Last Updated 02 Aug 2020

Response to George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant

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Although many people believe that racism has disappeared from our minds after all those solutions of trying to set equal rights in the world’s history, it still exists today, and will probably never vanish from our thinking. Some may clearly express it, whereas others may express racism unnoticeably, even to themselves. George Orwell, in “Shooting an Elephant”, tells a story of his past when he killed an elephant in order to please the Burmese crowd. At the time, Orwell was a white Indian Imperial Police officer who was disliked by the country's natives due to the fact that he was European.

One day, he heard of an elephant's doing of ravaging the town, so he ran to the scene with a rifle. When he finally arrived, he found himself observing a peacefully feeding elephant while a huge crowd of Burmans gathered excitedly to observe his future action. Even though he does not feel it right to shoot the elephant, he has this huge, unavoidable pressure from the Burmese crowd. Eventually, his final decision was to shoot the elephant and satisfy the natives' hunger for excitement.

Although the situation must have been difficult from Orwell's perspective, his action of killing the elephant cannot be justified. George Orwell's situation was definitely burdensome, looking from his perspective. He had his beliefs and feelings; yet, he vividly felt the pressure dawning on him as the natives assembled at the scene, eagerly and impatiently waiting for him to simply shoot the elephant. Especially for a person who “was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British,” he must have experienced an unbearable moment of making a decision.

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We all experience such burdensome pressure numerous times, starting from school as a kid. Students have such thing called peer pressure, where you are usually forced to do make a decision of whether or not to follow others' ways. Whether in academic studies, sports, or social life, they always tend to end up following others' beliefs and ways. For instance, peer pressure is the reason why the number of students who smoke since young age is rapidly increasing.

However, conforming to others' beliefs and ways means that person is lacking self-confidence and self-respect. In order to survive this world at least a little more joyfully, people must follow their own beliefs and practices as many times as possible. Even though he had his belief about killing the elephant, Orwell purely abandoned the idea of following his way, and concentrated on how to please the natives. Only after he carried out the action did he admit that he “had done it solely to avoid looking a fool,” meaning he had no self-confidence or self-respect.

In fact, by doing so what he decided to do, Orwell became a fool who was too afraid to speak out his belief: that the elephant does not deserve to be killed. As Orwell states, “he wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. ” Basically, people first hide their belief and conform to others’, then without knowing, they become to be one of them completely, losing their true selves. Following our own moral beliefs does not mean we must be ignorant of all outside beliefs. In other words, ignoring rules while living in a country with differing beliefs and laws is definitely a foolish act.

For example, when I lived in Saudi Arabia, the national law forced us to wear black veils – called abbaya – like the local women outside home, and both the law and their belief forbid us to drink any kind of alcohol. Needless to say, we should not be fools as to go against any national laws to end up in prison, but our personal beliefs must still be kept safe. Furthermore, although Orwell faces a difficult situation, where he can either unnecessarily kill the elephant or decide not to, based on his own moral beliefs, he should have realized that he was the powerful one.

Orwell explains his situation, “To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at. But I did not want to shoot the elephant. ” It was a situation in which he could not help but act according to the natives’ expectations.

Nevertheless, readers must not forget that he was the one in control and power, with the rifle in his hands, and the natives could neither physically harm him nor report that he did the wrong thing. This meant that he really could have protected his moral values, and be ignorant of what others desperately wanted him to do since he believed the action to be wrong. The result of standing up to our own beliefs and practices can mean conflict with others who have different ones. But another consequence is faith in ourselves, self-confidence in our identity and ability to carry out those beliefs.

Maintaining these will help us survive our lives more successfully, although probably not easily; on the other hand, if we continue to conform to others’ beliefs, we will come to depend only on others and have no self-respect. Overall, the action of killing the elephant by George Orwell is not justified because, despite his moral belief about not killing the elephant, he went straight against it and shot the elephant, winning the natives’ expectations, and overcoming the boundary between them, but losing his true self and his beliefs.

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