Shooting an Elephant
George Orwell’s story “Shooting an Elephant” is a potent illustration of the problematic relationship between the colonists and the colonized and the psychological battles that the defenders of the empire had to endure in the discharge of their duties. As a young officer in the British colony in Burma, the narrator incurs the daily torments of native displeasure and the strain of his duties. Privately, he sympathizes with the plight of the colonized, particularly on the account of the brutality, which is meted to them daily by the colonial establishment.
The narrator’s difficult condition stems from his divided world, which, on the one hand identifies him and his work with the oppressor, while on the other hand portrays him as a man of conscience. Additionally, he is bogged down with guilt and a feeling of helplessness against the hard realities, “cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt,” (Orwell a).
The result of this mental division is brought out more clearly in his remorse for the brutality meted out by the natives and his desire to kill the monks who torment him occasionally in their jeers. For him, the hard decision he makes about killing the elephant against his will provides some opportunity to even the odds of his divided world, which made him succumb to the pressure to act, “I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly,” (Orwell a).
The primary audience of this story is the British populations and the colony in general. The secondary audience comprises of colonized people, or those who have had the experiences of colonization. This story forms a kind of psychological bridge that allows the opposite ends of the colonized and the colonizer to access the rare glimpse of the deeper recesses of each other’s mentality. As a result, both parties are able to come to terms with their own weaknesses and the excesses of their attitudes and responses to the discourse of colonialism. In some sense, the story is cathartic because it opens up the mentality of an unwilling oppressor.
By narrating this story in first person, the author makes vivid some of the emotional and psychological turmoil at the heart of the narrator. It helps the reader identify with the conditions of the unwilling oppressor. The story of the elephant is exploited in a metaphoric way that highlights the enormous damage of colonialism at the individual level, “It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism,” (Orwell a).
Orwell’s second story Marrakech is a moving description of the nearly unbelievable squalor that afflicts the Moroccan colony. Adverse poverty, dehumanized populations and the desolate physical environment are described in ways that portray possibly the worst levels that humanity could sink under conditions of colonialism and adversity. The purpose of this story weaves around the themes of adversity, poverty, gender inequalities, and colonialism. To a significant degree, this short story reads like a horrifying indictment to colonial oppression, which systematically lowers the lives of the conquered to ignoble depths. The very beginning of the story prepares the reader to the grim reality of death and suffering as it afflicts the local population, “As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, (Orwell b). The lives of the natives are shown as short, hopeless, and horrific.
The author uses the technique of contrast to capture the real enormity of human suffering. For instance, animals such as donkeys and dogs are presented as occupying some higher levels of existence as compared to the dehumanized people of the colony. In the same sense, the question of gender is brought out to illustrate the double suffering of women in an oppressive society. Women are not visible except through their roles. They are oppressed by the patriarchal society, which assigns them to arduous roles while the men in the impoverished society seek out ways to take advantage of gender power. For instance, it is argued, “When a family is travelling it is quite usual to see a father and a grown-up son riding ahead on donkeys, and an old woman following on foot, carrying the baggage,” (Orwell b).
The primary audience of this story is the colonial masters. The story directs their collective conscience to the pain and suffering that their system imparts on the oppressed subjects. Orwell also warns them of the possibility of eventual resistance as the colonized comes to terms with his reality of the oppressive system, “How much longer can we go on kidding these people? How long before they turn their guns in the other direction?” (Orwell b). This story is rendered effectively through the reliance of vivid description and anecdotes, which help to illustrate the extent of suffering and desolation of the colonial situation. The narrative techniques employed by the author are meant to mock at the oppressive edifice of colonialism and racism by questioning the moral structures on which they are founded.
Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant. Literature Network, 2012, Web. 9 Oct. 2012, a.
Orwell, George. Marrakech. George Orwell.org, 2012, Web. 9 Oct. 2012, b.
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