Shooting an Elephant

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Shooting an elephant

Author: George Orwell

George Orwell's three major books of travel writing--Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938)--revived the tradition of excursionary literature as social and political analysis. "Into Unknown England" books were initiated by reform-minded Victorian and Edwardian authors. In his three travel books Orwell, who casts himself as a representative of English "lower-upper-middle-class" and as an imaginary social conscience, ventured into the slums of Paris and London, the mining towns of northern England, and the battlefront of the Spanish Civil War, addressing what he saw as a largely conservative and apathetic English readership. Orwell sought to prove that class inequality and the corruption of progressive political ideals were, in his evolving socialist estimation, damning England and the Western world to social division, provincial bigotry, and eventually world war. Yet Orwell's deep acculturation in traditional middle-class British mores and patriotic sentiments clashed with his sensitivity to class and racial bias. In particular Orwell's travel essays on Marrakech and Burma (now Myanmar) are ambiguous but important examples of how literature that seeks sympathy with or advocacy for other cultures and groups also demonstrates how the identities of writers, their subjects, and those who read their work are constructed by intercultural exchange. These complications, coupled with the political inconsistencies within Orwell's worldview over the course of his lifetime, have led to warring interpretations of his legacy. Recent critical debate has focused on Orwell's reliability as an observer, his idiosyncratic views on socialism, and the degree to which his reputation for fairness, decency, and common sense are attributable to his insistence on empirically verifiable political and moral "truths." Orwell was accepted into the...
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