AP Language and Composition
14 December 2014
White Man’s Burden
I. Plot Précis
“Shooting an Elephant” is based on George Orwell’s experience with the Indian Imperial Police during the early twentieth century. The essay is set in Moulmein, (Lower) Burma and begins with Orwell, the presumed narrator, questioning the presence of the British in the Far East. As one of the colonial policemen at the time, the speaker advocates his disapproval of British Imperialism but confesses that his “greatest joy” was being a tormenter, poking at the distressed natives with his bayonet.
In contrast with his other more proclaimed writings such as Animal Farm and 1984 which have a more dark, dystopian, and satirical tone, “Shooting an Elephant” is composed of a more friendly and informal atmosphere: “I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (2). Orwell also intertwines allusion and irony, “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed crowd…when the white man turns tyrant it is his freedom that he destroys…” (7). Lastly, conflict is a major rhetorical device that helps advance the plot to its final stages and is present throughout the narrative. While Orwell utilizes a plethora of devices to help further his purpose such as alliteration (which is present in paragraph 5), metaphor “I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.” (7), and onomatopoeia, “He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps…” (12), they are not as predominant as the ones listed formally.
George Orwell presents his purpose with a gamut of rhetorical devices to support it. “Shooting an Elephant” (1936) was written in order to shed light on the potential imperialists, also known as the “white elitists”, that would rise and try to take over Britain’s imperial position as the world’s super power (although Orwell clearly states that they are still far from achieving such arduous task even when Great Britain’s influence was slowly deteriorating). Ultimately, the narrator brings forth an evocative message at the end of the short story to his selective audience, “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool.” (14).
Orwell introduces his narrative with a casual atmosphere which is particularly effective because this approach allows the speaker to reveal glimpses of his personality that the audience might not otherwise get to see. For instance, he speaks of the inner-conflict he feels with his voice as the voice of an officer trying to do the right thing in a rather peculiar situation, “I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” (2) Because he is so honest about his difficulties and portrays his fragile ego without subtlety, the readers can follow the narrator and share his experience. Later, when Orwell describes his task of shooting the elephant, it is stated that he did not want to do such a thing, but many times he had performed acts he knew in his heart to be wrong because he felt forced to wear a particular mask or because he wanted to avoid humiliation. Thus, his tone allows the “white elitists” to see themselves in him.
To further his purpose to a greater extent, the writer incorporates allusion to The White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling:
“Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd-seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys.” (7) While Kipling describes that the white man’s burden to be having to nurture and civilize the natives