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George Orwell “Shooting An Elephant”: Metaphors and Analysis

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❶Evidently, colonialism and the power dynamics it entails are too convoluted to be contained within a single straightforward point of view.

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Shooting an Elephant
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There were three wars between the British oppressors and the Burmese. There was the first Anglo-Burmese War in , and then the second in That was the shot that did it for him. Finally staying down after the third shot the elephant still lives, just as the Burmese people are still there but with less strength and hope after the wars. They are now controlled by the British. But still he knows the truth to be false. The elephant could have been saved without unnecessary harm but Orwell chose the latter.

Orwell uses other metaphors such as when he compares himself to being a magician about to perform a trick, or as being a lead actor in a piece, and even an absurd puppet, a posing dummy, and to be wearing a mask. Even being a white man, the authority, it was even more expected. It is then Orwell claims he realizes the true position of whites in the East and how Imperialism hurts not only the victims but the oppressors.

Orwell explains how when the white man turns tyrant it is their own freedom they destroy. Being the white man, Orwell says, they constantly must impress the natives and do what the natives expect of them. The natives have the control of the white man. Thus Orwell must complete his role, what is expected of him, and do definite things.

Orwell realizes that throughout his entire rule in Burma he is actually the victim of the Burmese, and it is their expectations of what he should do with his power that force him to do what they want. Orwell mentioned himself to be like an actor in a play. The Burman crowd behind him, the audience.

He describes the feeling to be like theatre curtains finally opening to a waiting spectators. He makes many comparisons that demonstrate his weakness in character. He is puppet being controlled. Once again, the Burmese appear to wield power over Orwell, subverting the colonial hierarchy. The crowd reaches the rice paddies, and Orwell spots the elephant standing next to the road.

The animal is calmly eating grass. He makes up his mind to simply watch the elephant to make sure it does not become aggressive again, and does not plan on harming it. Just as he empathizes with the oppressed Burmese, Orwell recognizes that the elephant is a peaceful creature that has been driven to rebellion by its mistreatment.

Because it is both a harmless animal and a valuable piece of property, it is clear that there is no ethical or practical reason to hurt the elephant.

Note that for the British all of Burma was essentially a valuable piece of property—another metaphorical link between the elephant and colonialism. However, after he makes this decision, Orwell glances back at the crowd behind him. Orwell feels as though he is a magician tasked with entertaining them, and realizes that he is now compelled to shoot the elephant. Orwell reneges on his ethical and practical conclusions almost as quickly as he makes them.

By being placed in front of a crowd, Orwell has been forced to take on a performative persona that makes him act counter to every reasonable impulse he has. Orwell, the imperialist, cannot do anything other than what the Burmese expect him to do. He entertains the possibility of doing nothing and letting the elephant live, but concludes that this would make the crowd laugh at him.

His entire mission as a colonialist, he says, is not to be laughed at—thus, sparing the elephant is not an option. In this crucial moment of the story, Orwell articulates the paradox of colonialism. By limiting the freedom of others, the British have actually forced themselves to adopt a limited, exaggerated role in order to maintain their grip on authority—and thus limited their own freedoms far more sharply. He cannot tolerate mistreatment from the Burmese, even though he understands that he, as a colonist, is in the wrong.

It is deeply ironic, and tragic, that Orwell is compelled to entrench himself further in barbarism, simply because he feels that propriety dictates that he do so. That is the paradox of colonialism—that colonial propriety comes to force the colonizer to act barbarously. Still, Orwell does not want to kill the beast. Moreover, killing an elephant is a waste of an expensive commodity. The locals tell Orwell that the elephant has kept to itself, but may charge if provoked.

Orwell decides that the best way to handle the situation would be to approach the elephant to test its temperament and only harm the animal if it behaved aggressively. However, to do this would endanger Orwell, and worse still, he would look like an idiot if the elephant maimed him in front of the natives.

Unfortunately, his desire not to be laughed at trumps his other motivations—in fact, he is more afraid of humiliation—and perhaps of the way that humiliation might impact the local's sense of him as an authority figure—than he is of physical harm! It is clear that the conventions of imperialism make Orwell feel compelled to perform a particular inhumane and irrational role.

In spite of his reasoned introspection, he cannot resist the actions that the role forces him to make in order to display his power.

There is only one thing Orwell can do. He loads the gun, lies on the road, and takes aim at the elephant. The crowd sighs in anticipation. The crowd roars in excitement, and the elephant appears suddenly weakened.

After a bit of time, the elephant sinks to its knees and begins to drool. Orwell fires again, and the elephant does not fall—instead, it wobbles back onto its feet. A third shot downs the elephant. As it tumbles to the ground, however, it trumpets and appears to grow even larger, and its fall shakes the earth on which Orwell lies.

It is particularly notable that the elephant appears to be at its most magnificent just as it falls. The elephant lies on the ground, breathing laboriously. Orwell waits for it to die, but it continues to breathe. He fires at its heart, but the elephant hardly seems to notice the bullets. Orwell is distressed to see the elephant laboring to die, clearly in agonizing pain, so he fires his smaller-caliber rifle into its body countless times.

These bullets do nothing; the elephant continues to breathe torturously. He is later told that the elephant took a half hour to die. Shortly thereafter, the Burmese stripped the meat off its bones. He does not even know enough about marksmanship—or elephants—to kill the elephant painlessly. In the same way, the British empire is inhumane not out of necessity, but rather out of reactionary ignorance regarding both the land it has colonized and the pernicious way that colonization acts on both the colonized and the colonizer.

Orwell notes that he is lucky the elephant killed a man, because it gave his own actions legal justification. Those harmed by the violence are either silenced—like the elephant—or lack recourse—like its owner.


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Shooting an Elephant analysis Giving in can either be good or bad. Whether large or miniscule, situations that are faced everyday require serious decisions. As humans, we sometimes have the inability to decide. In, “ Shooting An Elephant”, choices are made for the pleasure of others. The theme in this short autobiographical essay deeply affects [ ].

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Analysis of George Orwell's 'Shooting an Elephant' Essay example Words | 5 Pages. Technique Analysis of ‘Shooting an elephant’ Written by George Orwell Essay by Arthur Diennet In , George Orwell published his short story ‘Shooting an elephant’ in an English magazine. Sep 24,  · For WTA Tour Tennis on the GameCube, a GameFAQs message board topic titled "George Orwell "Shooting An Elephant" rhetorical analysis essay".Operating System: GC, GBA, PS2, XBOX.

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The essay Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell is an example of a persuasive rhetorical piece. Orwell’s publication Shooting an Elephant is an autobiographical account of Orwell’s experiences as a British police officer in Burma during a period of British imperialism. Essay on Shooting an Elephant Words | 2 Pages “Shooting an Elephant” I was not comfortable with many aspects of this story. The prejudice throughout the book was unimaginable, I find I am uncomfortable with any kind of bigotry.