Impressionistic Aesthetics in Growing

I’m going to hop on the fictionality bandwagon here too. I found the autobiography to be strangely surreal and impressionistic in the way everything is portrayed such that, like Russell, Peiyi and Yuying, I found the believability of this self-claimed autobiography quite questionable. However, to me what really highlighted the artifice of this autobiography is not just the references to the fictional characters or the theatrical elements mentioned in the text that my classmates have already brought up. Instead, I believe that this questioning of the text’s reliability can also be examined via its aesthetics.

The impressionistic way in which the landscapes are drawn up in Growing – the descriptions elephant pass and the “thick jungle thin[ning] into scrub jungle and then into stretches of sand broken by patches of scrub” and the “gaunt disheveled palmyra palms […] sticking up like immense crows” – sounds a lot, to me, like rather vague and brush-stroke-blending way of glossing over the landscape. While the writing of an autobiography banks a lot on memory and remembrance, I couldn’t help but notice how the writing is really veiled by a layer of rose-tinted of nostalgia, and that the descriptions are reflecting psychological landscapes and the overall impression of the place rather than placing emphasis on any type of accurate representation. And this is why I want to suggest that his writing is actually very impressionistic; because the attention he pays to detail in the landscape isn’t really a matter of trying to convey accurate and realistic portrayals of landscape-mapping but rather, his descriptions perform an attempt in trying to achieve an overall effect of what it looks like the perceiver’s mind’s eye. And it is the impressionistic element of his writing that, to me, undercuts a lot of the reliability of what he is saying in the text. I’m not suggesting that he is deliberately lying or changing facts but I think the impressionistic aesthetic really highlights just how re-constructed his stories and recounts are and we really ought not to take everything he says to the last word, because there is a sense that these stories are told as he remembers them in the overall memory he has of Ceylon, more so than what exactly transpired in that land.

General thoughts on ‘Shooting an Elephant’

Somehow, ‘Shooting an Elephant’ reminds me of Kuo Pao Kun’s ‘The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole’. Other than the fact that both texts circle around the notion of power, another reason could be the use of a first-person narrative written in a sparse yet personal (almost confessional) tone. While the first-person narrative allows us to delve deep into the psychology of the narrator/ protagonist, it could also obscure and be unreliable. It’s interesting, but also rather hilarious, that Orwell presents us with a neurotic narrator. Granted, the ‘natives’ might have hated him but we (as readers) will never know if they had, indeed, treated the dangerous event as ‘their bit of fun’ or if they were actually frightened. Silencing the subjugated is often seen as disempowering but here, the unnamed narrator endows their silence with a menacing quality. He keeps reminding us that he was being watched: ‘they were watching me as much as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick’. But one easily forgets that he watches them (watching him) as well!

The short story quite obviously points out that power relations in a colony are tenuous and meanings arbitrary, with the colonizer having to act out his role and his difference. Ultimately, no matter how guilty he is for being apart of this imperial project, the narrator reinscribes himself back into the system. I’m not quite sure, however, what the elephant symbolizes. We could easily read it as a symbol of the colonized natives (white elephants were prized by ancient burmese monarchies) but could we also see it as a manifestation of colonial anxiety? Just some thoughts!