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Shooting an Elephant

Orwell’s relationship to the Burmese people as described in his work “Shooting an Elephant” is one of an outsider who has empathy but little understanding of the specific cultural identities of the colonized people. He favors the idea of the Burmese people being free of the British Empire, but simultaneously is a citizen of the Empire. His impression of the British Empire is that it is opportunistic and “evil.” This impression is balanced against his vision of the Burmese people as being unable to care for themselves in terms of practical measures. He views the Burmese as being technologically backward, but sees the British Empire as preying on the needy and exploiting them.

Orwell’s dilemma in being an officer of the British Empire is to balance his sense of compassion with his sense of national pride and duty. He must remain a true feeling human-being while also embodying the virtues of loyalty and courage that are revered not only by the British but also by the Burmese. Therefore, his actions in regard to the elephant define his personhood. If he kills the elephant he shows that he is able to uphold his duty; if he  spares the elephant it represents the fact that he has risen above the exploitative concerns of the British Empire and embraced the larger concerns of humanity. He does not belive that killing the elephant is an ethical decision. In the end, his murdering of the elephant symbolizes the way that Imperialism dehumanizes both those who are conquered and those who represent the Empire. Orwells’ work represent both the synonym and antonym of Imperialism, which are, respectively, expansionism and insularity. The essay also explores the synonyms and antonyms of the word oppressed, which are: weighed and lightened, respectively. One other concept that the essay explores is that which is related by the word: invariably and its synonym: perpetually and antonym: changing.

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