Animals and Literature
In George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”, a British officer, not amused with colonial Britain, is informed of a mission to help out Burmese from the terror of an elephant. Though tamed, the elephant damages property such as vehicles, huts, livestock and so forth. After searching for it without success due to misleading information by from the people, the officer stumbles upon lying on the ground is a victim to the elephant’s rampage lifeless. With an elephant rifle ordered from a friend, the officer sets to deal with this “great beast” that has headed to the paddy fields grazing harmlessly like nothing had happened. The officer gazed at it hoping that the elephant had calmed down and a little observation of its behavior was that remained to restoring Burma’s peace. Behind him was a huge crowd eagerly waiting to see the rifle do its “thing” (Orwell). Holding on to the rifle, no other choice is left other than to shoot down the havoc-causing creature even though this was against his willing. Several shots, the elephant was down though breathing for half an hour to its death. Villagers strip meat of its bones packaging it in their baskets. Killing the elephant turns controversial with the owner angry and the younger men of the crowd not amused because of the elephant’s value. On the other hand, there is justification to his doings as the elephant had killed a coolie.
In “The Snake” by Stephen Crane, a man is accompanied by his dog along a path on a sunny day. They come across a snake hissing as they strolled. The man quickly responding to danger grabs a stick with eyes locked on the target, the already coiled up snake. There being warning in form of rattles by the snake after sensing danger of an enemy within, the man is pushed to strike faintly in the direction of what seems to be a war building up. The snake in its coiled-up position springs forward without hesitation but to the man’s luck aids him. He succeeds in moving just enough to miss the strike and again manage to hit. This time, the snake whirls and the man sends it to death. The man with a sigh of victory carries on the defeated snake on a stick as a sign of well-worn battle to show the girls.
Various concepts such as empathy, instrumentalism and dialectic appear in Shooting an Elephant and The Snake.
Orwell uses the elephant to demonstrate the effect of colonialism on both the colonizer and the colonized. Shooting of the elephant is used to show the British Colonial era against the Burmese. The rampaging elephant depicts the Burmese society which is under the British colonial. The elephant has its liberty restricted to the level owner wants it to be. Moreover, when it turns havoc it requires violence to return it to its peaceful state. Just as it takes force and intimidation by the British officers to have an upper hand against the Burmese society.
Orwell carries with him the guilt of killing the elephant representing the guilt of commandeering a whole society and culture. Over and above, shooting the elephant does not kill it representing the colonizer’s power that does not necessary place the Burmese under.
The .44 Winchester represents those under British authority who are used by people in power as instruments to oppress the Burmese.
The snake is likened to the view of hell: “nature reached her supreme point in the making of the snake, so that priests who really paint hell will fill it with snakes instead of fire” (Crane). This was after the presumed friendship with man that left man a loser. As such, it is believed to be the reason behind the war hence enemies.
Orwell in his writing Shooting an Elephant, depicts discourse between the colonialists and the colonized. This is between the people of Burmese and the British. Orwell himself is however displeasured by 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.” (Orwell)
In Stephen Crane’s narration, the confrontation between the man and snake “was to a battle without mercy” (Crane). The man as taught from generation to generation was ultimately to hit the stone to death. Stephen Crane goes on to liken this to a rule that if unfollowed, consequences follow.
However, a British Police Officer, Orwell shares on his feelings against the British. He is against the oppression of the Burmese by the British. Especially him being part of it makes him have an “intolerable sense of guilt” for the “wretched prisoners” (Orwell).
The officer goes on to have feelings for the elephant by being hesitant to kill it and likens it to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery. He furthermore goes ahead to leaving the scene as not being able to stand seeing its death. Caught up in the thought that what he had done could be wrong, the officer consoles himself that shooting it was right based on the fact that the incident had one casualty.
In “The Snake”, there is no empathy between its characters. The snake “knew that his implacable enemies were approaching; no doubt they were seeking him, hunting him” (Crane). Soon as there was an open window for attacking it did so. On the other hand, the man also upon seeing the snake his first motive is defense and does so with a readily available stick.
In Moulmein, the Burmese people were oppressed by the British authorities. However much this would seem unfair to those effecting this rule like the British officer they had no other option. Where an opportunity would be presented to these people to have at least a sense of control they would do so happily. While on encounter with the elephant at the paddy fields, the officer could feel the unsaid command of the Burmese to kill the elephant although it felt as a wrong thing to do. The imperialism between the British and Burmese is one where the Burmese are in constant battle to prevent the overlying British rule from completely taking over what is left of them. While, the British officer is in the midst of all the happenings seeing the unfair dealings of the British Colonial knowing they are wrong and nothing much could be done.
Man, and snake have an interesting relationship since long time ago. They are enemies who seemingly have an unending war brought about by their ancestors. It is to the extent of an encounter of the two would rather end in the demise of one. The two different stories are enjoined by the themes and the concepts in shared across them. These concepts include instrumentalism, empathy and dialectic.