Power Essay

This essay has a total of 1018 words and 4 pages.


Power. What encompasses power? Is a malicious Tyrant considered powerful if he has the
capacity to oppress a population; or is power merely a term used to describe the physical
strength of an individual? Regardless, the process through which power is earned requires
confidence to retain morality and strength to forfeit freedom. Authority on the other
hand, requires a title (that is bestowed) to provide some sort of recognition, but the
possession of authority does not indicate that one has power. In George Orwell's "Shooting
an Elephant", the discrepancy between power and authority is illustrated through the main
character. The British officer is a prominent authoritative figure but due to his lack of
confidence, he is unable to retain his morality and is ultimately rendered powerless. The
setting of this story is thematic in a sense that it is used to enhance the officer's
state of powerlessness. The author effectively coveys the motif of the story through the
distinct use of symbolism, where the symbols represent the opposite of their traditional
themes. The interaction of the main character with the central issue is the most effective
in portraying his feeble and powerless disposition. Therefore, it is evident that setting,
symbolic presentation and character design are used to illustrate the officer's lack of
power in a position of authority.

The setting of the story provides insight on the officer's state of mind, and helps to
establish the position from which the action is perceived. The fact that this story is set
in Burma at a time of British rule emphasizes the condition of authority and supremacy the
colonists would have over the Burmese. The officer is a colonist within that colony and is
therefore bestowed with an influential position of authority. As a part of the white
police force, the officer has a strict obligation to his country and the British Empire
situated in Burma; however, he rejects the political injustices of imperial life and
despises the "real motives for which despotic governments act." (p 144). Despite his
involvement with the British Raj, the officer is powerless as he lacks the confidence and
the ability to exercise control. "Theoretically - and secretly, of course - I was all for
the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British." (p 144) It is through his
animosity towards the British that he tries to gain acceptance by the natives. The latter
unfortunately mock his attempts, and ridicule his feeble authoritative position. The fact
that the officer is affiliated with the opposing minority is reason enough for the Burmese
to despise him, "The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in
the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at." (p 147). Racial segregation
contributes to his lack of power as he is constantly surrounded by a "sea of yellow faces"
(p 146). The officer is primarily concerned about his reputation among the natives, and is
therefore reluctant to exert power by maintaining his morality. Furthermore, the Burmese
population considerably exceeds that of the British so he is especially cautious not to
jeopardize his reputation among the majority. He realizes that if the people fail to
acknowledge him, societal rejection will perpetuate his isolation. The officer is already
detached from family and friends in a foreign land thousands of miles away from Britain,
"I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every
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