere.

It also attributes to the author’s ideas against imperialism. Orwell’s use of great imagery while depicting the finding of the elephant, “it was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm-leaf, winding all over a steep hillside” (Orwell 286) seems to illustrate neighboring sentences together to stress his stance and render the readers the sense of poverty of the Burmese people since the oppressors arrived. His word choice such as “cloudy”, “stuffy”, “poor”, and “squalid” contributes to the negative tone of the essay, and it also helps the audience imagine his point of view of imperialism.

Moreover, Orwell’s use of tone sets the stage for his internal conflict in doing his job and killing the elephant with a bitter attitude. The use of bitter direct language such as “dirty work” and “hatred” illustrates frankly how he felt about totalitarianism through his job. The bitter attitude of his opposition to imperialism while his obedience to rule as a police officer also portrays a struggle held deep within him towards both his job and beliefs. All of the elements working together contribute to the success of his stance, and it powerfully demonstrates his position of negativity towards imperialism.

George Orwell’s use of flexible metaphor, visual imagery, and bitter tone strongly demonstrates the peril of imperialism in Shooting an Elephant. Through his anecdotal attack of imperialism, and the persuasive tools used, Orwell illuminates his argument establishes the viewpoint of domineering British imperialism and its ruthless oppression on Burma. The portrayal gives a message of imperialism’s disastrous impact on both the colonizer and the colonized while communicating to the reader emotions and thoughts about the damage done tosociety in oppression and the underlying effects it may entail upon a society.

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