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Rhetorical Analysis of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"

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Rhetorical Analysis of Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"

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  • October 24, 2004
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While reading the essay Shooting an Elephant, first published in 1936 by Eric Blair under the pen name of George Orwell, one gets captivated by the intricate web of rhetoric that Blair weaves throughout the piece.

Surely, the reason this essay keeps the attention of the reader so well is because Blair writes with an unmistakably strong exigency. It is this need of his to tell the world the truth about imperialism that enables him to write something so captivating.

Blair found himself in Moulmein, Burma, as a police officer of the town. He found out what imperialism really is in its naked form, and the nature of it, from an incident in which he was practically pushed into shooting an elephant by the Burmese people. Although he did not want to shoot the elephant, nor did he have to, he ended up doing so due to the immense pressure he felt during the time. The realization dawned upon him that the Burmese who are being oppressed by his people are actually the ones who are in complete control. This sudden enlightenment brought about by this somewhat bizarre occurrence is what prompted Blair to write this essay in the first place.

He realized that while it may seem that the "white man" in the East is above the people living there and is there to teach them the "right" ways, he is actually just some pawn that can be moved about the board by the people that he is there to oppress. Coming from their "superior" civilizations falsely believing that they must educate the rest of the world, the imperialists are only doing damage to themselves. Blair's argument is made clear: that when these so-called white men turn despotic, it is their own freedom that they hinder. That is the logos of this piece. He strongly emphasizes that the imperialists are there playing the part of a conventionalized, hollow figure who does nothing but try to impress the natives and avoid being laughed at. "He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it" (pg. 107, line 35).

It is obvious for...