The Parallels Between Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging


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‘’Shooting an elephant’’ and ‘’A hanging’’ narrate two different events, however, the context and the dilemmas that arise in both essays appear to be rather similar. In both essays, the events take place within the context of English men ruling in Burma during the English imperialism. In an attempt to depict this reality, the speaker describes these events from his perspective as an English officer whose personal convictions and feelings contradict his actions.

This contradiction draws a parallel line between the speaker’s veracity to himself and to others. On one hand, he describes his disagreement of the hanging through his epiphany that the convicted man is a healthy normal person whose life they are terminating. On the other hand, he witnesses the execution without saying a word and at the end he joins his fellow Englishmen in their joke making and hysterical laughter. Similarly, he shoots the elephant against his desire to not do so. The shooting of the elephant serves as another epiphany for him. He comes to the understanding that regardless of being on the ‘’rulers’’ side, he was doomed to lose his freedom. Thus, the speaker, as a police officer shooting the elephant and as a witness of the man being hanged, has lost the freedom to act upon his convictions and feelings. He tries to speak the truth to himself, however his actions continue to be a show of what others perceive as being the right thing to do. Therefore, the veracity of Orwell’s speaker is debatable because he is aware of his truth, but he doesn’t speak it up or act upon it.

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Nonetheless, this struggle the speaker experiences contributes to pointing out his obvious stance on the English imperialism. The dilemmas, the epiphanies and the inner struggle the speaker experiences draw attention to the impact this rule has had on the people of Burma. Despite the fact that a psychological profile of the speaker is strongly present in both essays, there is no description of actual feelings throughout the text. This profile is presented in his detailed description of the man to be hanged where he focuses on the features that make him look as healthy and capable to live as the rest of the people. This shows his feeling of guilt without ever mentioning it as a word. Moreover, at ‘’Shooting an Elephant’’, he follows the same pattern, where he describes in detail the posture and the way the elephant looks like ‘’a grandmother’’, by showing like this not only his compassionate nature but also the meaningless pain that the English rule is causing to the native population.

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