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Imperialism and its impact

"Shooting an Elephant" is a narrative written by George Orwell that recalls his experience as an imperial officer in Burma. Orwell recalls one incident in particular during his time in Burma to stress his feelings towards imperialism and its effects on society. Based on the events from the story it is apparent that imperialism is an oppressive force, which has a huge effect on Orwell, as well as the Burmese. The psychological effects of oppression can be viewed by the reader through Orwell's approach towards it. Orwell's experience goes to show that even while in a position of high authority, certain conditions may cause an individual to act contrary to their belief, whether right or wrong. Orwell's experience also offers some insight into daily lives today. Oppression is carried out in different stages, causing people of high standards and positions to make judgments contrary to their beliefs. It is these everyday decisions that go to show the impact imperialism has on a culture which seemingly is spreading, affecting the society and those around it.

"Shooting an Elephant" takes place in Moulmein, in Lower Burma during the twentieth century. As an imperial officer, Orwell comments on his position in British Burma, explaining how his role as an imperial officer is very upsetting to him and explains that he hates it more bitterly than he can make clear (Orwell, 204). He has already decided that imperialism is an evil ideology, and the sooner he gets rid of this job, the better. One day he becomes involved with an incident that stays with him for life. He describes it as a tiny incident, but it gives him a better glimpse at the real nature of imperialism (Orwell, 204).

Early one morning he receives a call from one of the sub-inspectors from another police station at the other end of town. The inspector explains that there is an elephant loose and ravaging the open markets, and wants to know if Orwell can come and do something about it. Orwell is not sure what he could do, but takes his rifle and heads out. Along the way several Burmese stop him and tell him about the elephant's doings. As Orwell arrives and meets up with the other inspectors they make their way to the elephant. Nearly everyone flocks around him, cheering, and nearly certain that he will shoot the elephant, however Orwell has no intention of it. When they arrive near the elephant, it looks no more dangerous than a cow and Orwell decides that he will not shoot it. As he turns around there is an immense crowd, expecting him to shoot the elephant. Suddenly, he feels that he must shoot it since it is expected of him by the Burmese and he can feel the crowd pushing him forward irresistibly (Orwell, 206). He realizes how even though he is the main authoritative figure at the moment, he is still being pressured by the Burmese and realizes that when a person becomes oppressive, it's their own freedom they destroy. Thinking for a moment how much he doesn't want to shoot it, Orwell pulls the trigger just to impress and stay his rank. After the incident questions about whether or not the shooting was right or wrong are debated.

Imperialism is an oppressive force that causes an individual to behave contrary to their belief. As we clearly saw, Orwell, an individual with high authority in this incident, knew that shooting the elephant would be the wrong thing to do, yet being pressured by an external force, in this case the Burmese, went and did it anyways, thus going against his own belief. It can be said that he did it to earn respect or maybe maintain authority over the Burmese and uphold imperial rule, yet we see that it got him nowhere and showed a little cowardice in him. In this experience, the Burmese are the most oppressed for they are an example of a society that has already been affected by imperialism. Imperialism has taken from them the confidence to defend their country and they have lost all hope. Orwell is left with something that will stay with him for life, and gives him a realization for what imperialism really is. It is a life changing experience and gives a clear example that imperialism is not a good ideology. As for the elephant, it was a victim of imperialism, and imperialism left a great impact on him, causing it to suffer. A different resolution could have been achieved if no such action was taken, and the shot wasn't fired. There was no need for the shot to be fired for Orwell had already realized the affects of imperialism the minute he turned around and felt the crowd pushing him forward, yet he chose otherwise.

"And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand will's pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the east" (Orwell 206).

This supports what he felt at that moment, and how he could have maybe stopped himself. At the time it would have been a hard decision to make, but it could have been avoided in a multiple of ways, if he didn't choose otherwise. In contrast, this incident could be taken as a good example. If it wasn't for him being in that type of situation, he may have never realized the full effect of imperialism. His real life incident and realization gives us a clear visual on the impact of imperialism. Orwell can be considered as a reliable author with a real life example to support his belief, and provides us with examples to support this idea. His viewpoint can help an individual apply this belief in their own lives. Overall, this was a clear visual for how imperialism causes an individual to behave contrary to their belief, thus affecting the society as a whole.

Furthermore, there are specific examples of how imperialism greatly affected Burma alone. Britain's brutal record of imperialism left a scar on Burma.

"Many people horrified by the brutality of the Burmese regime say that the "international community" should intervene in the country. But the history of Burma shows that meddling by imperial powers has always made things worse. By far the most damage was inflicted by the British Empire. The invasion was marked by savagery, with troops burning down villages and suppressing dissent with mass executions" (Bhattacharyya, n.pag.).

According to many, back in the late nineteenth to twentieth century, imperialism was thought to be a good ideology; although something complex or difficult, people with authority felt the sense to acquire it, and it became immensely widespread. "Imperialism was more than a set of economic, political, and military phenomena. It was a complex ideology which had widespread intellectual, cultural, and technical expressions in the era of European supremacy" (Richards, vii). For those supporting imperialism, it helped them get more authority over the society and played a major role in class and party divisions. "From the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, imperialism was a dominant national ideology, transcending class and party division" (Richards, 2). For those who were oppressed by it, they lost their remaining rights and were pretty much helpless and had either no or very little hope. They gave into it and just lost all confidence in defending their country. Similarly, Orwell's incident relates to this as well; a society that is under imperial rule shouldn't enforce it, yet they did and that lead to the dilemma.

Besides Orwell's example and Burma, there are also quite a few examples from today that support how imperialism can cause one to behave contrary to their belief as well. These examples include high authoritative figures such as presidential candidate, John Edwards, to former president Bill Clinton. In an interview with ABC News, John Edwards admitted to having an extramarital affair with a 42-year old campaign employee, but strenuously denied being involved in paying the woman hush money or fathering her newborn child (Schwartz, n.pag.). John Edwards acted contrary to his beliefs. A high authoritative figure such as himself did not believe in such things as an affair or even consider it, but when an outside figure pressured him, he went against what he believed and did what the external figure wanted. Similarly, former president Bill Clinton also went against his own belief.

"President of the United States Bill Clinton has admitted having an inappropriate relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, said BBC News in an article. Indeed I did have a relationship with Ms Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. I misled people, including my wife. I deeply regret that" ("Clinton Admits Lewinsky Affair", n.pag.).

He admitted that it was not only inappropriate, but indeed wrong and regretted it. Once again if it was not what he wanted and believed in, why did he do it? On the show 60 minutes President Clinton stated that he did something for the worst possible reason, just because he could (Radsch, n.pag.). He had all the authority he needed to say no, yet that little external pressure pushed him towards it and now it is stuck with him for life. Ken Starr an Independent Counsel man of the White House made allegations against the president stating that he committed an abuse of power by misleading key White House officials who would be testifying before the grand jury (Bierbauer, n.pag.). This not only leaves a negative impression about his character but those who may have looked up to him may have a change in opinion. These examples are a few of many of how authority can be corrupting.

Imperialism is a bad ideology and can cause one to behave contrary to his or her belief. As we saw from past to the present or recent examples, power and authority affect high authoritative figures from Orwell and his incident in Burma, to politicians today. It caused the Burmese to lose hope and confidence in defending their country and brought politicians and high authoritative figures down to a low level of authority and respect for their wrong doings in adapting imperialism to their lives. It can be agreed that Orwell did a good job in persuading the impact imperialism can have on one's life from his real life experience. This can help an individual understand the role power and authority plays in today's society and that too much power will always result negatively.

Works Cited

  • "Clinton admits Lewinsky affair." BBC News (1998): n. pag. 13 Sept. 2009 .
  • Bierbauer, Charles. "Clinton's Abuse of Power, according to Starr." CNN News: n.pag. 22 Sept. 1998. 13 Sept. 2009
  • Bhattacharyya, Anindya. "Britain's brutal record of imperialism in Burma." Socialist Worker. 02 Oct. 2007. n. pag. 14 Sept. 2009 .
  • Orwell, George. "Shooting an Elephant". Readings for Writers (13th Edition). Ed. Jo Ray McCuen-Metherell and Anthony C.Winkler. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2010. 203-309.
  • Richards, Jeffrey. "Imperialism and Juvenile literature." 1989. n. pag. Google Books. 14 Sept. 2009 .
  • Schwartz, Rhonda, Brian Ross, and Chris Francescani. "Edwards Admits Sexual Affair; Lied as Presidential Candidate." ABC News. 08 Aug. 2008. 13 Sept. 2009 .
  • Radsch, Courtney C.. "Bill Clinton, on '60 Minutes,' Speaks of Affair With Intern". NY Times: n.pag. 17 Jun. 2004. 13 Sept. 2009 < http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/17/us/bill-clinton-on-60-minutes-speaks-of-affair-with-intern.html>