The Reluctant Imperialist?

What struck me in my reading of short story was the reluctance of the narrator in carrying out his role as the white imperialist. He waffles between being “theoretically […] for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British” and being a stoic white imperialist, one that the natives will never laugh at. In fact, the narrator even pokes fun at what he calls the “real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act”, revealing the artificiality and hypocrisy of imperialism. However, the issue I have is that ultimately, the narrator is still shown to carry out his duties as an imperialist. For all his comments about the pretence of imperialism, he still aligns himself with white imperialism, one that is entrenched in capitalism—the dilemma of whether to capture the elephant alive, so that it would be worth “at least a hundred pounds”, or to just kill it and get five pounds for its tusks—and self-justified by Christian principles—the reference to the “crucified” Indian. Furthermore, the narrator invokes the law and the military—institutions that function to maintain imperial rule—in justifying his actions. The fact that the coolie was killed placed him “legally in the right” to kill the elephant while the possession of the rifle clearly indicated his military might. Hence, for all his reluctance, the narrator still performs the role of the white imperialist, and if we consider how this notion of performance and the theatrical is played out via references to being the “lead actor”, “an absurd puppet”, etc, then perhaps we wonder: Is the reluctance of the narrator ultimately also a performance?

One thought on “The Reluctant Imperialist?

  1. very good russell! this reading can also be related to modernist techniques and how they complicate how the surface “appears” to be truthful but is nothing but surface…