This is one of the pieces that made Orwell famous. The full text can be seen at the bottom. What is your favorite short story?
‘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. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter.’
‘The friction of the great beast’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit.’
‘As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. ‘
‘But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. ‘… ‘They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. 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 wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.’
What do you think? Are we ever really in charge of our behaviors?
How does this relate to the way that Obama and the US is working right now? Especially when Orwell states, ‘I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it.’ (America being one of these empires!). Read more about The Farce that is American Politics. Or you can read The Shortest Story ever Told (Hemingway), or Virginia Woolf’s last letter before filling her coat pockets with rocks and jumping into a river.
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