Notes on Shooting an Elephant

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1) colonialism in "Shooting an Elephant."

* George Orwell wrote this essay when England ruled Burma as a colony---much like it had ruled America during the colonial period. Colonialism occurred when many European nations simply took over countries because they believed their culture was superior to the native culture. The ideas of social darwinism, or survival of the strongest nations and/or people, played a large role in the domination and subjection of countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. So, what your teacher wants to you mention is how Orwell felt about being put in charge of this native population which does not like him or the country he represents. If you look at the first line of the essay, Orwell says this was the only times he was " important enough to be hated" so much. As you read further, you will find other examples of Orwell's dislike of colonialism, especially during his decision about whether or not to shoot the elephant.

* The story has to do with a colonial policeman working in Burma which is governed by the British Empire. The runaway elephant provides an opportunity for the reader to recognize the culture clash between colonizer and colonized. "British completed their colonization of the country in 1886, Burma was immediately annexed as a province of British India, and the British began to permeate the ancient Burmese culture with foreign elements. Burmese customs were often weakened by the imposition of British traditions."

The people expect the colonial policeman to kill the elephant, to be brutal, when in fact he wants to save the elephant. 'The narrator must do his duty as a colonial policeman. He despises the native Burmese for loathing and tormenting him as their foreign oppressor; yet he also perfectly well understands their loathing and tormenting; he even takes their side privately."

The rampaging elephant is symbolic of what the British have done to other countries like Burma. "Indeed, one of the chief consequences of Western imperial expansion in Asia (as in Africa) was that it brought industrialized and non-industrialized societies forcibly together in a world made ever smaller by technological progress and so provoked resentment between the ‘‘haves’’ and ‘‘have-nots.’’ The resentment persisted, moreover, even where the colonized society benefited materially from the imperial presence."

2) In "Shooting an Elephant", what is Orwell’s message about political power and the nature of abusive governments?

One of Orwell's purposes in this essay is to show the cultural dilemma posed by colonialism ( or imperialism, as Orwell puts it). In the essay, Orwell finds himself being the enemy within another culture. The paradox is that Orwell sympathizes with the Burmese people and their desire to overthrow their British oppressors and yet he also hates the people who criticize and abuse him. He has mixed feelings about colonialism and its abuse of power and yet he follows the rules and does what he is supposed to do. Thus, his message is that colonialism is inherently contradictory--just as contradictory as his encounter with the elephant.

3) What does the elephant symbolize in "Shooting an elephant?

* In "Shooting an Elephant", the Elephant represents the working man since in India and Burma, the elephant is a work animal. It can also be seen to represent the role of the Burmanese to the colonial power - in this analogy; the Burmanese would be the colonial power over the elephant. At the end of the story, the animal takes on definite human characteristics as it dies.

* The previous answer is correct, but I would like to add that the elephant is also symbolic of the narrator's conscience. "The narrator’s moral conscience appears in the moment when the corpse of the Burmese crushed by the elephant comes to his attention; the narrator says that the man lay sprawled in a ‘‘crucified’’ posture, invoking all of the poignant...
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