The Outcomes Of Living Up To Other People’s Expectations In Shooting An Elephant By George Orwell
Decision-making is an important part of life; however, people may encounter problems with their decision-making process when they are put under pressure. For example, when people feel the urgent need to meet certain social expectations, they choose to please others instead of doing what they want. These people’s choices do not reflect their pursuit of happiness, but merely a response to social norms which is a set of standards for acceptable or unacceptable behaviors. As a result, people who conform to such norms do not clearly understand themselves and thus easily get swayed by others’ will. Perhaps, people learn that living up to others’ expectations leads to unhappiness only after everything is done. This essay will illustrate this idea through George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” essay and with some personal examples.
“Shooting an Elephant” is an essay about a “sub-divisional police officer” who worked for the British Empire in Burma, a colonized country. Because the narrator’s job is to enforce the empire’s power upon the natives, the villagers show their discontent and hatred towards him. They considered him a symbol of an evil empire. Although the villagers do not directly show their opposition to authority by engaging in a rebellion against him, they truly disrespect him. In doing so, they mocked him whenever they have the chance, such as tripping him up at a “football field” and insulting him at the “street corners” (Orwell 1). Thus, the narrator was very well aware of his fragile position in the village.
Orwell indicated that the narrator found himself in conflict with the natives, empire, and his own thoughts. He tries to suppress the natives on the outside, but he truly does not believe in his job. Even when working for the empire, he was secretly rooting “for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British” (Orwell 1). Yet, he also hated the natives for mistreating him. However, as a police officer the narrator continues to play his role because this is his only choice at the moment. That being said, he can strongly feel the Burmese villagers’ resentment for him. As he experiences the gap between his role and disrespectful responses coming from the Burmese, he finds himself being pushed to the limit and not knowing what to do. The narrator’s dilemma represents a difficult situation where people do not have specific moral rules to follow, but make their own decisions. Because such people have no understanding of the meaning of their occupation, they cannot stand up for what they believe.
The story reaches a climax when native villagers put the narrator under pressure to kill the elephant. They wanted the narrator to kill the elephant because it had killed one of the natives. When he saw the elephant in a harmless state, he thought it was not necessary to kill it. Simultaneously, the large crowd behind him kept adding on to his nervousness. He then contemplates whether he should make his own judgement by not killing the elephant or on the villagers’ wishes by killing it. In the end, he kills the elephant to save his pride and strengthen his position in the village. Although he did not want to kill the elephant, he still did it because of the natives’ pressure (Orwell 2-6). Since the gap between the narrator’s own thoughts and his actual behavior is large, he came up with an excuse. To justify his actions, he thought it was reasonable to take the elephant’s life since it had already killed a villager.
Finally, the narrator realizes that when people become dictators, they also lose their choice to determine their life choices (Orwell 4). In the essay, it demonstrated that to gain strength and avoid being called a fool, the narrator killed the elephant. He could not tell the crowd that he will not kill the elephant, because in his mind that will display him as being weak to the villagers. His mind focuses on how to avoid being the natives’ target and show them that he is powerful. Power can be a double-edged sword, even though people thought power can bring satisfaction to their lives. They forgot to consider that their greed can become a weakness.
Like the narrator in the story, I also had painful experiences: I used to be a target of peer pressure. When I was in my second year of high school. I did very well in Spanish class. My classmates often admired and praised me for how hardworking I was. However, I hardly shared my answers with them. In my opinion, the best way to learn is to ask many questions and overcome our own challenges.
One day, the teacher assigned us homework in preparation for a midterm exam. As usual, I completed all the assignments to prepare for the exam. However, on the morning of our review day, my classmates had yet, finish their assignments that would be reviewed individually by my teacher. Consequently, they panicked. As my classmates glanced around the room, I felt uncomfortable. Suddenly, they all came to my desk, and asked me to let them look at my assignment. I tried to refuse the request by saying that I was an obedient student, and did not want to share my answers. I did agree to teach them how to do the homework but knew that they would not care enough to learn how to do it. At that moment, I felt as if there had been a war in my mind. I did not know what was the right thing for me to do and whether or not I should give in exchange for peace of mind. There were at least fifteen people standing around my desk to ensure that I would not leave my seat. Finally, as my classmates lost their patience they grabbed my homework and took pictures of it. I was not able to do anything except sit passively and accept the reality of the situation. It was then that I realized how peer pressure can negatively affect a person’s mind. Up until now, I have always felt ashamed and guilty about deceiving my teacher. While both the narrator and I were aware of what to do, we ended up not having the choice to do what we wished because of external forces. Similar to the narrator, I was scared of being ridiculed by the crowd, which were my classmates.
Human interactions in society have all kinds of pressure. The narrator displayed the truth about power. It might appear to be desirable, but also require people to constantly maintain their image and forget their sense of self. As a result, power is the chain that ties people down from acting according to their conscience. The narrator’s uncertainty pushed him to be more susceptible to follow other people’s will. The position and situation people are in could impact how they act under pressure. Additionally, my story is an example of how people can follow something they know is wrong because of the external pressure. Knowing what is right from what is wrong is already difficult, but standing up for what is right is even harder. Thus, it is important to strengthen the moral compass, so that when looking back, guilt and regret will not be a part of your memory.
- Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant.” Shooting an Elephant and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1950. 1-6. Print.
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