George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" as a Colonial Writing or Criticism of Imperialism

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible."
George Orwell (1903 - 1950) British writer.
Shooting an Elephant, "Politics and the English Language"
From a first person narrative perspective of a British officer stationed at Moulmein, Burma, “shooting an Elephant” is an essay which conveys the wrongs of New Imperialism, the intense anti-European feelings in the East. In fact, George Orwell, the essayist, and critic, whose brilliant reporting and political conscience fashioned an impassioned picture of his life and times through his essay “Shooting an Elephant” the political and colonial themes counter the totalitarian tendencies that he felt threatened his age. Here our narrator imparts one very significant event in his career as an Imperial police, which was shooting an elephant for the sake of not seeming like a “fool.”

 After receiving a message about elephant rampaging the village area, the narrator proceeds in a journey to search for the mammoth beast. On the first leg of the search he finds a trampled Coolie, a death which gives him judicial and possibly moral justifications in killing the beastly Elephant. Subsequent to calling for a rifle the narrator encounters the Elephant in a rice paddy, he is not alone, and the eyes of an imperialized culture are intently glaring at his confrontation. The “must” of the elephant is gone but the officer has gone too far in his attempt to tame the beast. Now the voices of thousands shouted in joyful anticipation. Now the eyes of thousands looked with interest. Now two thousand wills irresistibly pressed him to action.

The slaughter of the elephant was unnecessary but the pre-established European presence of a potentate like class of individuals had already trapped him into the only feasible course of action, the execution of the elephant. Soon enough the magnificently ancient beast was put to a painfully agonizing indecent sleep. As the crowd shouted in joy, the officer had fulfilled the stereotypical, expectations in Burma’s society towards the oppressive westerners, in that instant the oppressor had indeed become the oppressed, “And it was at this moment as I stood with the, rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.” Intrinsically the quote and by extension, the essay speaks of the distastefully ill nature of imperialism and its psychologically metaphorical entrapment of the westerners by conforming and growing to fit the” mask” of preconceived stereotypical notions.

 ‘‘Shooting an Elephant’’ is a central text in modern British literature and has generated perhaps more criticism than any other comparable short piece. In the politicized atmosphere of contemporary criticism, commentators are especially drawn into debate about whether Orwell apologizes for or condemns imperialism. Left-wing critics see insufficient condemnation; conservative critics point out that it is the narrator, an agent of empire, who explicitly denounces the British presence as pervasively corrupting to both sides. The story is one of the most widely anthologized and studied items of the modern English-language canon.

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