Explain George Orwell’s attitude towards imperialism and colonialism in Shooting an Elephant.

George_OrwellAnswer: Shooting an Elephant is an essay written by George Orwell first published in the autumn of 1936. The essay mainly describes a white British imperial police officer’s experience in Burma when he ought to encounter a ravaging elephant while he was on duty. The story is set in the British-conquered Burma.

George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” is a critique of the political situation of his time. The essay is a critique of imperialism. In the essay he depicts how colonialism treats the colonized people. Orwell gives a realistic picture of imperialism, as he himself was a part of the imperialistic machine through enlistment in the Burmese police. His stay in Burma provided him the opportunity to view from a close quarter the by-products of imperialism. Thus “Shooting an Elephant”, a masterly creation of Orwell, deals with some facts and details of colonialism and its effect upon the colonized as well as upon the colonizer in the sub-continent that help us realize Orwell’s attitude towards imperialism and colonialism.

The Indian sub-continent came under British colonial rule. As the British subjugated India, a vast change took place in each and every nook of life. Not only the general life and culture were affected but also the economy, social life even personal lives were vastly influenced by imperialism. The implication of imperialism affected and agonized the native inhabitants of India. The colonizers dominated over the Burmese people, though the Burmese were great in number, they did not dare to go against the oppressors. But it created a lot of animosity and bad feeling between the ruler and the ruled. Orwell was a sub-divisional police officer in lower Burma from 1922-1927. At the very outset, the narrator of the essay tells us about the hatred that the native Burmese harbored about him and with the feeling he used to greet., “In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people”.

The narrator also states that the “anti-European feeling was very bitter”. The native never left the slightest opportunity to jeer at the ruling men. As he says, “No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress”. The narrator describes his bitter experience when he used to play football with the Burmese, “As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once.” “In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.”


He noticed the insult by the Burman people towards the British people specially by the young Buddhist priests. The impact of colonization in Shooting an Elephant was that the narrator as a sub-divisional police officer had to face many unpleasant things. The natives did all these things as an acclamation of their agony and dismay towards Englishmen. The action from the British was in no way pleasant for the natives. Though he belonged to the British ruling class, he had a different thought about them. Sometimes innocent people become victim. He had an opportunity to see it very closely. The oppression that the ruling class would inflect on the natives is given vivid expression in the essay: “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.” The narrator’s dilemma is evident. He was placed in a precarious condition. He harbored a deep detestation for imperialism and termed it as “an Evil” and always felt sorry for the oppressed, the reality as he himself belonged to the oppressing class, did not spare him from ill-treatment of the natives.

In the essay, Orwell is very critical of colonialism and takes his stand against it. His bitterness against colonialism grew from the realization that it only snatches away freedom from the ruled or subjugated but also destroys in a very painful way the freedom of the oppressor. The concept of imperialism rendered the rulers such a powerful authority, but it at the same time turned them to despised class to the natives.