Grade 10 English - King vs Orwell

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Many Colours, One World , One Approach to Injustice

The essays “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell and the "Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. share several similarities, particularly in terms of the authors' recognition of injustice in their respective communities. There are striking similarities between their causes despite Orwell being of British descent and part of the caucasian majority while Dr. King was from the United States of America and was part of the coloured minority. Both essays helped emphasize the struggle and injustices in society, regardless of the cultural differences between the authors and the nearly thirty year gap between their publications. Both men were influential civil rights activists who used different approaches to bring awareness to social injustice. While Orwell approached the perceived injustices more passively through his writing, Dr. King actively arranged and participated in protests to draw attention to the injustices. The profound differences in their backgrounds make it thought-provoking to examine how, despite dramatic differences in their upbringing and culture, they recognized injustice in their communities and tried to bring awareness to similar issues through these two documents.

Both essays have strong themes which are meant to appeal to the ‘white moderate’ as the authors spoke about the oppression, injustice and humiliation they experienced and observed in their everyday lives. Orwell wrote “Shooting an Elephant” based on his own experiences as a police officer in Burma under the reign of British India. Dr. King wrote his essay from a Birmingham Alabama jail cell in response to a statement by eight fellow clergymen after he was charged for ‘parading without a permit’ (King). Perhaps what makes their approach to injustices interesting is that neither of the authors were native to the area where the oppression was occurring, yet both felt that it was in their best interest to do or say something about the situation. Dr. King, for example, explained that although not from Birmingham, he needed to be there because of all the injustices the white people where doing to the coloured community; “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (King). Orwell, although less enthusiastic about his position in Burma explained that all whites were out of place in that setting; “And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (Orwell). Throughout both essays it is clear that the relationship between the oppressors and the oppressed was one of power. There is evidence that Orwell disliked the effect Imperial Britain had on the Burmese people and he sympathized with them even though they saw him as a representative of Imperialist Britain. Orwell explained through the narrator that ‘imperialism was an evil thing’(Orwell) and that he “was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British"(Orwell). Orwell observed the byproducts of imperialism in the prisoners as they huddled in the stinking cages of the Burmese prison when he was a police officer and a representative of the British ruling class in Burma. Dr. King felt that after many years of oppression the black population no longer had any self-respect. He wrote that “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed" (King) in an attempt to justify his rational for planning a direct-action campaign against the state's use of segregation against the minority coloured population. Both authors had a different purpose for writing their papers; however, the common messages of injustice and inequality were inevitable. Dr. King and Orwell were minorities in their respective situations and they were exposed to segregation and injustices as individuals. Orwell was a British Indian in Burma who was 'segregated' in his society because of his role and...
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