Leonard Morrow Christina Olson Writing Assignment 3 9 April 2013 Rhetorical Analysis: “Shooting an Elephant” In the essay entitled “Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell writes, “In Moulmein, in lower Burma, 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” (Orwell, pg#). In this exert, not only does Orwell succeed in setting the mood and foreshadowing events to come, but he also introduces us to a protagonist of little experience and relative innocence.
To expedite the process of connecting the story with his audience, Orwell chronicles his tale from a first-person point of view. In so doing, Orwell aims to induce the sympathies of his readers and guide their understanding, whether condemned or condoned, as to the reasoning behind his decision in “Shooting an Elephant. ” The story is set in the 1920’s, when Orwell served as Assistant Superintendent in the British Imperial Police in Burma during a period of strong anti-European sentiment in the country.
Though his sympathies and intellect are aligned with those of the Burmese, Orwell’s standing as an Englishman and his position with the authorities only serve to further alienate him from the citizenry and harbor negative public opinion. During an event when a labor elephant breaks free of its handlers and tramples a citizen to death, Orwell is charged with tracking the beast and putting it down. The author describes his conflictions with his task and tells us that upon finding the elephant in a more tranquil state, his resolve in following through with the sentence was even weaker.
Here, we find the protagonist standing alone before a scrutinizing audience of thousands of onlookers. Orwell proceeds to shoot the elephant several times before leaving the scene, unable to end its life. Left to the whim of the emotionally charged mob, the animal is killed and stripped nearly to the bone mere hours after the event. In closing, Orwell describes his inner battle to follow his conscience and spare the elephant versus appeasing the horde’s demand for “justice” and gaining the natives’ respect.
Orwell actively displays a strong inner conflict between his personal convictions and desire to assume the respect demanded by his station as an imperial police officer. This notion carries throughout the essay to its conclusion. Orwell writes that he is curious as to whether or not the other officers knew that he shot the elephant solely to avoid looking like a fool. This could hint that his actions were based more so on his eagerness to prove himself rather than out of a sense of justice. One could also infer that in writing this he would also gain the sympathy and understanding of the other imperial officers.
Effective use of the first-person format is evident in this expert. [Might want to pick another quote. Something that only involves Orwell’s emotions or perception, not something anyone else can see. ] (Orwell, pg#). First-person format, though sometimes cliche, can be an effective literary device and a means to connect the reader with the author’s motives and attitude. If this essay hadn’t been written in the first-person, Orwell wouldn’t have been able to gain the audience’s sympathy or foster an understanding of his ethical dilemma.
The essay would merely render the protagonist as a dispassionate grunt following orders, and there would be no way of knowing the regret he is plagued with after shooting the elephant. While Orwell’s purpose in writing becomes more and more evident as the essay progresses, we see the literary device of foreshadowing initially employed in the second paragraph. Here he states, “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (Orwell, pg#).
This quote shows that the author has conflicting forces imploring him to make a decision yielding some kind of negative outcome, regardless of the action taken. Orwell is truly stuck between a rock and hard place once his predicament is fully pronounced as the event develops. Orwell’s duty is that of a firm hand of the law, but at what cost? It is Orwell’s view that “when the white man turns into a tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Orwell, pg#).
Whether from earnest to prove himself or the call of responsibility, Orwell makes the executive decision to shoot the elephant before the rabble and bears the weight of his gamble thereafter. Orwell’s story is a classic example of self realization of character. In the essay, we see a very real struggle that’s both external and internal. Our protagonist is tasked with pleasing the mob while emulating what’s expected of him as an imperial officer. Orwell is torn between mercy and justice. Through effective use of such literary devices as oreshadowing and especially the first-person format, Orwell bonds today’s reader to the events on that day nearly a century ago. His plight, while not under the most identifiable of circumstances, provokes the reader to question his or her own moral compass. This concept can be applied to innumerable ethical dilemmas readers may find themselves in. When making such a choice in the realm of ethos, just ask yourself: Is this course of action just and based on principle, or am I just shooting an elephant? Works Cited Orwell, George “Shooting an Elephant”