George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant as an Attack on Colonialism and Imperialism
The glorious days of the imperial giants have passed, marking the death of the infamous and grandiose era of imperialism. George Orwell’s essay, Shooting an Elephant, deals with the evils of imperialism. The unjust shooting of an elephant in Orwell’s story is the central focus from which Orwell builds his argument through the two dominant characters, the elephant and its executioner. The British officer, the executioner, acts as a symbol of the imperial country, while the elephant symbolizes the victim of imperialism. Together, the solider and the elephant turns this tragic anecdote into an attack on the institution of imperialism.
The importance in the shooting of the elephant lies in how the incident depicts the different aspects of imperialism. In this essay, the elephant and the British officer help prove that imperialism is a double-edge sword. The shooting of the elephant is the incident that reveals that imperialism inflicts damage on both parties in a imperialistic relationship. The British officer, Orwell, displays many aspects of the being the “absurd puppet” under the institution of imperialism.(3) He is the evidence that “every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”(3) His experience with the natives conveys how imperialism harms the imperialistic countries as well as their colonies. To give reason to their forceful colonization, the imperialists must strip themselves of their own freedom as they constantly try to “impress the natives” to prove the superiority of the white man.(3) Colonists find the need to become racist against the natives because it is convenient for the colonists to patr…
…he elephant, and the elephant, who painfully dies, focuses the reader’s attention on the suffering that imperialism causes for both parties. If the shooting was justified, Orwell’s argument would have been immensely weakened.
The symbolic story in the Shooting an Elephant is an attack towards imperialism. Orwell presents the ironic truth that imperialism benefits neither the imperialist nor the countries they colonize. It is perhaps sad to see that men were once willing to buy in to the fraudulent and ephemeral glory that imperialism have offered. Hopefully, men have learned their lessons and no other animal will be sacrificed for men’s greed.
Orwell, George. “Shooting An Elephant.” An Age Like This, 1920-1940, vol. 1 of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. New York: Harcourt, 1968.