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“Anyone who wants to understand the twentieth century will still have to read Orwell” – said Timothy Garton Ash, the famous British author of several books and the professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford. And he was almost right, because even now, in the XXI century, Orwell’s essays are still extremely relevant and popular. “Shooting an Elephant” is a masterpiece written in 1936. It shows the story about the Imperial Policeman, living in British-controlled Burma, and his relations with the local tribes. However, by showing some fictional scenes, the writer wants us to understand universal and global problems facing mankind.
First of all, there is a problem of the authority being dominated by the crowd. When the police officer shot the innocent animal, he “heard the devilish roar of the crowd”. He was afraid of them and trapped by their expectations. He knew he should not have done it, yet he realizes that he “had done it solely to avoid looking a fool”.
In the essay there is also a problem of authority as the governing body, which ironically feels endangered by the people whom it is supposed to govern and protect. The policeman felt not only responsible for the tribal peoples’ safety, but he also knew that it is he who must be the guardian and protector. Even though the bloodthirsty village people treat him like an enemy and demand the death of the animal. If not, they would feel satisfied as well if the elephant killed the police officer. In today’s world actions of hatred and domination of the crowd happen on a regular basis and everywhere, for instance just before the Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw in 1989, when “Solidarność” the organization fighting for the society’s rights dominated the communist authority by outnumbering and threatening it.
Another issue touched on in the essay is the one of imperialism and oppressing one nation by another one. These two matters can be easily seen during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The essay says: “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd”. The same situation occurs in the Middle East, where we can easily notice numerous conflicts between village people and the American-Polish-British army.
Even though the essay was written seventy years ago, in today’s world we have clear examples, which prove that it is even more relevant now than it used to be in the past. In today’s world there are so many political conflicts and so much violence and terrorism that people very often feel endangered, oppressed and threatened. The essay discusses universal topics such as domination in society, authority and oppression and I believe that it will be relevant for many more decades.