The following piece is one I wrote for my Advanced Placement English Literature course on George Orwell's essay, "Shooting an Elephant". Here I explore two perspectives on the "why" behind the killing of the elephant in Orwell's writing. One explores a systemic issue, whereas the other implicates personal choice as the deciding factor.
George Orwell puts himself in an incredibly vulnerable position in his short story, “Shooting an Elephant”. Orwell ultimately has the choice to depict himself in any possible way, yet chooses to put himself in a position that could be interpreted negatively. Orwell actively decides to recognize that he shot the elephant; but before the reader can blame Orwell for this action, he analyzes the system that corroborates his choice to kill the creature. He shows the reader that there must be a lesson beyond criticizing himself as the author — a lesson indicating a larger, systemic issue, “I had got to shoot the elephant... A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things” (3). Orwell feels bound by certain expectations and standards that are systemically enforced by the structure of imperialism, itself. Because imperialism is structured in a way that enforces white, western dominance, any outlier in that system faces negative consequences. Orwell did not want to be an outlier. He had no choice but to shoot the elephant because of the societal rules he is tied by. Were he not to follow the system, he would face the humiliation and scorn that an outlier automatically faces by not fitting into the rigid dimensions of imperialism; were he not to shoot the elephant, he says, “[t]he crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (3). Because of the pressure of imperialism, Orwell had to shoot the elephant. And at this point, he isn’t even his own man anymore; he becomes a puppet, acting out the actions that the system wants him to, “I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib” (3). Orwell loses his freedom the moment he pulls that trigger because he is then the human embodiment of the system he so despises.
George Orwell attempts to exchange his culpability for victimhood in his piece “Shooting an Elephant”, and in doing this, enforces imperialism rather than falls victim to it. The “victim card” is one which abusers and manipulators often take, for the simple reason of escaping responsibility for their actions at the expense of others whom they see as below them. Orwell is no different. He writes, “And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant” (3). Orwell does not bat an eye at the dead Indian — he even admits that he is glad the man died for the sole purpose of allowing Orwell a logical reason for shooting the elephant. Orwell clearly sees the Indian man as expendable for the purpose of Orwell’s own evasion of responsibility for his actions. It is in this way that Orwell is more a perpetrator than a victim. He reinforces the system of imperialism by so easily allowing the dead Indian man to be a pawn in Orwell’s larger game. The real reason Orwell shot the elephant was not because it killed a man he couldn’t care less about, but because he did not want to appear weak. The system of imperialism exists, yes, but the system is actively perpetuated by each individual via free will and choice, rather than each individual being victimized by the system. Orwell made the choice to shoot the elephant in his need to impress a race of people he believes inferior to himself. It is in this way that, he, himself, perpetuates imperialism, “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool” (3). Much like parents like to impress their young children with coin tricks and the like, Orwell sees himself as a superior exercising his power and instilling a sense of awe in a people he sees as lesser than himself.
Orwell, George, 1903-1950. Shooting An Elephant : and Other Essays. London :Penguin, 2003. Print.
*Nandini, Krishnan. "Killing an Elephant." Sify News. 27 June 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2017.
Here you will find specifically academic pieces, such as essays I have completed for school that are related to the pursuit of justice.