George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” and Vegetarianism

My vegetarian beliefs are connected with how I felt reading George Orwell’s piece. I wrote the essay when I was starting to starve and felt anorexia taking away what I love–I wanted something to hold onto. I forgot to include in it that I respect people who eat meat. I was talking with my friend about how I am vegetarian and they mentioned that their mother needs to eat meat for medical reasons–I feel that if people eat it they need it. I don’t approve of the advertising which seems to promote loving meat in an excessive way–for example, Arby’s advertises a meat mountain. If you have time to read, I hope that you enjoy it!

–Stell

April 12, 2019

George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” and Vegetarianism

Normal people on Earth crave the meat of animals for sustenance; is it morally right for humans to consume them? George Orwell cleverly invents dystopias in which an authority has absolute control over every aspect of everyone’s life, to thoughtfully inspire a government which lets everyone live by their free will (“George,” p. 1140). His personal narrative essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” depicts the conflict between deciding one’s own actions and being dominated by the ill wills of others, revealing the oppression of having other people’s unfair expectations projected onto oneself. By shooting an elephant because of the hope of a crowd of excited natives, George Orwell was forced to act in a way which negated his self: he felt that he was unable to do what he felt was right, and true to who he is (p. 1146). Vegetarianism is a way of life in which a person does not eat meat, or anything produced from the slaughtering of an animal (“What”). As a vegetarian, I am concerned about killing animals and eating them because I would objectify them as food, while my imagination wishes to personify them as living beings, characterising them in my mind with personalities. I wish for them to have the right and dignity to live in freedom, and not to be made inferior to me, a human animal. I decided to become vegetarian because I consider that although animals may not have a voice to express their pain, they have a brain and can experience it. I felt that I have too often disregarded the abstract idea of consciousness behind the glimmer in an animal’s eyes: life is a fragile, beautiful thing, and I must always value it. Like what lessons I have internalised from my experience of being vegetarian, George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” expresses the consequence of thoughtless conformity, and immorality of the way in which life’s significance is diminished, and the purposeful killing of a creature.

“Shooting an Elephant” presents how a lack of originality results from a person’s failing to try to imagine what they wish for, and unquestioningly obeying society’s standards of how they are supposed to be. Too frightened to express his thoughts in case they are different from everyone else’s, George Orwell remained unheard. He writes that when a person ignores their wishes, to please an audience, “[h]e becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy…” As a policeman in India, “…it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives,’ and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him.” He was not thinking of his personal impressions and morals when he prepared to kill the elephant, but “the watchful…faces behind.” His situation of being expected to kill, and ignoring the emotional pain resulting from watching a beautiful creature die, corresponds to my memory of being a child who was innocent to the fact that the meat that I was eating was once part of an animal, and society assuming that I wished to eat it. Fast-food restaurants in America rarely advertise that they have choices of food for vegetarians; places such as ‘Arby’s’ make it seem that eating meat is the only option. What is considered to be good by one culture can cause a person who deviates from the belief to appear to be immoral, which discourages them from attempting to think differently; they are afraid that if they do what they believe is right, that its unfamiliarity will cause people to react with hostility. In an effort to be obedient and alike, a person ignores the wisdom of their inner voice, and what they fantasise that happiness is. The joy of being who they are is oppressed and their understanding of themself is dimmed when they cannot imagine what they truly care about as an individual, living for the sake of their heart and spirit as they were meant to. Similarly to the revelation of my wish to not eat the flesh of animals, as he watched the elephant, holding his rifle, George Orwell realised, “…I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to…” At once, it seemed that the natives would have him “…pursued, caught, trampled on, and reduced to a grinning corpse…” (p. 1146). With thoughtfulness, I have discovered that the way in which animals (or anyone whose individuality is unacknowledged) are treated can be equated with how the Nazis treated their Holocaust victims: their spirit is stripped of their rights, body, and life by an insensitively demanding crowd. George Orwell expresses with melancholy, “Burmans were bringing dahs and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped [the elephant’s] body almost to the bones by the afternoon” (p. 1147). Harming animals so that they can be made into food is common and accepted in my culture, and the banality of evil resists all thoughts of change. 

I perceive it to be wrong to lead a person to believe that their thoughts and feelings do not matter and they are not free to do as they will. George Orwell contemplated just before he assaulted the elephant that he was most terrified of appearing in front of many people as silly: “…I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone.” George Orwell recounts the way in which he tried to aim to shoot a bullet through the brain of the elephant because he felt forced to act; what other people thought of him was more important to him than his morals and the life of the elephant. His view of the innocent elephant calmly eating grass, and ideas of remorse from murdering them were insignificant to the want of the thousands of people staring at him. Because George Orwell did not know the anatomy of an elephant, they took an agonizing half hour to die. He struggled to seem respectable and superior to the natives, until he understood that when a person becomes a “…tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys.” The natives and George Orwell measured the elephant’s value in how much money that they were worth alive, how much that their tusks cost, and how much food that they could provide (“Shooting,” pgs. 1146-1147). Some of my world-views are that no one’s worth can be quantified; humans lose their humanity when they arrogantly want to make authority over the world actual; and, an unwillingness to expand their imagination to bring their awareness beyond their own understanding restricts the advancement of their intellectuality. I would never purposefully kill a fellow creature for the sake of desire, and the belief that they were created for me to exploit. Gary Steiner, a professor of philosophy, proposes a way in which humans may reason to validate animals’ inferiority to them and deny the reality of their consciousness in the article, “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable:” 

Some suggest that human beings but not animals are made in God’s image and hence stand in much closer proximity to the divine than any non-human animal; according to this line of thought, animals were made expressly for the sake of humans and may be used without scruple to satisfy their needs and desires. There is ample support in the Bible and in the writings of Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for this pointedly anthropocentric way of devaluing animals.

If I were to regard myself as the most important part of the universe, and try to exercise control over creatures who I consider to be lesser than me, I would ironically demonstrate that my wisdom of life is inferior to theirs, because I would not understand animals as independent, sentient beings, but my mindless possessions—my slaves. As a human, I ought to use my humanity to develop humility, and imagine why all animals need to be cherished.

Deliberately killing another creature is unacceptable according to my vegetarian philosophy and what George Orwell discovered about his motivation to execute the elephant. As George Orwell waited for the elephant to die, “The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock;” he soon could no longer tolerate witnessing them die and went away (“Shooting,” p. 1147). One may observe that animals can suffer as much as humans, having a nervous system which causes them to move, think, and feel. An ethical question which vegetarians think deeply about is, “Should the trivial human interest in eating meat be satisfied at the expense of the animal interest in staying alive?” (“Animal”). Gary Steiner illustrates another argument which presents that humans suffer more than other animals in the article, “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable:” 

[Some] argue that the human capacity for abstract thought makes us capable of suffering that both qualitatively and quantitatively exceeds the suffering of any non-human animal. Philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who is famous for having based moral status not on linguistic or rational capacities but rather on the capacity to suffer, argue that because animals are incapable of abstract thought, they are imprisoned in an eternal present, have no sense of the extended future and hence cannot be said to have an interest in continued existence.

George Orwell may have mentally suffered from the elephant’s death more than they did. Why the elephant lived on in George Orwell’s mind and reached his heart is because he watched them die slowly, in great pain. The sharp details of how they passed away emotionally affected him for the rest of his life; he wrote, “You could see the agony…” (“Shooting,” p. 1147). Vegetarians believe that all animals are capable of cognitive processes because they can perceive their environment. Every creature, great and small, “…possesses the same dignity that any conscious being possesses” (Steiner). Vegetarians wish for the Earth to be a place in which animals can be free to exist for their own sake.

My set of vegetarian beliefs may be perceived in the way that many people use and dehumanise someone, the malignance of treating life as meaningless, and the wrongness of murder, as described in George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant.” Valuing the audience’s desires more than one’s personal beliefs makes them unaware of who they are, think lethargically, and doubt their freedom to choose. The natives did not wish to know George Orwell’s impressions and emotions, causing him to feel that they were unimportant. “Shooting an Elephant” holds the message that minimising and dismissing the importance of other people’s internal worlds of dreams is uncharitable, and damaging of the fragile beauty of life. I believe that wanting everything one’s own way is unethical, because it causes other people to disbelieve in the power of their mind; George Orwell noticed that authority was being exercised over him by the natives, causing him to feel that he could not control his own actions, or protect the elephant. Animals can feel as hurt as humans, and they wish to continue living for their hearts and spirits. Humans can treasure their knowledge of the world and their imagination, by acting with humanity, giving creatures their unconditional love, keeping them safe, and appreciating the preciousness of their characters. As George Orwell was mentally troubled by observing the elephant die in great pain, and could not stand to watch them, I cannot tolerate killing animals, and am disturbed knowing that I have caused another creature suffering.

Works Cited

“Animal Ethics: Eating Animals.” BBC, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/animals/using/eating_1.shtml. Accessed 19 Apr. 2019.

George Orwell, Elements of Literature: Essentials of British and World Literature, Sixth Course. Ed. Kylene Beers. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2009. pg. 1140. Print.

Shooting an Elephant. George Orwell. Elements of Literature: Essentials of British and World Literature, Sixth Course. Ed. Kylene Beers. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2009. p. 1142. Print.

Steiner, Gary. “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/opinion/22steiner.html. Accessed 13 Apr. 2019.

“What Is a Vegetarian?” Vegetarian Society, The Vegetarian Society, http://www.vegsoc.org/info-hub/definition/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

2 Comments

  1. (In David Attenborough Voice):
    I really enjoyed reading what you wrote! It’s interesting, especially because of how you percieved the story. I could go back and read the original story, and then form my own understanding of it. The comparison would be fun. Stay fresh.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s