Shooting an Elephant
I. Questions for Discussion
H. What purpose does Orwell intend his narrative to serve?
Through his essay, Orwell most importantly attempts to reveal the irony of Great Britain colonizing India. In spite of serving as a policeman in Great Britain’s colony, Orwell is firmly against the whole idea of imperialism. He feels greatly alienated when he is in the middle of the “yellow faces.” And when it came to the issue of killing an elephant threatening the village, Orwell experiences great internal conflict. Hundreds and thousands of different thoughts and emotions pass his head in few seconds. He emphasizes how his determination to save the elephant quickly changes due to the “peer pressure” from the native people. And he realizes how “leaders” are actually nothing but “puppets” of the natives, since the “leaders” are eventually obligated to comply with all the expectations of the natives. He implies that this “theory (or rule)” applies to the national scale as well; thus, he concludes that Britain should not colonize India, because all they’re doing is fooling their own selves. In short, Orwell intends to awaken people of the irony of imperialism; the imperialist will be the one that loses freedom at the end.
J. Orwell spends more time discussing the sociology of the event than about the setting in which it occurs. Explain why doing so is appropriate to his purpose.
The setting of the event, India (Burma), doesn’t really play a significant role in the essay. All it does is decide the type of people that the policeman lives around with, which doesn’t have huge impact on the main theme of the essay. In fact, it wouldn’t really have mattered if the setting was totally different (under the assumption that the new setting/country was also colonized by Great Britain). The major theme of this narrative was not influenced by the setting; rather, it was affected by what and how the people thought of the policeman (narrator) as well as Great Britain. The main idea of the essay concerns imperialism, and the hidden irony of it. And the fundamental sociology of the people, including their anger toward Britain, their desire to satisfy their expectations through their European “leaders,” and their tendency to oppress the “leaders,” is the basic building block of the main idea of the essay. Elaborating on certain aspects that strongly pertain to the theme of the narrative supports the author’s purpose, which is to clearly convey the main message of the essay to the readers. Therefore, there was an emphasis more on the sociology than on the relatively insignificant setting.
K. Why does the author spend so much time narrating the death of the elephant?
The death of the elephant directly resulted from the “yellow faces” somehow pushing the policeman to kill the animal. If the policeman had not felt the “threatening” pressure of the natives, who were excited about the possible death of the elephant, he wouldn’t have shot the elephant at the first place. Since the natives making him feel like nothing but a “puppet” caused Orwell to shoot the animal, the death of the elephant represents the defeat of the supposed “leader” to the supposed “followers.” This loss of freedom of the leader (as well as Great Britain, in a national scale) due to the natives is the main key of this essay. And since this main theme of the essay was strictly related to the policeman having to shoot the animal, the death of the elephant was considered so crucial in the overall narrative.
II. Engaging the Text
A. In what way is this essay a study in self-deception?
The narrative is mostly based on self-deception, since the policeman almost loses his self-identity because of external forces (the Indians, and their high expectations for their European “leader”). Prior to feeling pressured by the people surrounding him, Orwell clearly states that “I did not in the least want to shoot him” (pg 5). Nevertheless, a few moments later, Orwell, “the white man with his gun,” (pg 5) realizes that he is in fact “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind” (pg 6). Knowing that “he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him,” (pg 6) Orwell felt obligated to kill the peaceful elephant. His indomitable desire to impress the natives was not the only issue. Orwell, in fact, had the biggest fear of being laughed at by the crowd and feeling like a fool. In order to avoid the “tragedy” of feeling humiliated and foolish, he had to keep up with the natives’ hopes and shoot the animal. But again, on the other hand, he thought that “it would be murder to shoot him (the elephant)” (pg 6). As aforementioned, Orwell’s internal conflict continues; however, at the end, he decides that “a white man mustn’t be frightened in front of the “natives”” (pg 6). And the elephant, finally, is shot. Overall, this narrative has a deep focus on self-deception; Orwell, who originally had strong beliefs for not shooting the elephant, simultaneously had emotions and desires that favor the acquisition of the initial belief. These contrasting desires and feelings primarily resulted from Orwell’s fear of being ridiculed as well as his frustration caused by the overwhelming expectations of the natives regarding the shooting of the elephant. In conclusion, in this essay, the narrator definitely goes through an entire process of self-deception.