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George Orwell

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George Orwell's essay 'Shooting an Elephant' gives a remarkable insight into the human psyche. The essay presents a powerful theme of inner conflict. Orwell feels a strong inner conflict between what he believes as a human being, and what he believes and should do as an imperial police officer. The protagonist is amazingly effective in illustrating this conflict by providing specific examples of contradictory feelings, by providing an anecdote that exemplified his feelings about his situation, and by using vivid imagery to describe his circumstances.

Orwell begins to show his inner conflict by stating how he felt about being a European imperial policeman. By serving Britain as a policeman he is showing that he is loyal to his country, but at the same time he believed that imperialism was an evil thing. His conflict results from the fact that he hates the British Empire which should make him pity the Burmese people but he does not. This is made clear when he said "All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited beasts who tried to make my job impossible". "With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakably tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts". Understanding the complexity of his prospective for his loyalty to the evil perils of British and distaste for imperialism was a contradiction in the author's thoughts which he tried to explain throughout the essay. He was upset by this impertinent behavior of the Burmese, especially because he had begun to regard imperialism as an "evil thing" and to think in terms of leaving his job in Burma, because he hated it very much. This job afforded him an opportunity to "see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters." As he tells us theoretically and secretly, he 'was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. The sight of prisoners and convicts, who were ruthlessly treated, oppressed him "with an intolerable sense of guilt". On the one hand, he hated the British Raj and regarded it 'as an "unbreakable tyranny", and on the other hand, he had a great contempt for the foolish, jeering natives. Such contradictory feelings, remarks Orwell, "are the normal by-products of imperialism". In another example, he explains that this moral conflict is perplexing for him when he repeatedly admits being "all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors" yet still speaks disparagingly of the natives, and their "sneering yellow faces." In this part of the essay, the writer has clarified his viewpoint regarding the British Raj and analyzed his attitude towards the situation he was placed in.

The reader can conclude that Orwell's internal conflict cause him to be unable to take a firm position either in support of the Burmese renouncing imperialism or continue as a British oppressor. He tried to appeal to the common sense of the reader in an attempt to gain their sympathy and understanding of his need to do his job as policeman while supporting the Burmese. His justification for his inconsistency was explained when he expressed, "I was young and ill-educated and I had to think out my problems in utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East". Although his characterization of being "young and ill-educated" Orwell's knowledge and experience of imperialism was clear because he witnessed it every day.

Orwell explains:

The wretched prisoners in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces for the long term convicts, the scarred buttocks of a man who had been flogged with bamboos. All these oppressed me with intolerable sense of guilt.

The story of the elephant Orwell paints a picture of another type of inner conflict that he experienced while working in Burma. That is, when one knows deep inside what they should rightly do, but due to outside pressures and influences they choose another course of action. The anecdote is about an elephant that is out of control and is ravaging a village. Orwell is called out to neutralize the situation, but he does not know what he can do to help things. When he arrived at the scene he was told the elephant got away to paddy fields a thousand yards away. As he made his way to the paddy the crowd behind him grew as they all hoped and assumed he would shoot the elephant. Upon reaching the field he writes, "As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him" By this time the crowd had grown to the size of at least two thousand,

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