In Shooting an Elephant, Orwell recounts his experiences in Burma, and how he as a police officer was pressured by the masses into doing something he otherwise would not have done, i.e. shooting the elephant.
In Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell recounts his experience as a police officer in then British controlled Burma, and the occasion upon which an elephant had gone berserk in a market. While the elephant itself was worth more than the property damage it had caused, there had been one fatality in the incident, and due to this, Orwell had sent for a rifle for his personal protection. However, the populace had spotted the rifle, and jumped to the conclusion that the elephant was to be shot, which was not initially the case. But in this misjudgment of his intents, Orwell felt that he would disappoint the large crowd that had gathered behind him, and make a laughingstock of himself if he did not follow through with the expectations of the crowd, and so shot the elephant, which had already in most probability returned to its natural, calm state.
Orwell remarked that his experience in the east was “one long struggle not to be laughed at”, and in his mind narrowed his choices down to two. The first decision, which he noted as being what he “ought to do”, would have been to test the behavior of the elephant, and determine if it was tame once more or not. However, in doing so, he would risk being trampled and possibly killed by the elephant, the effect of which meaning that “it was quite probable that some of them would laugh.” The second option would be to shoot the elephant from the start, which despite offending his notions of morality, would not risk face, and that is what he did.
Orwell felt that in representing the British Empire, and its imperialism, his character would then be taken as the character of the nation itself by the people around him, the native Burmese. In doing so, he would then feel obligated to protect the pride of his nation, and perhaps believe it would be the duty of all imperialistic presences to do so as well; to conform to the expectations and stereotypes of the natives. But if he had taken the first path, and defied the will of the mob, that action would instead have reflected positively on the nature of his honour; in that the “white man” could legitimize his presence by doing the right thing. In taking, in his mind, the easier way out, he would only fuel the anti-European sentiment in acting wrongfully in according with the mob’s expectations, and perhaps in this way make the Burmese feel as they have done the right thing when they harass the Europeans who inhabit their country also.
Orwell said he was against the notion of imperialism, and disliked his work as an officer of the British Empire. However, in his saying that the Empire was compelled to take its actions in the way it did in order to fulfill the stereotypes and expectations of the oppressed, he would make himself to be no better than the government that he served, and hated. While unwillingly, he acted under the very same motives, and under Deontological ethics, would have the same implications. But his experience does go to show once facet of tyranny, in that it takes away the humanity of the individual, and makes the individual simply one among many.