Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays by George Orwell: A review

Although a writer, Orwell was primarily a journalist. As a result, the sheer necessity to extricate himself from the depiction of something he his witnessing first-hand is quite evident along his works.

What differentiates him from his other novelist-journalists of his epoch such as Steinbeck or Hemmingway is the ability to drop a considerable amount of humanity into his accounts. The essay “A Hanging” – in which Orwell describes how it was to witness a public execution of a prisoner in India – is a perfect example of this. In it, he not only expresses his contempt for the man who is about to die, but he also acknowledges the wrongness of the situation. In “How the Poor Die”, he recounts his memories of his unpleasant stay at Hôpital X in Paris. Once again, he shows affection towards the unfortunate people who died alone and helpless in the corridors of the establishment.

Other than his empathy, Orwell holds a pragmatic view regarding writing, language and communication. “The prevention of Literature” and “Politics and the English Language” are the most conspicuous examples. In these two essays, he argues about the pretentiousness of certain writers, who use ideas to convey words, and not the other way around. One can say that these points of view might have emerged during his years working as a journalist, yet the arguments he utilizes hold enough poignancy to persuade the reader. In essence, and from his perspective, the “ego” should not count when writing. He reveals he writes only when he has something to tell the audience, and not exclusively as means of self-recreation.

Defining someone as “ahead of his time” might be regarded as a cliché or commonplace. But when it comes to portraying George, this needs to be done. This book should be seen as essential. That is, if you the reader wants to explore the mind of a man who lived through most of the pivotal points in the first half of the XX century, although not always fully belonging


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