The Impact Of Power In Shooting An Elephant By George Orwell
George Orwell was born in Bengal, India, where his father was a British civil servant. Instead of going to the university, Orwell became a member of the Imperial Police force in Burma, a neighboring country, where he served for five years. During his time on the police force he was put in very difficult and questionable situations. Orwell soon moved from Burma to London and Paris where he could focus on his writing. He left Burma due to the British colonial rule, which he was strongly opposed to. While focusing on his writing, Orwell found time to reflect on the time that he spent as a police officer. In one of his most popular short essays, Shooting an Elephant, Orwell describes a time he shot and killed an elephant that had just ran wild through a village. Within his essay, he defines power in many ways. Power is shown mentally, physically, and in numbers. Power is the ability to impact others, whether it be their mindset, their decisions, or the way they view a certain subject. Power can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do; power can push you out of your comfort zone.
Power can control you mentally by impacting your decision making. Orwell did not want to shoot the elephant for many reasons. First, he had never been in that position before, it was an entirely new feeling for him. He even says, “I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to” (Orwell 134). On top of being in a new situation, he had no idea who owned the elephant and did not want to upset the owner by killing it. Afterall, elephants are worth way more alive than they are dead. He had the choice to either put the elephant down or walk away. He knew that it was his job to make the people feel safer, after all, he is a police officer. Sworn to serve and protect the people of the village, he had to do what was most beneficial to all. Even if it meant killing an elephant that had not personally harmed or threatened him. I’ve personally had my fair share of mental blocks, as we all have, and it takes some serious mental power and focus to overcome them. Take writing this paper for example. I was stuck looking at a two-page paper that to me seemed to be fine. When asked to revise it and come up with a five-page paper, I was completely lost. I had to take all the comments and suggestions from my professor and peers, so I could dig deeper into Orwell’s essay, and gather all the information I needed to make all the necessary revisions. It was a very tough challenge, but I had the mental power to get it done.
Physical power can be seen through both strength and destruction in Orwell’s essay. The elephant does a great job showing this as it tears through the village showing no mercy on the people or buildings in its path. The elephant destroys hut after hut and even ends up stomping a man to death in the mud. It was said that, “the elephant had come suddenly upon him around the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back, and ground him into the earth”. With no signs of stopping or even letting up, the beast of an animal continued to rampage through the village, using its great power to destroy any and everything it deemed necessary. The only thing powerful enough to stop the elephant was Orwell’s rifle. In terms of power however, the rifle itself would be useless against any animal. The reason a rifle is so affective against even the strongest animals is because we have figured out how to channel a large amount of power into a tiny single bullet with the use of black powder. The bullet leaves the rifle with such great force and power packed behind it, that its able to take down animals that humans otherwise would not be able to compete with. The elephant does a great job displaying its physical power and tremendous strength, but the black powder propelled bullet of Orwell’s rifle is too overpowering.
Strength in numbers is a saying that has been around for years and is easily one of the best ways to represent a great deal of power. While Orwell stood still, with rifle in hand, the crowd behind him continued to grow rapidly. The people of the village flooded in to witness the outcome of the event. They all knew he wasn’t going to shoot unless they pressured him into it. Gathered by the thousands, watching Orwell’s every move, the citizens managed to overpower his original thought of letting the elephant live. Instead they made him feel as if he had to shoot, making him believe it was not only the right thing to do, but also his only option. Orwell states, “I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me, and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly”. The only reason he felt he needed to shoot the elephant was because the crowd behind him used their power in numbers to sway his decision. Orwell is considered a minority in Burma at the time, early 1900’s. The crowd of “yellow faces”, doesn’t have to work all that hard to persuade him into shooting the elephant. Being the minority and outnumbered, Orwell pretty much had no choice but to pull the trigger. As a member of the police force, he was just trying to do anything that would hopefully make the people accept him. Afterall, he was sick and tired of going day after day being hated for who he was, an outsider and a police officer. Whether it was the crowd’s strength in numbers or Orwell’s search to gain power over the people, the villagers had no problem changing his mind.
To me power means that something is being impacted, either in a positive or negative way. However, power does need an outlet. An outlet being anything that will allow the power to be recognized. It could be anything from a person, to a bullet, or even an elephant. All these different outlets allow power to be seen in numerous ways. For example, the government shows power by making laws and impacting the lives of citizens. Objects, such as a car, show power through movement and the ability to create a physical impact. Power is everywhere and we see it every day, it just impacts us all in different ways. Orwell showed us how power impacted his life, where do you see it in your own?
The impact of power is shown in many ways through Orwell’s essay and can be used to define power entirely. He does a great job capturing the effects of power mentally, physically, and in numbers. The battles within his own mind show how he can work up the power to make decisions. A once peaceful village being destroyed by an elephant shows the physical power one can have in a situation. People gathering by the thousands to change the mind of one person shows us the strength and power in numbers. Orwell defines power throughout his essay, giving the audience a deeper description of what it really means to have the power in each situation.
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