A Postcolonial Critique of George Orwell’s autobiographical essay “”Shooting an Elephant””
George Orwell`s autobiography essay, “Shooting an elephant” explores the inhuman practices that have been being exercised by the British colonies to the people of Burma. At that time, Orwell had been posted in Burma by the British as a police officer, and via his position he managed to learn about the level of oppression of the British to the humans of Burma. At some point, Orwell was unhappy with the situation, especially after witnessing severa instances of British oppression. He even contemplates of quitting his job, but weights that the British would charge him or treason. This paper entails a postcolonial critic of Orwell`s autographical essay.
Orwell`s autobiography was published in 1936, and at this time, the British was propagating imperialism against the Burmese. However, Orwell was a first hand critique of this level of Imperialism to the extent that he had personal sympathy for the Burmese. Despite this, the Burmese were not legitimizing Orwell`s authority or respecting his position as a British police officer. This created a divide between Orwell`s strained relationship with the Burmese and his feelings towards the British imperialism. Imperialism entails a situation or a form of government that destroys both the oppressed and the oppressor. The British felt that by propagating inhuman actions against the Burmese was weakening the latter only, little did the British knew that they were negatively destroyed some of their police officers as well. Consecutively, Orwell`s decision of killing the elephant rather in order to please people also manifests imperialism. Precisely, both the oppressed and the oppressor were destroyed. The elephant suffered a painful death after being shot by Orwell, while the latter regretted for killing the elephant in order for the people to enjoy its flesh. Consecutively, his decision of shooting down the elephant negatively affected his psychology, especially by witnessing a horrifying experience of the elephant going down in deep pain.
Consecutively, Orwell`s autobiography essay is also shaped by Orwell`s intentional and unintentional representation of cultural differences in a myriad of ways. For example, at one point Orwell is unhappy with the oppression of the Burmese by the British, to the extent that he feels like quitting his job as a police officer. However, before he implements this decision, he weighs the possible consequences of his action. On one end, he would be charged by the British on treason for betraying the orders of the army, especially due to the fact that he was a police officer. In addition, he felt that by acting against the empire he served, he would be the first white to act against the wishes of the other countrymen, and this would be foolish. On the other hand, he feels he will never be fit into the culture of the Burmese. Consecutively, according to Orwell`s culture, being respected by the people is a highly valued aspect, to such an extent that every white man can do everything possible in order to be respected. According to Orwell, “Every white man`s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (Orwell 204).
However, though earning respect from the society members is a fundamental aspect, there is a need to consider the actions that would make an individual to be respected. Orwell decision of shooting and watching the slow and sad death of the elephant displays the softness of his character in the name of winning respect from the Burmese. However, this action haunted him, to the extent that the he could no longer stand any longer to watch the elephant to die in pain. According to him, “In the end, I could not stand any longer and this made me to go away” (Orwell 206). This statement is full of shamefulness that Orwell was feeling as well as dishonor that prevailed over him in the end. In addition, in his autobiography, it is evident that Orwell`s largest fear is that of public humiliation, and that is why he occasionally mentioned phrases such as ‘looking like a fool’ and ‘the crowd would laugh at me’ (Orwell 204-206). Apparently, Orwell`s dilemma of whether or not to shoot the elephant entails poor morals colliding with common sense. He had initially revealed the aspect of binary self, by redefining himself by understanding the British level of Oppression to the Burmese, but instead of adhering to his redefinition, he proceeds to oppress the elephant.
The representation of Orwell cultural difference undermines colonial ideologies. Precisely, after understanding the oppression of the Burmese, he does not execute his duties with commitment like before. He actually contemplated of quitting his job as a British police officer. Consecutively, since the mission of the British was to oppress the Burmese, the most important action that Orwell ought to have done was to scare away the elephant in order not to benefit the Burmese. On the contrary, Orwell shot the elephant several times, benefiting the locals with meat. Moreover, his anti British imperialist move also made him not to be respected by the Burmese, and this, in the long run has negative impacts to the British Empire.
George Orwell. Shooting an Elephant. London: Penguin Classics, 2009. Internet resource.