Letter from Burma 16 (more on Orwell)
June 15, 1935
This week we had the holiday for the Full Moon of Kason, which is the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, and celebrated by watering the Bodhi tree.
Thank you for the lovely picture of yourself. You do look very posh.
Our paper carried an article recently about an unexpected landing at our new Tavoy
airport. “Mr. K Ano, the Japanese airman who is on an England to Japan flight, financed by Malayan friends landed at Tavoy on May 31. Mr. Ano's machine however ran into a bush, resulting in damage to the propeller and wheels. Mr. Ano intended taking his machine to Rangoon for repairs and then to resume his flight.”
We had Hilde here today. Lovely to see her again. She went riding, and I managed to get a photograph of her on a horse. You remember her of course – with her sister Hedl – Austrians. Hilda is married to an Irish man called Rainer. Hedl married Donald Pitch.
I had a letter from my sister Dorothy, telling about an essay that was written about
Burma and her friend's comments on it. You've been here. Let's see what you think about it - and how true it is.
“Shooting an Elephant" is an essay by George Orwell, not yet published, but someone who knows him has had a copy of it.
“The essay describes the experience of the English narrator, probably Orwell himself, called upon to shoot an aggressive elephant while working as a police officer in Burma. Because the locals expect him to do the job, he does so against his better judgment, his anguish increased by the elephant's slow and painful death. The story is regarded as a
metaphor for British imperialism, and for Orwell's view that 'when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.'
“Orwell writes how he was trapped between his own resentment towards the Empire and the Burmese people's resentment towards him. As a member of the ruling power, he is cornered into doing what the 'natives' expect of him
“After receiving a call regarding a normally tame elephant's rampage, the narrator, armed with a .44 caliber Winchester rifle and riding on a pony, goes to the town where the elephant has been seen. Entering one of the poorest quarters, he receives conflicting reports and contemplates leaving, thinking the incident is a hoax. The narrator then sees a
village woman chasing away children who are looking at the corpse of an Indian whom the elephant has trampled and killed. He sends an orderly to bring an elephant rifle and, followed by a group of roughly a few thousand people, heads toward the paddy field where the elephant has rested in its tracks.
“Although he does not want to kill the elephant, the narrator feels pressured by the demand of the crowd for the act to be carried out. After inquiring as to the elephant's behaviour and delaying for some time, he shoots the elephant multiple times, but is unable to kill it. The narrator then leaves the beast, unable to be in its presence as it continues to
suffer. He later learns that it was stripped, nearly to the bone, within hours. His elderly colleagues agree that killing the elephant was the best thing to do, but the younger ones believe that it was worth more than the Indian it killed. The narrator then wonders if they'll ever understand that he did it to avoid looking a fool.
“He describes the natives as little beasts, and the elephant as a great beast, suggesting he holds it in higher esteem than the locals. This is somewhat paradoxical, however, as the narrator's own job is demeaning and forces him to see the dirty work of the Empire at close quarters. Despite this apparent dislike, the narrator betrays his roots, declaring that he is all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors.
“Having killed the elephant, the narrator considers how he was glad it killed the coolie
as that gave him full legal backing. The essay finishes with him wondering if they will even understand his motive for having killed the elephant as he merely wished to sustain his pride.
“George Stuart, a contemporary of Orwells in Burma, said that Orwell was transferred to Katha as punishment for shooting the elephant. An elephant was considered a valuable asset to any timber firm - and Orwell would have been severely reprimanded for such unnecessary slaughter.”
I would like to hear your views on the subject. We talk about Orwell's work a lot when we are at the club.
I've told Rosalind about how you, as her godmother, have offered to look out for her if
she is ever in London and gets lost or something.
How are your sons getting on now?