George Orwell: Essays

discuss tha role of ruler and ruled

shooting an elephant

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Conqueror and conquered

The narrator's situation throughout the essay is shown to be one of little prospect or prominence. He comments on how, even though he is of the ruling class, he finds himself largely ignored by the Burmese people and even hated. He comments that: "I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me." Only with the expectation of a killing do the locals find him "momentarily worth watching." He describes how, as a police officer, he was often a target for mockery from the locals, as was any European who provided an easy target.

In contrast to his description of the natives as "little beasts", the narrator labels the elephant as a "great beast", suggesting he holds it in higher esteem than the locals. This is somewhat paradoxical, however, as the narrator's own job is demeaning and forces him to see "the dirty work of the Empire at close quarters". The narrator singles out "Buddist priests" - a people synonymous with peace and goodwill - to be "the worst of all" and comments on how he would gladly "drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts". Despite this apparent dislike, the narrator betrays his roots, declaring that he is "all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors".

Having killed the elephant, the narrator considers how he was glad it killed the "coolie" as that gave him full legal backing. The essay finishes with him wondering if they will even understand his motive for having killed the elephant as he merely wished to sustain his pride.