The Purpose Behind Writing Shooting an Elephant
Orwell is a writer with purpose. He strictly believed that writing serves a purpose and this can be seen throughout almost all his works especially in his essay Shooting an Elephant, he writes to show. This essay was published in 1936 and BBC Home Service broadcasted it in 1984. Orwell believed that writing should always hold a message. He did fulfill this goal. However, his views are nonetheless vague. And one of the things he is trying to convey in this essay is the fact sometimes things have multiple sides and layers. Orwell did serve as a Burmese police officer, but the fact if the event in the essay happened or not remains a mystery, but we can safely assume that something similar must have happened. The essay’s content is straightforward enough to get the idea with the first reading. The narrator is a British police officer who served in Burma during British rule and the British Raj. And understandably the people there do not like him around and they do not treat him well. This officer does not believe in what he is doing. He is philosophically against the British rule there. He is against Imperialism as he states in the first paragraph. And he continues to explain his situation in that same paragraph. He was with them but also against them. This the classical case of being torn between duty and what you believe.
And it’s quite interesting for Orwell to mention the Buddhist monks who stood at the corners of the streets mocking the Europeans. Although that is not the topic of the essay, it does not only show Orwell’s disappointment at the peaceful religion of the Buddhists, it also says a lot about the practitioners of the religion. Orwell was not a writer much concerned with religion. His main focus has long been on politics. However, in this essay he also gives us a small comment of what he, or in this case, the narrator saw on the streets of a place that’s supposed to be known for peace, from people who are known to be the advocated of peace. It’s almost like Orwell is trying to say that even religion is not an answer in some cases, for if that scene of the monks held no importance, Orwell will surely not have mentioned it. Whether fact or not, this essay goes deeper into what one goes through internally through an event that happens on the external. And it portrays what people see and how they react, and most importantly what value those reactions have. The story that Orwell is attempting to retell starts in the fourth paragraph where he talks about the elephant. In that paragraph, he talks of how information is perceived in the East. He goes as far as to describe the way they gave information about the elephant was more like prophesizing. Orwell portrays how the sudden death of one of the Indians caused by the elephant suddenly made him realis what was happening was actual fact. Orwell doubted the existence of the elephant in the first place, but seeing the man lying on the ground stepped on by the elephant became evidence on how the physical proof had more effect on him.
Here is the paragraph: “We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies when we heard yells a little distance away… I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud… The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth… He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Pg. 4). Now, this paragraph is very important. It is not the introduction of the essay, but the introduction to the story which Orwell wants to retell. The paragraph attracted my attention for multiple reasons. First is the writer’s understanding of information and how stories get around in the East. Second is how the East treats information as in how they give information. The third is how the narrator makes up his mind about information. Fourth is the image of the dead. The fifth is how the story can be a metaphor, or even looked at as an allegory for many of the political situations in the East, or even throughout history.
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Orwell is a writer with purpose. He strictly believed that writing serves a purpose and this can be seen throughout almost all his works especially in his essay Shooting an […]