Shooting an Elephant

So, with this month came a birthday that I did not want to come. A landmark that shall be mentioned no more, because it has already come and gone and there is nothing that I, nor anyone else can do about it. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. Age is but a social construct…

Anyway, I wanted to do something a bit special, a bit different, but alas, I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t found any adequate amount of time to as much as scrape something together from my notes.

What I have instead is something of a review of George Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’. Honestly, one of the saddest stories I think that I’ve ever read. Initially, though I was disheartened, I don’t think that I really took it for exactly what it was (it was quite late and I was in bed), but as I found myself thinking about it more and more in the following days, I realised that I was actually hit quite hard – that is when you know that it is a good piece of writing. I wrote this review a couple of months ago, but I have since re-read Orwell’s essay and I am only more moved by it, such is the profoundness of the effect that it has had. And that is something that I do no share lightly.

I’ve read quite a lot of Orwell, and though his writing is on the whole, unarguably very good, I’ve often found that it can be quite unengaging for long periods. I understand that a lot of his works are written in the form of an account, relaying experiences that he had throughout his life, and that he could only really tell them as they were, but in that I refer predominately to his earlier work, his first few novels in particular. There is a message that he gets across, and that message is always very prominent, but I guess that the problem I have is that I already understand the intentions behind the themes, or have at least a level of understanding, if it be a concept or an illustration – there is never an explanation, though such things are deliberately ambiguous. Some would ask, why read on? It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose, a matter of taste.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy what else I have read, because I did, I only mean to say that there were certain aspects that I did not enjoy, but that is generally consistent with any piece of work. It’s like most things, with striking that balance being most important, but at the same time the most difficult. But, then, I’m still stuck with a need for 6 million page epic fantasy novels, to wade through mountains of crappy dialogue only to be repeatedly unsatisfied with the same predictable ending. What do I know?

I’m not trying to say that Shooting an Elephant was so different in style to his other works, because I don’t think that Orwell ever really drifted too far in style. I think, though, that matching the right story with the right style is paramount. With Orwell, the language says it all; this brutally honest account was trademark Orwell, as my father would say. Shooting an Elephant was the perfect compilation for such a writer, and in that I have no complaints.

The things that made Orwell so prolific in his day were the concepts behind the work that he was producing. This is something that people don’t often appreciate. We would say today that he was a man ahead of his time, though I would argue that such a thing was only truly recognised retrospectively.

The world moved on as indeed it does now and nobody much noticed day to day, as people don’t often now, but I really feel that Orwell did. People were happy just to get on, living their lives if it be in ignorance. That ignorance meant that they didn’t care if people called them ignorant. Why should they? Orwell admitted that he was just the same. It’s a state of mind. In today’s day and age we have every resource that we could possibly want, and although we may, even now, be uneducated of the true effects of class division and capitalistic oppression (some of Orwell’s themes) a lot more people are than when compared to his own active years of writing.

Orwell captured perfectly, and sadly, the way that the world was, and how life was valued so. His work epitomises the will of people, of man and how his demonstrative nature compels. He paints a society that creates a pressure that is not so different from today. It is not even the balance of the elephant’s life that makes the story so sad but that pressure that was created, the influence of men and women who wanted a life taken ultimately for their entertainment.

Orwell commented afterwards that he was glad a man had died because it justified his decision. I think that it takes courage to say, let alone print such a thing, but that is just what is so admirable about such a writer. George Orwell never claimed to be anything that he wasn’t, he simply told things the way that they were. The way that they still are. And that made his opinions and beliefs all the more solicited, irrelevant of the man that he was, or the man that he became.

I don’t know what it was like living in Burma in the 1920s, but I’m beginning to see why many have labelled him the greatest writer of the 20th century. I hate to leave it at that, but I feel that there is little more to be said. Not forgetting his accurate futuristic predications and politically liberal world views, with novels that are rightly famous all over the world, this short work has put Orwell firmly at the top of my list. I can’t think of any other who would take his place.

So, I will say endeavour. Be inspired. I think that Orwell saw the world through clear eyes; everything is made to be as blurred and indefinite as possible these days, but writing such as this is a reality that still exists, and that I feel that we should all be made aware of. We have to suffer from intrusive distractions, such as pop culture and reality TV, that are thrown at us like bricks from every angle; bricks that are only being used to form a wall to block out the real problems that we have in this world. Those walls are used to contain and to feed an ignorant economy, to allow money to circulate whilst lives are lost and forgotten.

It’s sad, but it’s true. We may know a lot, but our understanding can always be improved.


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