Pride and Power in George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and "A Hanging"
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Every writer has that one special quirk that keeps readers coming back for more. Whether it is the humor or the characters, most authors carry their quirks from story to story. In “Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell describes his experience of shooting an elephant. In “A Hanging,” he describes the emotions that run through him as he watches the hanging of a prisoner. Both essays have similar key ideas that identify Orwell as a writer. The results of pride and power contribute to the themes that connect his essays and identify Orwell as a descriptive writer.
One of Orwell’s distinctive characteristics is his emphasis of his emotional response to life and death in every situation. Orwell engages readers in his pieces because they feel…show more content…
Orwell is a very descriptive writer who emphasizes a different moral in every essay. He is not simply describing an elephant shooting or a hanging; he is trying to make readers listen to his messages. One of the messages that Orwell wants his readers to understand is the power that role playing has on the human mind. Orwell demonstrates this theme quite easily in both essays. Before killing the elephant, Orwell states, “I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib…”(Orwell: Shooting an Elephant). This statement illustrates how people with power must live up to their expectations to keep that power. He knows he has the power to kill the animal, so he makes himself fit the role of a killer. Power can affect the way people act. A modern day example of this is shown when gang members act on thoughts of the group to gain acceptance by other members. The acceptance gives them power and this is a universal idea that Orwell focuses on. Orwell also stresses power to describe human nature. Orwell likes to use this in both essays because it explains the inconsistency that humans have when power takes over. This is one of Orwell’s morals he stresses to his audience to make them realize the poor decisions people make when in power.
Orwell’s writings are most identifiable by the idea that a sense of pride in one’s actions and thoughts
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell's third novel published in 1936, is a savagely satirical portrait of the literary life. Orwell chronicles the struggles of Gordon Comstock, who gives up a successful job in an advertising - "the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket" - to become an unsuccessful poet, taking refuge by day in a failing bookshop as he descends into genteel poverty.
Having vowed to "make it his especial purpose not to 'succeed'" Comstock rails against how "The Money God" dominates all aspects of life. "Don't you see that a man's whole personality is bound up with his income? His personality is his income. How can you be attractive to a girl when you've got no money?", he asks his somewhat disaffected girlfriend Rosemary. The aspidistra of the book's title comes from the pot plants to be found on every window sill which, for Comstock, symbolise all that is wrong with the "mingy, lower-class decency" he is desperate to escape.
D.J. Taylor, in his recently published biography, writes that "of all the fiction that Orwell produced in the 1930s, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is the one most closely associated with him as a writer". Orwell was himself a struggling writer working part-time in a Hampstead bookshop. His journeys around England and beyond - chronicled in Down and Out in London and Paris - do often resemble Comstock's circumstances and attitude. But the facts of Orwell's own life were rather different - considerably more sociable and quickly becoming more successful - to Comstock's.
The novel is perhaps a better guide to Orwell's intellectual development than it is autobiographical. It is the novel in which Orwell is most directly influenced by one of his heroes George Gissing, the late Victorian novelist whose New Grub Street remains the seminal description of literary failure. In his later essay on Gissing, Orwell describes the quintessential flavour of Gissing's world - "the grime, the stupidity, the ugliness, the sex-starvation, the furtive debauchery, the vulgarity, the bad manners, the censoriousness" - which sums up the world Orwell sought to capture and to criticise in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
Comstock can also be seen as something of a predecessor of the Angry Young Men of the 1950s - though Comstock was, if anything, angrier still. Christopher Hitchens' recent book Orwell's Victory offers an illuminating comparison of of the many parallels between Orwell's novel and Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, which did much to define postwar British fiction, although the two books are markedly different in tone and it is Orwell's comic essay 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer' which resembles the comic spirit of the Amis novel.
The publication of Keep the Aspidistra Flying was not a particularly happy one for Orwell. He had numerous run-ins with his publishers, who insisted on changes to the book late in the process because of the fear that many of the real advertising slogans which it contained were too risky to print. Orwell therefore had to produce new, fictitious slogans which would take up exactly the same amount of space because of the inflexibility of lead typesetting - and complained that the book had been "ruined". Peter Davison's Complete Orwell in 1998 finally reversed these changes which meant, for example, restoring the genuine 'New Hope for the Ruptured' instead of Orwell's substitution 'The Truth about Bad Legs'.
The book received mixed reviews. Cyril Connolly complained that the book's obsession with money prevented it being considered a work of art. The Daily Mail praised the novel's vigour but was unconvinced by its demolition of middle England: "among the aspidistra, Mr Orwell seems to lose the plot". The misfortunes did not end there. Many of the first print run of 3,000 were lost in a bombing raid in the early years of world war two.
Whether Orwell would have been impressed with the film adaptation, released in 1999, is another moot point. Much of the grimness of the novel has been replaced by a warm period gloss. Richard E Grant's Comstock is a considerably more comical figure - particularly well-suited to the disastrous Soho binge when some money does come in - while Helena Bonham-Carter's Rosemary has become considerably more sexually confident. This is definitely a case where anybody employing the ruse of relying on the film to take part in our book group discussion may be found out rather quickly.
Orwell refused to allow either Keep the Aspidistra Flying or his first novel, the considerably weaker A Clergyman's Daughter, to be reprinted in his lifetime. His dislike of his early novels arose from his incredibly strong sense that he would always be a literary failure, which enabled him to empathise so strongly with his creations like Comstock.
Orwell's six novels make just a small part of his nearly two million published words. Many critics, including biographer Bernard Crick, see Orwell's claim to literary greatness resting much more upon his talents as an essayist - on everything from Politics and the English Language to the perfect cup of tea - than on his novels. Yet while Orwell's first four novels are not nearly so completely realised as their more famous successors Animal Farm and 1984, they offer many important insights into the development of the most important English novelist of ideas of the last century.