Personal Problems George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” is a simple essay with a strong message. Throughout the piece, the narrator faces the same conflict day after day and was “hated by large numbers of people” (Orwell 377). This level of hatred causes the narrator to make a decision against his beliefs and in favor of the imperialistic society. This decision is not based on the right thing to do, but to simply fit in. Orwell uses his perplexed narrator, a simple plot, and detailed setting to explain how individuals choose self-image over self-satisfaction.
Orwell speaks in first person as a participant taking on the role of a European police officer in an anti-British colony, and is the perplexed individual caught amongst the action. The officer faces unforgiving natives who often meet him with “sneering yellow faces … [and with] insults hooted after me…” (Orwell 378). Yet in irony, those same citizens expect protection from a raging elephant on the loose causing an internal barrier. The officer explains, “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching” (Orwell 380).
It was at that moment when he realizes he is just “an absurd puppet” and is being used by the natives for whatever purpose they need. The plot in the essay is simple, straight forward, and follows the basic plot elements: the who, what, where, and why. In the first sentence, Orwell presents the narrator as the main character and the roles of the supporting characters. He describes the officer as an outcast, often targeted by the natives for amusement. Orwell wastes no time with deep rising actions, but quickly reaches the climax, exposing the internal conflict.
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The officer exclaims, “but even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind,” and continues to describe how he was more afraid of looking like a fool in front of the natives than of the tyrant elephant (Orwell 381). Orwell keeps simplicity throughout his essay yet supplies great details; allowing the reader to feel the emotion and atmosphere of the setting. He uses plain language and few words to describe the cultural setting that is shaped from religious and political views. The officer often mentions the British rule and how the Buddhists and natives of the land were the worst (Orwell 379).
The cultural differences between the British rule and natives were far from the same. Not only did this contribute to the internal conflicts of the officer, but to external conflicts of other British people in the colony. Orwell supports his theme of self-image over individual morals by using all the elements of literacy. The narrator’s conflict within himself was brought upon through his own actions and thoughts. As an officer he had a right to carry out the laws of the land, but would rather go against his beliefs to avoid ridicule wanting to fit in and not be laughed at.
Nonetheless, even after he did what he thought the natives wanted, the officer still faces the same issues of internal conflict. He was trying to justify what was done to make him feel better, yet continues to have a guilty conscience. The officer even admits he “had done it solely to avoid looking a fool” (Orwell 382). In conclusion, Orwell presents a humble approach to a common problem of today. Although doing the moral thing is correct, most humans do what they feel is expected because someone’s eyes are always watching.
Orwell cuts right to the point and wastes no time on useless material. The complicated character jumps out in the beginning and forecasts a simple plot. By using details about the location, Orwell supports his plot and places the essay in the middle of Southeast Asia. The location is important and better explains the relationship between authority figures and the religious differences. However, the choice is in the main character’s hands and instead of sticking to his beliefs, he would rather be a follower than forever a fool.
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