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George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”

After reading and rereading George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” I couldn’t help but have tears in my eyes. The first time I read it through, I had a hard time processing the fact that the protagonist had shot a live elephant in it’s natural habitat purely for the enjoyment of a crowd and self satisfaction. It took a second for me to wrap my head around that and get over it, but when I finished silently aching for the poor soul of the animal, I tried to play devils advocate. There had to be some underlining empathy to feel for the audience- and I mean “audience” literally, since the characters in the story were acting as excited and gleeful as they would if they were watching a concert. I really tried my hardest to justify their behavior, and in the end I figured out a viable explanation.

Orwell states, “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” This captures the essence of the civilians perfectly. Not just the civilians, but rather humans in general. Humans are animals. Highly intelligent animals, but animals nonetheless, and as hard as we try to push down our sadistic thoughts and tendencies, they are still there. Being eminently perceptive creatures, we’ve of course found a socially acceptable and camouflaged way around looking barbarous. Maybe we do this subconsciously, or maybe we do it knowingly. An example of this is our fascination with horror movies, or even murder shows. Let’s face it, we don’t go see “Saw the ‘XIV’” for the cinematography or to coo over the tortured couples’ love affair, we go to see the blood and the guts and the gore. The part that scares us isn’t even the fact that somebody—real or fake—is getting brutally murdered on a giant screen in front of our faces, it scares us because we know that we’re capable of doing that, and as dreadful and horrid as it seems, we may even get some satisfaction out of it. Clearly this is heinous to think, and I’m even scaring myself by writing this, but it’s an instinctive reaction due to our outdated pre-modernized mindset.

The same can be said about any animal. In the wild, violence is expected. We differentiate from the wild creatures due to the fact that we are trained to be tame. We see violence amongst each other (i.e. boxing, fighting, verbal arguments) and are not only enthralled by these sightings or confrontations, but also amused by them. Whether it’s televised fights between two buff mad men or TMZ reporting the latest fight between Justin Bieber and some paparazzi, it brings television companies views. People love it. We say that boxing is inhumane and that the media reports irrelevant headlines, but if we truly felt that way we would change it. The same could be said for gun laws, reality T.V. shows, war, abortion rights, civil rights, anything. If we really cared enough to change what we claim to think is wrong, we would do something about it, yet every day we sit idly by.

 

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