Understanding- ( Knowledge of the text is shown.)
Analysis - ( Techniques used are named and their function is discussed.)
Evaluation – Black ( The writer refers back to the essay title and discusses why they
feel these techniques are relevant.)
Choose a novel or short story in which the writers method of narration plays a
significant part. Explain briefly the method of narration and discuss its importance to
your appreciation of the text.
SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT
In his essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’, George Orwell puts forward his views
on imperialism. He uses the symbolic anecdote of him shooting an elephant
in Burma in order to present his argument in an entirely convincing way.
Orwell uses symbolism, emotive language and a self-deprecating and at
times humorous tone to convey the tragedy and futility of imperialism. For
example, although seemingly dispassionate, his description of prisoners in
Burma is an accumulation of emotive language:
“the wretched prisoners huddled in the stinking cages of the lock ups,
grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts”
Instantly, Orwell presents a picture of the Burmese as being humiliated and
treated like animals by their British oppressors. This does indeed give the
impression of “the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny”, and is an
extremely convincing part of Orwell’s argument against imperialism.
Another example of emotive description is the vivid, photographic image of
the Coolie who has been killed by the elephant : “arms crucified …. Grinning
like one in undurable agony”. As well as presenting a graphic and
disturbing image, the word “crucified” has connotations of martyrdom,
suggesting the prosecution of the Burmese, and perhaps even implies a
comparison between British imperialism and the brutal Roman empire,
infamous for crucifying prisoners.
Orwell also uses a self deprecating tone to make this point. For example,
the essay begins:
“In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people –
only time in my life when I have been important enough for this to
Also, in describing his experience with the elephant he presents himself as
incompetent, riding on a “pony” and in danger of being squashed like “a
load under a steamroller”. Not only is this humorous but, in mocking
himself he is indirectly mocking the British Empire he represents.
Finally, Orwell uses powerful symbolism to illustrate the tragedy and
futility of imperialism. There are two deeply symbolic moments in this
essay. The first is when he stands before the Burmese crowd – the “sea of
yellow faces” and realises that they are in fact in control of him, not the
other way round. Orwell uses language such as “hollow, posing dummy”
and “a conjurer about to perform a trick” in order to convey how “the white
man’s dominion in the East” is a total sham.
He makes the point that the British are not really in control, as they have
no choice but to conform to the stereotype of rulers. As Orwell says, “he
wears a mask and his face grows to fit it”. He points out the irony of the fact
“when the White man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he
This paragraph builds to a climax as Orwell concludes that:
“every white man’s life in the East is one long struggle not to be laughed
This is powerful and convincing as it is in complete contrast to most
people’s image of imperialism, and also conveys how futile it is to try and
oppress a nation.
The second symbolic moment is the actual shooting of the elephant.
Here, Orwell highlights the tragedy of the rape of a noble nation, as Burma
is symbolised by the dying elephant. The elephant is described as having a
“grandmotherly air” giving it dignity and personifying it to the reader. It’s
slow, tortured death is described in great detail:
“it suddenly looked stricken, shrunken, immensely old”.
As the huge creature gives one last trumpet and thunders to the ground it is
incredibly moving, as are its anguished gasps as it slowly dies. Its blood is
described as being like “red velvet”, adding to its beauty and the horror of
In conclusion, ‘Shooting an Elephant’ is a deeply moving and interesting
essay in which I found Orwell’s language, tone and use of symbolism
entirely conving in persuading me of the evils of imperialism.
*The final paragraph, looking at the shooting in hindsight, provides a strong
conclusion to Orwell’s argument. The opinion of the British Officers that
“an elephant is worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie” is shocking
and disgusting as it shows their racism and contempt towards the people of
Burma. His assertion that he shot the elephant “solely to avoid looking a
fool” is a convincing conclusion to his argument that the British are in fact
“actors” who are not truly in control of the situation.