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Because the locals expect him to do the job, he does so against his better judgment, his anguish increased by the elephant’s slow and painful death. The story is regarded as a metaphor for British imperialism, and for Orwell’s view that “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. Orwell spent some of his life in Burma in a position akin to that of the narrator, but the degree to which his account is autobiographical is disputed, with no conclusive evidence to prove it to be fact or fiction. It was administered as a province of India until 1937, when it became a separate, self-governing colony, attaining its independence on January 4, 1948.
Burma from 1922 to 1927. By the time Orwell moved to Moulmein, in 1926, “he was most probably ambivalent about the colonial state of which he was a part. Orwell writes how he was trapped between his own resentment towards the Empire and the Burmese people’s resentment towards him. As a member of the ruling power, he is cornered into doing what the “natives” expect of him: “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.
A passport photo of Orwell, taken during his time in the Burmese police force. In Moulmein, the narrator—Orwell, writing in the first person—is a police officer during a period of intense anti-European sentiment. Although his intellectual sympathies lie with the Burmese, his official role makes him a symbol of the oppressive imperial power. As such, he is subjected to constant baiting and jeering by the local people.
After receiving a call regarding a normally tame elephant’s rampage, the narrator, armed with a . Entering one of the poorest quarters, he receives conflicting reports and contemplates leaving, thinking the incident is a hoax. The narrator then sees a village woman chasing away children who are looking at the corpse of an Indian whom the elephant has trampled and killed. Although he does not want to kill the elephant now that it seems peaceful, the narrator feels pressured by the demand of the crowd for the act to be carried out. After inquiring as to the elephant’s behavior and delaying for some time, he shoots the elephant several times, wounding it but unable to kill it. The narrator then leaves the beast, unable to be in its presence as it continues to suffer.
He later learns that it was stripped, nearly to the bone, within hours. His elderly colleagues agree that killing the elephant was the best thing to do, but the younger ones believe that it was worth more than the Indian it killed. The narrator then wonders if they will ever understand that he did it “solely to avoid looking a fool. An anti-imperialist writer, Orwell promotes the idea that, through imperialism, both conqueror and conquered are destroyed.
Orwell clearly states his displeasure with colonial Britain: “I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. The narrator perceives that the conqueror is not in control, but it is rather the will of the people that governs his actions. As ruler, he notes that it is his duty to appear resolute, with his word being final. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him.