Imperialism in George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"

George Orwell presents imperialism in his novel, “Shooting an Elephant” using symbolism. In his work, the British officer symbolizes the imperial country while the elephant is a representation of the countries which are the victims of imperialism. The two thousand Burmese, on the other hand, symbolize the helpless people within the stricken nations. The elephant was powerful before the attack. The illustration could mean that the shrunken nations, such as India, were great before the imperial countries that had the superior technology dominated them (Alam, 2006). The local people, instead of defending their country, join hands with the white man to struggle for survival while portraying selfishness, anger, and hatred for each other. Thus, the elephant in the story, which portrays the ‘defenceless’ nations, come to ruin because of the efforts of both the oppressors and the oppressed.

The story leads to the question of who has the control when imperialism takes over the nation. Orwell explains how the Burmese sought for the help of the white man to kill the elephant. He states that, “I had no intention of shooting the elephant. I merely sent the rifle to protect myself” (Orwell, 2009, p.289). However, he ended up shooting the elephant. The action was set to protect him from looking like a fool to the “whole population of the quarter flocked out of their houses” (Orwell, 2009, p.289). Evidently, during imperialism, the people that are usually have the control are the locals. Although they do not have the resources and seek for the help of the imperialists, they dictate what happens in their country. While the imperialists deceive others that they are in power, their actions are usually a reaction towards preservation of their image and their positional power.

Orwell presents his audience with the argument that imperialism can corrupt and destroy a good and principled man (Alam, 2006). The young police officer in the story is forced by the Burmese to kill the elephant. This is not something that he could have done if he did not experience pressure from the local people and the norm of protecting the image of the Britons. This is a similar case to the real world. While some of the imperialists may be okay with engaging in actions that promote negative consequences in the nation, others are concerned with the preservation and protection of the victims. However, the imperialists always have an image to present to the world. This may result in committing actions that are against one’s values and principles.

Evidently, imperialism inflicts damage on both parties. Orwell goes against the firmly held belief that the people that usually suffer are pose under the colonialists and imperialists. In the story, the Burmese do not support each other but only their interests. Instead of working towards saving the elephant that belonged to a fellow Burmese, they opted to take the meat. Thus, imperialism promotes disunity among the colonized. They become ravages that readily abandon their moral system. The imperialists, on the other, face moral dilemmas and frequently compromise to sustain their power in the country. Orwell states that, “As soon as I saw the dead man, I sent an orderly to a friend’s house to borrow an elephant riffle” (Orwell, 2009, p.289). Thus, they live in fear of losing their lives. Their peace of mind is also disrupted as they receive insults from the local people even after doing as they will.

References

Alam, M. (2006). Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”: Reflections on imperialism and neoimperialism. IIUC Studies, 3, 55-62.

Orwell, G. (2009). Shooting an elephant. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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