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English Composition 1

Sample ENG 1001 Essay on Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"

"The Price of Pride," written by Dennis Crask when he was a student in ENG 1001, is an excellent essay on George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant." With Dennis' permission, the essay is copied below. The essay is outstanding, with strong organization and especially effective support and development of ideas. Dennis uses a sophisticated writing voice and demonstrates a mastery of English grammar, punctuation, and word-choice. I have made only two minor corrections to the punctuation in the essay.

The essay below is an example of an excellent paper. Just click on the numbered links to read comments explaining why the essay is so good.


The Price of Pride{1}

          Unanticipated choices one is forced to make can have long-lasting effects.{2} In "Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell, the author recounts an event from his life when he was about twenty years old during which he had to choose the lesser of two evils. Many years later, the episode seems to still haunt him. The story takes place at some time during the five unhappy years Orwell spends as a British police officer in Burma. He detests his situation in life, and when he is faced with a moral dilemma, a valuable work animal has to die to save his pride.{3}

          Orwell is an unhappy young policeman who lives in mental isolation.{4} He hates British imperialism, he hates Burmese natives, and he hates his job.{5} He is completely alone with his thoughts since he cannot share his idea that "imperialism was an evil thing" with his countrymen. Orwell sees the British rule as "an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down. . . upon the will of prostate peoples" because he observes firsthand the cruel imprisonments and whippings that the British use to enforce their control.{6} Nor can he talk to the Burmese because of the "utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East." This "utter silence" results from the reasoning behind imperialism that says, "Our cultures are different. My culture has more power than your culture. Therefore, my culture is superior in every way, and it will rule yours."{7} If one is a member of a superior culture, one must not make jokes, share confidences, or indicate in any way that a member of the inferior culture is one's equal.{8} A wall, invisible but impenetrable, stands between the British and the Burmese.{9} His hatred for the Burmese is caused by their bitter feelings against the oppressive Europeans. Orwell says, ". . . I was an obvious target and was baited," and when he is tripped during a soccer game, "the crowd yelled with hideous laughter," which seriously assaults the ego of this young man. He says that ". . . I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible." Helping to oppress the Burmese causes him to feel guilty and to hate his job "more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear." While standing in this quagmire{10} of hatred, Orwell encounters one of the defining moments of his life. {11} {12}

          An innocent chain of events forces Orwell into a position in which he must choose between two undesirable options.{13} When he goes to check a report that a tame elephant under the influence of "must" has broken loose and is causing damage, Orwell takes a medium caliber rifle which is "much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem." Upon finding that a coolie has been killed by the elephant, Orwell trades his .44 rifle for a much larger gun simply for self-defense. This is a critical mistake; the Burmese who are following him assume that, since he now has an elephant gun, Orwell has decided to kill the elephant.{14} The crowd quickly grows to over two thousand natives, which rattles Orwell. As he says, ". . .it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you." This is especially true for a young representative of the Queen who knows the crowd will be critically watching his every move.{15} When he sights the elephant, Orwell "knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him." The bout of "must" is leaving, and the elephant is peacefully eating grass. Orwell "did not in the least want to shoot him" and knew that to do so would be to destroy a valuable and useful creature. On the other hand, the huge crowd of Burmese silently demand a show; they expect a "sahib" to act decisively without wavering. One option is to walk away, let the elephant live, and suffer the ridicule of the natives. The other option is to ignore his conscience and shoot the elephant. Orwell is backed into a corner and has to choose between the life of the beast and his own reputation.{16}

          The elephant must be slain so that Orwell's pride can live.{17} Walking closer to the elephant can get Orwell killed, and worse, some of the Burmese might laugh if that happens. Considering the laughter, Orwell says, "That would never do." Leaving without shooting the elephant is also not an option: "A sahib has to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things," implying that{18} the Burmese will see him as weak if he seems to change his mind about slaying the beast.{19} The British have created a proud image that they demand the Burmese respect, but they are trapped by having to live within that image.{20} Orwell ignores his conscience and shoots the elephant, and he compounds his sin by botching{21} the execution. Bullets shot into the wrong spot cause the poor animal to die "very slowly and in great agony." In spite of Orwell putting "shot after shot into his heart and down his throat," the elephant lives thirty minutes after its "tortured gasps" force Orwell to leave. Many years later, Orwell still seems bothered by the fact that pride, not necessity, caused him to destroy the animal.{22}

          Each person must make difficult judgments in the course of everyday life. Decisions that seem trivial at the time may affect one's life for years. Sometimes the choice is whether to meet the expectations of others or to meet the expectations of the conscience. One's maturity is measured when one encounters the elephant and decides to shoot it to please the crowd, or to not shoot it and appear to be weak. Either choice may follow one to the grave.{23} {24}

Essay copyright Dennis Crask, 2001.
Page copyright Randy Rambo, 2006.