‘What I most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art’, as Orwell declares, and it is not hard to see why it is the case even in Shooting an Elephant. I was initially taken by Orwell’s plain prose style and the way he strives to render an objective account of what he sees, but in the midst of researching, pondering and trying to deconstruct his essay, what I discovered instead is the sheer richness and density of his words, as with how a simple sentence in itself might convey a multiplicity of meanings.
This is essentially the challenge that modernist writers pose towards the readers, by unsettling us with their richness of experience and taking us out of the comfort zones of which we are accustomed to. While Orwell points to the performative role of the colonizer who is trapped by the expectations of the natives and the rigors of the colonial system, he is nonetheless writing from the detached role of the modernist artist who is constantly self-checking the figurative first person through the use of rhetoric, irony and sarcasm.
It is thus useful to comment briefly on the title of the essay itself, the verb ‘shooting’ conveys a sense of action, and it is around this bourgeois colonial action demanded of Orwell that his dilemma is centred, and modernism’s commitment to the totality of depicting reality thus allows the interiority of Orwell’s dilemma to come to light, as well as to signal the possibility of alternatives in our choice between freedom and unfreedom.