Analysis Of Modernism And Imperialism In Shooting An Elephant

George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” an unfinished story, tells the story of a man who abandons his morals in order to succumb to social pressures. The Modernist Period was influential in the development of formal ideas and social thought. British Imperialism was very prevalent at this time. Orwell also had to deal with the current events and his own personal life experiences. Orwell presents the Modernist themes, including Imperialism, Racial Feuds and Isolation, using simple, direct sentences and a friendly tone. Orwell’s honest, first-person stream is a way for readers to see the Modernist Period’s racial tensions. It is based on Orwell’s experiences in India.

Orwell was born in 1903. Orwell died at the end British Imperialism’s height, a period of great conflict. Orwell was very affected by the atrocities committed by the British to their subjects, particularly India. Great Britain conquered India and held the territory for more two centuries. The British exploited Indian wealth for their own trade routes and to expand their influence. The British benefited from Imperialism, but not Indians. Indians were persecuted in India after Britain took control. This forced them to assimilate into European culture. Orwell was exposed to these injustices after he spent time as a policeman in a poor village in Burma. Orwell was “Keenly conscious of the inequalities associated with Imperialism” (Hopkinson 2), and he openly disapproved of the practice. His stories detail the horrors of Indian subjects. Orwell wrote his stories from personal experience. He was horrified by the British government and the evils that Imperialism brought about. Orwell served as an assistant district inspector of the Imperial Police Burma. This period saw much discrimination against the Indians. Only a few European men could rule over millions of Indians with force, creating a power imbalance. Orwell channeled the animosity he felt into his writing. “Imperiling myself in difficult circumstances and then writing with extraordinary insight about them” (Hopkinson). He does this to help the reader understand the inequalities of Imperialism. Orwell’s harsh criticisms of Imperialism along with his profound understanding of Indians’ suffering are thoughtful insights to the story.

“Shooting an Elephant”‘s plot and protagonist’s thoughts show how racial tensions can change a man’s beliefs and society expectations. The story shows the racial tensions between Burma’s British Imperialists. The European men dominate the villagers and make the protagonist feel powerful. “He must do what the ‘natives’ expect of me” (Orwell 6) to be the leader they want. A group of panicked villagers inform him that a wild animal has invaded their village and he must take action. The protagonist doesn’t initially intend to kill an elephant. This is demonstrated by him only using a small gun to protect himself. This alters swiftly. He sees the village and a trampled corpse. The crowd is watching the action of the protagonist as he chases down the elephant. The village pressures him into shooting the elephant even though he didn’t intend to do so. It takes the elephant over 30 minutes to die. The villagers watch in awe and scavenge elephant meat after it has passed.

The narrative is full of debates about the ethics of killing an elephant. The protagonist internal struggles with the guilt of having killed an elephant. The protagonist realizes that the elephant killed him and gave him legal rights to kill the elephant. The protagonist didn’t kill the elephant to save the village or because he felt it was right. Orwell 9: He says that he had done the right thing legally, but that he didn’t do it morally. To preserve his image as strong leader and protect himself, he killed an elephant.

Orwell uses first-person narration to show the protagonist’s inner struggle with the elephant. To provide honest and blunt accounts, the protagonist uses a stream-of-consciousness narration. He uses a didactic method to inform and discuss the horrors that British Imperialism has caused. He uses a “Honest use” of language to portray Orwell’s hatred for British Imperialism. Orwell gives the reader a peek into the mind of the protagonist through first person narration. The book also shows the protagonist’s transformation from a morally upright cop officer to an elephant-murderer with weak will. This story tells the storyteller’s inner thoughts and criticizes the cruel Imperialistic system.

Three Modernist themes are highlighted in “Shooting an Elephant”, namely Imperialism and racial feuds. The story is heavily influenced by Imperialism, which is portrayed negatively. Orwell reveals the immorality of Imperialism. The story reveals the hardships and loss that the villagers experience. The tensions between villagers and the protagonist is the second theme. A few Europeans have the power to rule over the many Indians of India because of British Imperialism in Burma, India. The villagers are angry at the protagonist and other Europeans living in their country because of this great imbalance. Orwell 1 describes a bitter, “Anti European feeling” among the villager towards the protagonist that impacted their relationship. The story’s third theme deals with isolation. The narrator becomes the sole European in the village and is one of very few white Indian men. Because the British control the Indians and have the country’s domain, the narrator is the man in power. He feels like he has to rise to meet India’s high expectations. The story’s three main themes are racial conflicts and isolation, as well as British Imperialism in India.

“Shooting an Elephant” depicts the social tensions created in Britain by Imperialism. To create the protagonist, Orwell used his experience as a Burma police officer to help him become more realistic and insightful. Orwell’s first-person narration allows him to accurately describe the emotions and thoughts of his narrator. The story shows the protagonist’s growth. He changes from a good-natured police officer to a weak-willed, conformist man. Orwell also criticizes British Imperialism and the Burmese treatment. Orwell exposes the exploitation of these people and the racist acts they have been subject to. George Orwell uses first-person narration to describe the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the protagonist. A gun is the only way to defeat an elephant. Without guns, the British troops wouldn’t be able to match the Indian millions. The slow death inflicted on the elephant recalls the harsh period of British Imperialism and Indian slavery. Orwell illustrates the effects of Imperialism by using the seemingly simple story of a man killing an elephant.


  • camdynelliott

    Camdyn Elliott is a 35-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for nearly a decade, and her work has been featured on sites like The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Camdyn is the founder of the education blog Education Week, and she is also the author of the book "How to Teach Like a Pro: A Guide to Effective Teaching Methods for College and Career Students."

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