Rylee Waterworth - Shooting an Elephant

Rylee Waterworth - Shooting an Elephant

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  • I can't shoot the elephant...
  • But I can't make a fool of myself...
  • Woohoo! Shoot him
  • What have I done...
  • Yay! It's dead!
  • In every individual’s life, there comes a time in which they must choose between their morals and their pride. Even if the individual coherently knows what is right, the struggle exists because humans are inherently self-conscious about how others view them -- especially when their peers have already constructed a predetermined mold of who they should be. In the essay by George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”, the author argues that more often than not, humans will succumb to their own stereotypes due to the pressures of the society that made them in the first place. Orwell portrays a scenario that reflects this consequence through the eyes of a British officer in Burma. Under British control, the Burmese natives feel exploited of their economic prosperity and restricted of their natural freedoms. Although the narrator suffers from the guilt of his country’s oppression of the Burmese, he still feels obligated to do his job as an enforcer of imperialism. In one case of the British officer’s occupancy in Burma, there is an outcry of a wild elephant that is disrupting the villages. The narrator is sent to examine the issue, carrying his rifle as a sign of authority, not intended for killing.
  • However, just as he turns away from the elephant, the narrator sees a crowd of Burmans that have gathered for this unorthodox attraction, yearning for the rush of entertainment in the morbid form of a British officer using his “magic rifle” (Orwell 121) to kill an innocent beast. Feeling the weight of the native crowd’s expectations of him, realizes that “when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Orwell 129-130). In other words, the narrator as a British officer in a province of British India should imply that he is superior to the natives, however, his authority instead restricts him of his will to act upon his morals. With this burden inhibiting the narrator’s freedom, he concludes that the only way he can uphold his dominant prowess to his submissive victims is to succumb to their expectations. Despite the narrator’s initial intentions to act upon who he is, he instead surrenders to the pressures of society’s standards of what they believe he should be. As a result, the narrator goes against his own morals and kills the elephant, reflecting how the prejudices of others can make stereotypes out of even the most independent thinkers.
  • The alarming part of this controversial occurrence is the fact that these stereotypes cannot be conquered by an individual; no matter how much one may separate themself from their classified “group’s” expected faults, they will continue to be portrayed under the same category due to society’s tendency to abide by their prejudices. This has been prevalent within more groups than just the conflicts between British imperialists and Burmese civilians: orderly white communities over dangerous black communities, dominant husbands over their submissive wives, and the prosperous upper class individuals over the lazy lower class individuals. These groups are just a few examples of how the world tends to classify individuals based on their backgrounds or class, often leading to presumptions of the kind of people they will be despite the fact the are their own person. To make matters worse, this form of oppression does not stay within the mental constraints of ignorant individuals -- it takes a physical form when those individuals are put into power and make laws, enforce wages, and segregate environments that inhibit the oppressed individuals from ever escaping their expected lives. In order to create a world of individuals that receive equal opportunities to conquer their own stereotypes and surpass the expectations of others, people must rid themself of their own prejudices and form conclusions based on the person -- not their background.
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