Sunday, February 11, 2018


In the 19th century some of the European countries like England, France and Belgium occupied many nations of Asia and Africa. They imposed colonial rule in these countries. Normally by colonization we understand two sides- the oppressor and the oppressed. But we normally never think of people like Orwell who belong to the oppressor class but suffer for their involvement in imperialism. Among the English writers there have been two views on imperialism. There have been writers like Rudyard Kipling who supported colonization whole heartedly. They thought that Europe was highly civilized and it was the duty of the European people to civilize others. And on the other hand idealists like George Orwell hated imperialism as it is against humanity.
 
Orwell’s View on Imperialism in “The Shooting an Elephant”

"I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool." So ends George Orwell's poignant reminiscence of an incident representing the imperialist British in Burma. Orwell, like Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, presents the moral dilemmas of the imperialist. Orwell served with the Imperialist Police in Burma while it was still part of the British Commonwealth and Empire. His service from 1922 to 1927 burdened him with a sense of guilt about British colonialism as well as a need to make some personal expiation for it. Shooting an Elephant chronicles an incident in which Orwell confronts a moral dilemma and abandons his morals to escape the mockery of the native Burmans. He repeatedly shoots and kills an elephant which had ravaged a bazaar and scared many Burmans even' though "As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him" But at the same time he knew that he' had to do so. This conflict is present throughout the essay.

Orwell's moral conflict stems from his position as the despised Imperialist in a colonized country. Ironically, however, Orwell claims that during his tenure with the Imperialist Police: "I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically - and secretly, of course - I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British". Seeing the "dirty work" of the British Imperialists "oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt". There were many people like Orwell who on the hand served the British Imperial force and on the other hand hated the evil deeds they did.

Despite his support for the Burmese, Orwell endures their overwhelming bitterness and hatred because of his British heritage: "the sneering faces . . . of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me got badly on my nerves". Orwell sums up his feelings of guilt, coupled with his reaction against being hated: "All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible". Although part of him saw the British Raj as tyrannical, "with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts". Orwell rationalizes his rage saying, "Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism". Orwell realizes that tyrannical imperialism works against both the imperialists and the natives.

Orwell abandons his morals and kills the elephant to garner the approval of the Burmans. He feels compelled to shoot the animal because the Burmans "did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching". Orwell speaks of himself when he says "it is the condition of [the imperialist's] rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it". Orwell's Shooting an Elephant portrays him as suffocating under a mask which he loathes.
Orwell presents the pathetic quality of his whole life: "every white man's life in the East was one long struggle not to be laughed at". Orwell's fears of mockery represent the fears of imperialists of a loss of control. While the British could maintain the economics and politics of their colonies, they could not control the mockery and disdain of the natives. Of the moment when he faced the elephant. Orwell says:

“The sole thought in my .mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on, and reduced to a grinning corpse." He fears: "And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do". Orwell dreads the mockery of the natives more than losing his own life.

The only way the British government saw fit to control Indian natives was through instilling fear. In implementing that policy of domination, Orwell comes to the ironic realization that it is his own freedom which he has lost. He is a captive of imperialism just as the Burmese are.

In Shooting an Elephant, as Orwell "stood there with the rifle," he "first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East". Orwell tells a story of moral suffering. He sadly reflects on his ironical realizaiton that "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys". Orwell's story evokes pathos for the politically powerful imperialist who suffers for his own tyranny. This story reminds us of the simple fact that imperialism can bring good to no one.

Orwell's Shooting an Elephant marks a sharp contrast with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe thought that he had civilized Friday but Orwell felt that even the oppressor lost his freedom while trying to keep people in chains.

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