ramblings on “shooting an elephant”

“Shooting an Elephant” was an interesting read for me personally because I saw for the first time, an explicit recognition if not confession, of the white man’s fear and insecurities. For once we are exposed to the “normal by-products of imperialism” from the colonizer’s perspective. We see his unwillingness to partake in this endeavor; we see how the native crowd forces him into conformity and we see his disempowerment (as represented by the figure of the puppet, dummy, conventionalized figure of the sahib). I feel that our protagonist is a figure that is trapped in this liminal space. The Europeans define his identity as a police officer and fellow colonizer and the native people define him as this stereotypical oppressor, hurling insults and jeers at him. Thus he is pressured on both sides, leaving him with no space to go. He can’t be like Fielding because the natives will never befriend him nor can he be like Ronny because he doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the cause.
So what is a man under so much pressure supposed to do? Be a hypocrite; shoot an elephant to prove his loyalty to the cause and to show the natives his power. But underlying his show of bravado is guilt and fear. Its like the act of shooting the elephant is a way to assuage his fears and insecurities, kind of like Jim and how he hopes that his quest for greatness will erase his past. So does this mean that Jim is “the way” that the white man has to follow? Such that the white man is trapped under this framework of western heroism (that really is a front for hiding one’s guilt and anxiety about the colonial enterprise) and has no choice but to continually perpetuate and reaffirm the system instead of dealing with the guilt head on. I think that sweeping this under the carpet definitely inflicts violence on the white man as he has to disavow this sense of guilt, sweeping it under the carpet.
Perhaps we should sympathize with the white man because in his disavowal of guilt, he becomes more unfeeling and dehumanized. Perhaps we could view the protagonist of “Shooting an Elephant” as a pitiful figure, a little cog in the machine whose sole importance to the colonial enterprise is precisely based on his ability to conceal emotions and to carry out assigned tasks (shoot the elephant and retain the peace) to ensure the smooth operations of the colonial system.

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