Evils of Imperialism
In life people are often faced with making difficult decisions that are influenced by other people’s opinions. In George Orwell’s essay “Shooting An Elephant”, he declares, “imperialism was an evil thing”(2). Imperialism forces people to go against their better judgment for the sake of being ridiculed. In Orwell’s thesis he states, “ I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib… He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it”(7). The oppressor and the oppressed are both corrupted by imperialism. Doing what is expected of a person to do and doing what is morally right are not always reconcilable. One can relate to the emotions of being pressured and not wanting to be humiliated in front of people. Imperialism is pernicious because it causes conflict internally, causes the unjust shooting of the elephant, affects both the oppressor and the oppressed, and impacts the individual and the society. What makes Orwell’s essay relatable and easy to understand is his use of language. He illustrates his experiences as a police officer in Burma, and uses those experiences to expose the real nature of imperialism. He wants people to sympathize and feel the emotions associated with his experiences. In this essay, Orwell states how the Burmese people treated him as a sub-divisional police officer. He writes, “As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field…the crowd yelled with hideous laughter…In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me…none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on the street corner and jeer at Europeans”(1). This shows that Orwell was constantly criticized and mocked by the natives. The Burmans have the power to manipulate Orwell, he opposes the British government and supports the natives, but yet their insults and jeering causes him to feel disgust towards them. Orwell uses language to show the people the resentment imperialism caused him to feel. Imperialism impacts Orwell’s life on a personal manner, it causes internal conflict, making him feel torn between his occupation as an officer and his morals. As human beings, people tend to give into other peoples’ ideas to avoid looking like a fool. In Orwell’s case, it was either kill the elephant, or be faced with ridicule and mockery from the Burmese people. He knows the elephant deserves to live, but if he does not shoot it he would have to deal with looking like a fool. Orwell wants the readers to understand the struggles he has to face while deciding whether or not to shoot the elephant. He states, “Here I was, the white man with his gun. Standing in front of the unarmed native crowd- seemingly the leading actor of piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces” (7). Orwell is surrounded by thousands of Burmese people, who despise the British, and must not show any weaknesses around them; therefore, this leaves him in a position where he has no choice but to appear decisive and kill the elephant. Imperialism has caused a very hostile environment in Burma, it creates an atmosphere with a sense of threat. This setting plays a major role in the shooting of the elephant because it pressures Orwell to kill the elephant. He goes against his conscience to save the face of the British Empire . Imperialism impacts the individual in many ways. In Burma the Burmese people are forced to give up their individuality. The oppressors use names, such as coolie, natives, and priests’ to diminish the individuals. It causes the Burmese people to become inferior in their own country. This inferiority leads to the people feeling resentful and violent against the police officers. The Burmese are filled...
Cited: Bertonneau, Thomas. "An overview of “Shooting an Elephant”." Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.
Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant, and Other Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950. Print.
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