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Effects of Imperialism
As displayed in George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” imperialism is a key
topic and focus of discussion. Imperialism can simply be defined as the taking over of many
territories of land by a higher figure. These were then turned into colonies. Imperialism had a
more negative effect than it did positive The character who is perceived as being hated by the
people of Lower Burma is one who feels as if he has to prove himself. He is a police officer
“…who was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so” (Orwell 1). He feels as if he is responsible
for the work of the town that is not wanted by others. He is the one to do the dirty work and the
one who in return is hated by those around him. He feels this way because he was under the
British Empire, making imperialism negative. He is well aware of the authority and hierarchy.
This authority is a prime example of imperialism and how it is deliberately seem throughout
“Shooting an Elephant.” Also seen is a hypocrite. The officer of the story hates the British
Empire, yet he is against imperialism. The British Empire is engaging in imperialism as it
controls the people using power.
The officer of “Shooting an Elephant” is engaging in imperialism. He is the one who is
responsible for officially killing the elephant in the end of the story. The officer is in control and
technically in control of the people of Lower Burma; however they have mental control over
him. They have him doing the dirty jobs and the one who is responsible for engaging in tasks
around town. Even though the officer is considered to be ranked above the Lower Burmese
people, he feels bad about the control he is given. But, he is technically participating in
imperialism in the way he controls the people. The officer states, “for at the time I had already
made up my mind that imperialism we as an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and
got out of it the better” (Orwell par. 2). The officer feels as if he does not like the idea of
imperialism, but is in some ways trapped because he is not able to escape. He is in-between
controlling the people below him and being controlled by the British Empire. He is engaging in
imperialism as well as having imperialism used on him. He knows that the idea of imperialism is
wrong by the harm that is done to the many people, but as respect for his government, he
continues to do as he is instructed.
A point that is strongly made throughout “Shooting an Elephant” is that the officer feels
as if he needs to prove himself and his manhood by killing the elephant. He says, “I often
wondered whether any of the other grasped that I had done it solely to avoid of looking like a
fool” (Par. 14). With this being said, the officer knows that the only reason he follows through
with killing the elephant is to be in the right of law and to fit in with those around. He did not
enjoy the killing or the thrill of the hunt. He references the fact that he feels like he is killing an
innocent grandmother when he says, “I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his
knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have” (3). The officer has a side of
him that shows gratitude towards such peaceful and calm animals such as the elephant. He does
not want to harm those around him. This is linked to the fact that he does not want to hurt those
or control those who are technically under him. He does not want to partake in imperialism. He
is forced to participate while under the British Empire. This is a distinct example of how
imperialism is negative. The British Empire is controlling their people in the ways that Stalin and
Hitler horrendously harmed many thousands and thousands of people by purposeful torture and
control. The officer is alarmed when he, the elephant, “looked suddenly stricken, shrunken,
immensely old” (4). The way in which the death of the elephant is vividly described as being a
jolt of agency when shot, is in direct relationship to how the people negatively affected by
imperialism are treated (4). The elephant is in reference to those people who are negatively
treated and who are extremely taken advantage of. They have no choice and are forced to behave
and act in certain ways.
Imperialism is displayed in a positive way in Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” when the
white people introduce weapons. This is showing a sign of development, especially in
technology. The people have introduced technology to the native people. Even though the people
have control over the native people and treat them under a system of imperialism, they leave one
positive impact. They bring weapons that the natives have never been in contact with before. The
power that these people have over the natives shows that they obviously are more privileged than
the natives. They share their modernized knowledge of technology and weapons with the native
people of the area by showing them the advantages of simple technology (Achebe). The weapons
are able to show how improvement to have the possibility to come out of imperialism.
Imperialism had a more negative effect than it did positive. There are few examples of
the negative control of colonies and control of people in “Shooting and Elephant,” and “Things
Fall Apart” where imperialism is a positive factor. In “Shooting an Elephant,” the officer is
trapped between engaged in controlling the people and him also being controlled by the British
Empire above him. He knows that he is participating in imperialism, but he feels a great sense of
guilt. He states this by saying, “as for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can
perhaps make clear” (Orwell 1). This is in clear reference to the fact that the only reason he does
his job is that he knows that he must. He does not enjoy it, nor does he receive any satisfaction
from killing the elephant and taking control of people under him. His sole reason for the killing
of the elephant is to obey his commander. He is once again caught in the middle of hating his job
and falling under the curse of imperialism. In “Things Fall Apart,” Achebe clearly lays out the
fact that the natives are treated with the feeling of demoralization. They were considered to be
low in society, therefore feeling demoralized. They know that those ahead of them are in control
and in all reality; they have no authority of power to say anything different or to say anything
against them. They follow instructing and do what they are told to do. This is a general
comparison and is used in strict sense to describe the cruelties of imperialism.
Imperialism has its extreme ways of affecting many people. There are those who are
doing the controlling and those who are being controlled. Imperialism is shown through the
novel, “Things Fall Apart,” and the essay “Shooting and Elephant.” There are those who are
controlling such as the British Empire, and those who are being controlled, such as the natives.
Imperialism is a way of dominance over those who are less privileged. The implementation of
imperialism has the majority of negative outcomes. However, in “Things Fall Apart,” there is an
instance of positivity when weapons are introduced to the natives and technology is shared. This
is a rare instance, and for the most part, imperialism is negative and does not have good
outcomes. Those who are affected have lifelong consequences and live a life that is controlled
and taken over by someone or something of higher authority.
Works Cited
Achebe. Things Fall Apart. New York: Library, 1959. Print.
Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant. 1936. Print.