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George Orwell’s works are as an expression of Orwell’s character, with stylistic powers, zest for the hopeless struggle and denunciation of fashionable intellectual attitudes.George Orwell’s originality has been recognized in the world; his peculiar blend of gaiety and grimness has been appreciated In Shooting an Elephant (1950).
The reviews of his posthumously published Shooting an Elephant provided a revaluation, refined the earlier critical judgments, and distinguished between Orwell’s strengths and weaknesses. Though critics invariably admire the subtle art of Orwell’s autobiographical writings, they sometimes forget that Orwell’s legend is based mainly on his own carefully projected self-image. Orwell’s personal characteristics: his courage, compassion, honesty, decency, generosity, integrity and responsibility as well as his masochism, and his stylistic qualities: vigor, clarity, precision, forcefulness, confidence and commonsense, have received a good deal of attention.
But the most serious criticisms of Orwell is his fear of what others think, and the superficiality and inconsistency of his political ideas.Orwell wrote Shooting an Elephant in about two weeks, and it contains some of his finest prose – economical, concrete, powerfully paced. In Burmese Days, A Clergyman’s Daughter, and Keep the Aspidistra Flying respectively, he had tried to fictionalize his disgust at British imperialism, the English class system, and the ruthless capitalism that dominated British culture, but he had not completely satisfied either his readers or, more significantly, himself.
Now, however, in only seven pages, Orwell crystallized his views on the three-headed socioeconomic juggernaut of imperialism, class, and capitalism that he believed was inexorably crushing both its victims and their “Masters.”As with all tragedies, the story line of Shooting an Elephant is brutally simple. A working Burmese elephant in must, a periodic hormonal frenzy, had broken its chains and in the absence of its mahout (handler) damaged considerable native property in Moulmein, Lower Burma, where Orwell was stationed as the town’s sub-divisional police officer. The natives demanded that Orwell, who embodied hated British authority, track down the elephant. Then the beast killed a coolie, unconsciously sealing its own fate because then Orwell had to kill it. It also scaled the fate of Orwell’s career as an Imperial policeman. After a decade of reflection, killing the elephant became his indelible metaphor for the swiftly approaching demise of the British Empire.By the time he wrote Shooting an Elephant, Orwell’s literary style had matured considerably. Using the old Aristotelian deductive movement from an abstract general statement to specific details that powerfully impact all the senses, he conveyed the full horror of the dual murder his position forced him to commit – the destruction of both the innocent animal and his own self-respect – with clear, approachable syntax and diction and stark, powerful images.Both Orwell and the elephant fell victim to interrelated forces they could not control -imperialism, the British class system, and the capitalism that under girded European society. At the mercy of his physical condition, the elephant involuntarily set off the events which brought him down, just as Orwell, born into the “upper-lower-middle class,” and bending to his father’s choice of his career, sentenced himself to a form of suicide doing what he called the Empire’s dirty work in Burma.Orwell spent his life in foreseeing transformations and in stamping upon embryos. His strength went that way. 1980 crowned his work, and it is understandably a crown of thorns. While he stamped he looked around him, and tried to ameliorate a world which is bound to be unhappy. A true liberal, he hoped to help through small things. Look to the rose or the toad or, if you think them more significant, look to art or literature. There, in the useless, lies our scrap of salvation.If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a Labor-saving Utopia? . . By retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable. By preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and hero worship (Orwell 35).The above is a quotation from Shooting an Elephant, this posthumous volume of essays. Here is another quotation from it:If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, &c., &c…. each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators (Orwell 49).British imperialism, bad as he found it in Burma, is better than the newer imperialisms that are ousting it. All nations are odious, but some are less odious than others, and by this stony, unlovely path he reaches patriotism. To some of us, this seems the cleanest way to reach it. We believe in the roses and the toads and the arts, and know that salvation, or a scrap of it, is to be found only in them. In the world of politics we see no salvation, we are not to be diddled; but we prefer the less bad to the more bad, and so become patriots, while keeping our brains and hearts intact.If political purpose was the force behind Orwell’s best writing, two important critical consequences follow. First, if we read Orwell’s work in the spirit in which it was intended, his achievement depends on the power of his writing to persuade audiences of the worth of his political ideals. Long after his immediate political ends have been achieved or outmoded, his writing must still make audiences feel their importance at some level. Even his style, admirable for its own sake, is designed to help gain the audience’s agreement and results from his sense of that purpose. Second and most important for the purposes of this essay, an understanding of Orwell’s success as a writer must be based on an account of the rhetoric of his political persuasion. On what is it based? How is it constructed?In proposing an answer to these questions, this essay focuses on Orwell’s creation of an effective and enduring ethos in his writing. It argues that the character he created is different in important ways from the classical conception of an effective ethos for the rhetor and further that the creation of this character was not a natural outcome of Orwell’s “real” personality but the result of expert rhetorical and literary craftsmanship. In fact, the most important conclusion this essay urges is that Orwell’s “rhetoric of personality” is the artistic achievement most responsible for both Orwell’s immediate success as a rhetor and his continuing popularity. In making these arguments, the essay aims at a clearer understanding not only of Orwell’s political rhetoric but also of an important aspect of the rhetoric of nonfiction.This view can best be presented by returning to the question of the basis of Orwell’s rhetoric. How did he go about persuading his audiences? To a great extent, he did it by seeming to be persuading himself first and foremost. Once again Orwell words in “Why I Write” are illuminating. “I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood…. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us” (Meyers 59).Orwell’s inroads into the working class and the world of the tramps were attempts to be useful to society (not to the Establishment) and to do something about the conditions he so much disliked. They should also be viewed as his way of protesting against the alienation that was being thrust upon the intellectual. The tramp, for him, is a symbol of the contemporary intellectual who needs be free of both commitment and alienation as both destroy his integrity.The question of the intellectual’s freedom and his role in society was one that occupied his attention in the work. Obliquely critical of Miller’s passivity, he elaborated upon the need for intellectual freedom in Shooting an Elephant, and a number of other essays and book reviews. It was this concern that formed the basis of his views on education which were directly opposed to the theorists of elitist concepts, as well as on machine civilization. Orwell was deeply concerned with language and its relationship to human thought – both important to the writers – and this led to his questionings about the nature of the human mind. An essay written shortly before his death and published posthumously, explains a great deal in Orwell’s attitude as does the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In both the individual is treated as a microcosmic representative of society; and there is a tacit admission of the need to continue the process of questioning the nature of reality.The significance of Shooting an Elephant does not lie in its autobiographical element; it lies in its expression of Orwell’s opinions about the relationship of the individual to the outer reality. Orwell recounts how one experiences alienation in a strange place, which in its turn may lead to a sense of insecurity and also a loss of control over one’s physical functions, and how external threat may superimpose control over the body through generating a greater sense of terror. He goes on to elaborate how guilt can originate simply from having deviated from the norm. And more important than any realization of guilt is the act of public confession, which in some way links the outer and inner world, rendering the individual vulnerable and exposed. Looking at the superimposition of an external value structure from the individual’s point of view, Orwell records how the personal questioning of this process continues and there is a recognition of the existence of these two worlds in opposition to each other, a condition more suitably described as schizothymia than as schizophrenia:And yet all the while, at the middle of one’s heart there seemed to stand an incorruptible inner self who knew that whatever one did – whether one laughed or sniveled or went into frenzies of gratitude for small favors – one’s only true feeling was hatred (Meyers 98).No one can embrace Orwell’s works who hopes for ease. Just as one is nestling against them, they prickle. They encourage no slovenly trust in a future where all will come right, though we shall not be there to see. They do not even provide a mystic vision. What Orwell does provide, what does commend him to some temperaments, is his belief in little immediate things and in kindness, good-temper and accuracy. He also believes in ‘the people’, who, with their beefy arms akimbo and their cabbage-stalk soup, may survive when higher growths are cut down. He does not explain how ‘the people’ are to make good, and perhaps he is here confusing belief with compassion. We all of us have the right to shirk unpleasantness, and we must sometimes exercise it. It may be our only defense against the right to nag. And that Orwell was a bit of a nagger cannot be denied. He found much to discomfort him in his world and desired to transmit it, and in 1950 he extended discomfort into agony. All the same, I will make one prophecy myself. George Orwell will be read for a long time to come, but for a reason which might not have much pleased him—namely, that he is such splendid entertainment. His themes are usually distressing, but somehow his valiant treatment of them sends our spirits up.