Monday, 16 April 2012

Shooting the Elephant (and other things we do for fear of the crowd).

During the ELA 11 lesson I observed today, the students read and annotated George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting the Elephant.” While I have read other essays of Orwell’s, this was my first encounter with this particular piece and I found it quite powerful--there is a lot of truth in his  reflections. In the essay Orwell makes use of a personal anecdote to explain what he feels is “the real motives for which despotic governments act”--his shooting of a Burmese elephant. While Orwell was reticent to kill the elephant, he ultimately shot the great creature “solely to avoid looking a fool.” For the crowd of Burmese were eagerly awaiting his action. Had he rescinded on his course of action, the crowd would have laughed at him and that, of course, “would never do.” Obviously in retrospect (as exhibited though this story), Orwell recognized how tragic it is to follow the demands of the crowd at the expense of one’s conscience. But it is something we all do and often. As I was reading this essay in a room full of Grade 11’s, I could not help but consider how much of my life is spent in that realm. Knowing what is right, and wanting to do it, but bowing to the pressure of those around me, of their expectations. I have to wonder what great and majestic creatures I have slain for the approval of those around me? Good thing I don't work for the government... yet.

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