The Symbolic Importance of the Elephant in George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant. There are a lot of symbols in Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant. The narrator himself, his rifle, a dead body of Dravidian coolie, and, of course an elephant – are just the most obvious symbols…
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The elephant was often considered as the symbol of author’s self, or the symbol of Burmese economy under British rule, or the Burmese natives. However, I think the elephant is the symbol of the British Empire and the beginning of its decline. If we consider the elephant as the symbol of the British Empire, it is important to analyze author’s attitude to colonialism and British rule. The author is quite clear stating that “imperialism was an evil thing” and that he was “all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British”. The author also stresses that he hated his job (which is strange, though, since it was Orwell’s decision to become a police officer), and that it caused “an intolerable sense of guilt”. However, the general tone of the abstract suggests that the author has changed his opinion. It is known, that Orwell left Burma in 1927, and the story was written ten years later – enough time to reconsider some of the impressions of youth. Thus, Orwell writes that he was “young and ill-educated” and considered his problems to be the problems of “every Englishman in the East”. Author’s statements that he “did not even know that the British Empire is dying” and that he did not know that “it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it” prove that Orwell was not categorical as to his opinions about the British rule. Also it is strange that the author expressed his hatred towards, for example, “young Buddhist priests”: “the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts”. Orwell, as the representative of administration, was aware that the so called Young Men’s Buddhist Association (which existed in Burma and other Buddhist countries) represented the movement for independence from the British rule. The author admitted, however, that such feelings were “the normal by-products of imperialism”. The first notion of the elephant in the story is the information that “an elephant was ravaging the bazaar”. After the narrator had started out to see it, various Burmans stopped him on the way and told him about the elephant’s doings. The elephant “was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone “must.” We also learn that “its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction”. The Burmese people “had no weapons and were quite helpless against it”. This first description of the situation perfectly proves that suggestion that the elephant is the symbol of British Empire. Burma, as part of India and the British Empire, had to declare war on Germany in 1914. Its people fought on many fronts in Europe, Asia and Africa. The British colonial authorities mobilized the Indian workers who were sent to the military operation in France, British troops occupied parts of Mesopotamia and other countries. India supplied the British army in Asia and Africa with grain. All Indian troops operating at front were funded by the Indian population. But this effort caused hunger and other hardships, which led to some rebellions and even pro-German attitudes. And the repressions began. In 1915, for example, the law was passed, which allowed to pursue politically dangerous dissidents, in particular, to send journalists to prison without trial, and to carry out censorship. Actions of British administration were rude and unwise. Just like the actions of the
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