Shooting an Elephant

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ISSN 1813-7733 Vol. – 3, December 2006 (p 55-62)

Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”: Reflections on Imperialism and Neoimperialism Mohammed Sarwar Alam∗
Abstract: Imperialism has been the most powerful force in world history over last four or five centuries. The world has moved from the colonial to post-colonial era or neoimperialism. Throughout the period, the imperialists have changed their grounds and strategies in imperialistic rules. But the ultimate objective has remained the same- to rule and exploit the natives with their multifaceted dominance-technological, economic and military. Through dominance with these, they have been, to a great extent, successful in establishing their racial and cultural superiority. George Orwell is popularly known to be an anti-imperialist writer. This paper, I believe, will lead us to an almost different conclusion. Here, we discover the inevitable dilemma in a disguised imperialist. We discover the seeds of imperialism under the mask of anti-imperialism. In this regard, it studies his revealing short story “Shooting an Elephant”. It also humbly approaches to refute Barry Hindess’ arguments supporting neoimperialism.

Imperialism is a state of mind, fuelled by the arrogance of superiority that could be adopted by any nation irrespective of its geographical location in the world.1 Evidence of the existence of empires dates back to the dawn of written history in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, where local leaders extended their realms by conquering other states and holding them, when possible, in a state of subjection and semi subjection. Imperialism was reborn in the west with the emergence of modern nation-state and the age og exploration and discovery. It is to this type of empire building that the term imperialism is quite often restricted. To Michael Parenti, “ By imperialism, I mean the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials and markets of another people.”2 In the years since world war II , territorial imperialism is no longer the prevailing mode. Rather than, being directly colonized by the imperial power, weaker countries have been granted the trapperings of sovereignty, while western finance capital retains control of the lion’s share of their profitable resources. This relationship has gone under various names: “Informal empire”, “Colonialism without colonies”, “Neocolonialism”, and “Neoimperialism”. It is his political writings (Burmese Days, Shooting an Elephant, A Hanging, Animal Farm, 1984 etc) that turned Orwell from a minor English figure into a world figure.3 Orwell himself goes on to say that, were it not for his strong political views, he might never have fulfilled himself as a writer. 4 What is important about Orwell is that he served Indian imperial police in Burma for about five years (1922-1927). Therefore his colonial writings must have contained intense and insightful implications on colony, colonizers and the colonized. The importance in shooting the elephant lies in how the incident depicts the different aspects of imperialism. In this essay, the elephant and the British officer help to prove that imperialism is a double –edge sword. The shooting of the elephant is the incident that reveals that imperialism inflicts damage on both parties in ∗ Lecturer, Department of English Language & Literature, International Islamic University Chittagong. Email :


IIUC Studies, Vol. 3

imperialistic relationships. The British officer, Orwell displays many aspects of being the absurd puppet under the institution of imperialism. The elephant along with the two thousand Burmese plays an even more depressing role when compared to the police officer. The elephant represents the stricken, shrunken; immensely old” countries that have been invaded and conquered by imperialism, while the Burmese represent its helpless people. The once great and...
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