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Comparative Textual Analysis of “Shooting An Elephant” by George Orwell and “The Damned Human Race” by Mark Twain


IB English

George Orwell in ‘’Shooting an Elephant’’ and Mark Twain in ‘’The Damned Human Race’’ both explore the cruelty of human nature. Twain conveys his opinions through a scientific tone, which he calls “scientific method”, while Orwell narrates a memoir of his own.

Twain begins his essay by mentioning the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals and with an unhesitant and unambigous tone he suggests that the Darwinian theory must be modified into a “new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals”. He presents his hypothesis, ‘Men descended from the Higher Animals, thus man is the lowest animal alive’, and supports it with the actions of human-beings through history, “Prince Napoleon… in the Zulu war”, and hypothetical experiments, “In another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary and… I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen”. Twain presumably acts as an objective scientist through use of “scientific method”. Nevertheless through his specific examples of the evil nature of human-beings, he makes lots of generalizations such as “Man is incurably foolish”, trying to impose his own tenets on the reader,this suggests that in fact Twain is strongly biased and considers only the evil side of human nature, dismissing the civilized and peaceable actions of humans.

Orwell conveys his memoir in a very candid way, revealing his confusion between his opposition to imperialism and his hate for Burmese people who hated him when he was a police officer in Lower Burma, “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible”. In fact, he’s stuck between his British identity and his allegiance to anti-imperialism. He then begins the story that gave him a better glimpse of “the real nature of imperialism”; the story of how he shot an innocent elephant ,”The elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow”, because of the pressure brought by the public. The elephant is a metaphor for people who live in colonized countries, who are the victims of imperialism. He, as the one who victimizes the elephant, is “ the puppet” of imperialist powers which are, in this case, the crowd that force him to do so, “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd- seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind”. Orwell effectively uses imagery to make an impact on the reader, “At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping”. The frankness of the way he narrates the story exposes the evil nature and the ugly truths of imperialism.
Imperialism, one of the evil actions of humans, portrayed in Orwell’s memoir supports Twain’s thesis of men being mean and evil. However, Orwell explores the motives that cause such actions which Twain never mentions. Orwell frankly tells that the motives for shooting the elephant were the pressure brought by the crowd, “the will of those yellow faces behind”, and his avoidance of humiliation, “The crowd would laugh at me”. Orwell connects those immoral actions with the subversion caused by public whereas Twain considers them as intrinsic characteristics of human kind, “He (man) is constitutionally afflicted with a Defect which must make such approach (to the level of Higher Animals) forever impossible, for it is manifest that this defect is permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable”. Twain and Orwell both agree that whatever humans do, they do it consciously. Twain suggests that unlike ‘’Higher animals’’ man acts consciously, ‘’Man in his descent from the cat, has brought the cat’s looseness with him but has left the unconsciousness behind’’. Orwell, in his memoir, confirms Twain’s thesis by declaring that he ‘’knew with perfect certainty that he/I ought not to shoot the elephant’’.

Both Twain and Orwell illustrate different ways of violence caused by humans in their essays, expressing them through candid words. Orwell mentions the violence perpetrated by imperialist powers, “The wretched prisoners… the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos”, and violence against children, “an old woman with a switch in her hand… violently shooing away a crowd of naked children”, but he mainly focuses on the unfair violence on the elephant which is again a symbol of imperialist actions. Twain depicts the same picture through harsh, yet realistic words, “force, bloodshed, wars”, and gives the example of an historical event, “a Buffalo hunt for the entertainment of an English earl”, to show the violence perpetrated on “Higher animals” by humans as “Lower animals”.

Twain juxtaposes human kind and other animals in a cynical and sarcastic tone, “The cat is innocent, man is not”. He uses irony while stating his arguments, “He (man) blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot; whereas by his own standarts he is the bottom one”, to accentuate the contrast between humans and animals. His cynical point of view when arguing that humans are the lowest animals reveals his misanthropic personality and his shame for being a part of this mass of evil creatures. Twain also uses syntax effectively, he uses capital letters to highlight the immoral characteristics of human kind, “Patriot, Slave”.

In “Shooting an Elephant” and “The Damned Human Race”, whilst George Orwell and Mark Twain both expose the barbarous and evil actions of human-beings, they differ in explaining the causes behind them. An intense and candid diction is prevalent in both essays, providing the reader a realistic view of the issues discussed.
Self-criticism 🙂 : This was my first textual analysis in the IB English class in my junior year; so it may not be a perfect IB English essay, considering the untidiness of the quotes and the vague introduction and conclusion paragraphs.

Sevde Kaldıroğlu

Nov 4, 2011

Yeri: English
3 Yorum

“Comparative Textual Analysis of “Shooting An Elephant” by George Orwell and “The Damned Human Race” by Mark Twain”

  1. Mayıs 14th, 2012 - 20:44 Babacık Diyor ki:

    M. Twain amca hakikatten briaz hastalıklı bir suçluluk duygusuna sahipmiş, yazından bu anlaşılıyor. Eline sağlık, güzel, zevkle okudum.

  2. Mayıs 15th, 2012 - 18:11 Sevde Diyor ki:

    Evet, öyle gerçekten ama haklı yönleri de yok değil. Teşekkürler!

  3. Nisan 11th, 2015 - 11:24 Kaycee Diyor ki:

    If inmfroation were soccer, this would be a goooooal!