George Orwell, one of the most famous English authors, was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India, in 1903. His father was a colonial official for the British and his mother’s family also had colonial ties. In 1922, Orwell worked as a British imperial policeman in Burma for five years but he finally returned to England again because he recognized the injustices of the British imperial rule in Burma and could not suffer the guilt of oppressing the Burmese anymore. Later, Orwell spent the next twenty years as a writer; the essay “Shooting an Elephant,” set in the Burma of the 1920s and written in 1936, is one of his most famous works. In the early twentieth century, Burma was still a colony of Britain but anti-imperialism protests and social movements developed very fast, causing “great tension between Burmese, Indians and English, between civilians and police” (Meyers 56). Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” is based on this historical tension. In this essay, Orwell depicts an older narrator recounting his imperial policeman’s experience of killing an escaped elephant that destroyed a market and killed an Indian man in Burma. Throughout the story, Orwell chooses language carefully to develop his narration so as to help the readers explore a young imperial officer’s emotional struggle.
First, Orwell begins his story with frequent use of carefully-chosen diction to indicate the young policeman’s hatred and also sympathy toward the Burmese. When he describes he was always “an obvious target” to those Burmese who hated the British Empire, he writes:
When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, then the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. (Orwell 94)
Using the strong emotional words “hideous,” “sneering...
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