Conformity in Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant and Staples’s Just Walk on By

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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In Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant", the reader finds a young English policeman--George Orwell-- living in Moulmein, Burma. During his time in Burma, Orwell is treated atrociously by the Burmese, but one day, an elephant escapes its trainer, begins to destroy the bazaar, and Orwell is called to remedy the situation. Orwell, and basically the whole of the Moulmein population in the area, find the elephant, and Orwell is called to kill it. Afraid of disappointing the excited, vengeful crowd of Burmese, Orwell, begrudgingly, kills the elephant. Similarly, in Staples's "Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space", the reader finds a young African American man who is feared and avoided by the public because of the public's assumptions about him. Tired of constantly being suspected of nefarious deeds, specifically rape and robbery,

Staples begins to whistle classical music to dispel the fear of the public. In other words, he accommodates the public to avoid suspicion.

Each essay is different in a sense that each contributes to a different type of conformity. In "Shooting an Elephant", Orwell conformed and gave in to society's demands because he simply feared the public's rejection. He describes that he felt as though he were controlled by his enemies, and thereby subliminally forced to accomplish their will. By consequence, Orwell forfeited his own desires and needs and killed the elephant, unwittingly giving in to the nature and curse of conformity. "Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space", however, deals with another kind of conformity: fear from the public. Where Orwell feared how the public would treat him had he not killed the elephant, Staples conformed to society's wishes in order to dispel society's fear of him. In other words, Staples conforms not because he desires the affections of the public (like Orwell), but because he doesn't want to be viewed as an object of fear. Angry because he cannot relieve the people of the misconceptions surrounding him, Staples is forced to accommodate the people by whistling to make himself appear less threatening. Like Orwell, Staples forfeited his own desires to pander to the people.

Though each essay is different in its own respects, both essays share a common theme: conformity can lead one to forfeit one's natural desires and needs. Both Orwell and Staples gave up their own needs, their own desires, their own happiness to suit the needs of the public. Orwell sacrificed his own humanity when he killed a relatively innocent living creature to simply please a crowd. Likewise, Staples forfeited his personal rights and needs in order to pander to a group of frightened people. Because of these essays, the reader comes to terms with his or her own mind, and sees how a little pressure can change a person quickly and completely. This persistent theme of pressure in both essays forces the reader to view their own lives objectively,

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questioning what it is that controls their actions: society, or themselves. This raises the question: what is it that draws humans to the crowd? If humans are capable of killing a living creature or forfeiting their own happiness to appease a group of people, of what else are they capable? Conformity is not an old issue; it has been prevalent throughout history. From when the crowd crucified Jesus, an innocent man, instead of the criminal, to when the Nazis agreed to kill millions of innocent people, conformity has existed. Why are humans drawn to it? Simple: it is easy. It is easy to follow the crowd, but it is hard to speak out. Humans are drawn to the easier choice, and they would rather sentence someone to death than speak against it.

To conclude, "Shooting an Elephant" and "Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space" both deal with the sense of conformity that exists within every person. Although both essays speak on similar topics, each involves its own element of differentiation. While "Shooting an Elephant" deals with social conformity due to the desire to be loved, "Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space" deals with social conformity due to the need to dispel fear. These essays draw to light a cruel, yet simple, truth: conformity is a terrible and deadly thing. Like lemmings, humans follow and mimic each other, leading one another to their deaths. Hopefully there will come a day when people will no longer follow one another, and celebrate the lives God has given them. The sad, unwavering truth is, however, humans are nothing but robots, slaves to one


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Conformity in Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant and Staples’s Just Walk on By. (2022, Nov 22). Retrieved from

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