April 12, 2015
The Effect on Decision-making
Eric Arthur Blair, who used the pen name George Orwell, was a British writer whose literature is marked by criticism of social injustice. The essay “Shooting an Elephant” is one of George Orwell’s most well-known works. The essay was wrote in 1936, it describes a story what happened in 1926, while Orwell was working as a British police officer in Burma, where in order to build the role of an assertive police officer and a brave white man, he has to shoot an aggressive elephant. He is conflicted with his character as a white, male officer and the morality deep inside his heart. Meanwhile he has to compare the influences of his act in local culture and his own culture, and he uses the story of shooting an elephant as a metaphor for the relation between the ruler and the colony. In other words, the decision to shoot the elephant was affected by the political condition, the conflicting culture, and his attitude of imperialism.
Political conditions motivated Orwell to shoot the elephant. While Orwell was working in Burma, it was colonized by Britain. The people in Burma hate the new European influence. Thus, this created a challenging task for Orwell. He wrote in the essay, “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” As a white police officer, his job was not only to enforce the law, but also to be a dignified ruler. Shooting an Elephant would show people the bravery and assertive of an English man.
Orwell was not only critical toward the Burmese people, but he also showed disdain for British imperialism. Despite this, he did not like the Burmese people, and this was evident when he wrote, “[i]n the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves” (Orwell); he hated the British imperialism even more. As for the job he was doing, he saw the evil things that imperialism was doing to the people; “[t]he wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos — all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt” (Ibid.). Indeed, he felt sympathy for the people who were oppressed by imperialism, “[t]heoretically — and secretly, of course — I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British”(Ibid.).
Furthermore, the conflict between different cultures made the decision even more difficult. Elephants meant different things to Orwell’s culture and local culture. In Burma, the elephant was a national symbol. According to mythologies, elephants are the elixir for becoming immoral, Burmese people worship elephants as holy idols. Consequently, the elephant is extremely valuable, and they must be treasured, preserved and protected (“Indian Elephant”, http://wwf.panda.org). In Orwell’s cultural background, however, shooting a living animal was morally wrong. It was illegal to kill animals (Open Government Licence, “Protection of Animals Act 1911”, http://www.legislation.gov.uk) But, Orwell did not shoot the elephant just to be conducive to prove himself, the elephant had killed an Indian man. Therefore, legally he had done the right thing, killed an aggressive elephant for its owner had lost control of it.
While Orwell was narrating an experience of a dominator who was in a colony, he also expressed his attitude of the imperialism through the text in the story. Different aspects of Orwell’s short story serve to symbolize different aspects of the historical context. For example, the rifle was symbolized as the power, the Burmese even refer to it as a “magical rifle”, “[t]hey did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching”(Orwell). Despite the...
Cited: “Indian Elephant”. n.p. http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/elephants/asian_elephants/indian_elephant/. n.d. Web. 2015.
Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant. London: Secker and Warburg, 1936. Print.
“Protection of Animals Act 1911”. Open Government Licence. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/1-2/27.18 August 1911. Web. 2015.
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