Colonialism as depicted in Literature

Comments upon the nature of colonialism as it comes across in the selected short stories:

The Dead Man in the Silver Market, Aubrey Menen

Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell


Aubrey Menen’s The Dead Man in the Silver Market and George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant clearly depicts the nature of British colonialism and reflects upon their colonial attitude towards the colony people. The two very common things in the colonies- the belief of racial superiority among the coloniser and the helplessness of the colonised- are clearly told in both the short stories.

The Dead Man in the Silver Market

The story revolves around an agitation by people regarding freedom movement in India defying a small group of English soldiers, running of an elderly poor man towards the soldiers and shooting down of him by one of the soldiers. The story, however, is not about one man’s death; it is about the attitude of one race over another.

The soldier who shot down the elderly man justified his act saying that it was out of a sense of responsibility. He said that he was merely enforcing law and order. When the author reasoned that the Indians thought they could maintain law and order by themselves, they can govern themselves, the soldier was quick to say that Indians would take a hundred years of training to learn to govern themselves. According to him, it was not just mere responsibility but a necessity as well that the English be in India. The soldier was of the belief that Englishmen or rather the White men were born with the capacity to rule and the non-Whites were born to be ruled.

However, this soldier who was preaching about enforcing law and order in India was uneducated and belonged to a slum in Liverpool. Ironically, he was a law-breaker in his own land, England but a law-enforcer in India, the colony. He saw no contradiction between his action or behaviour in Liverpool and his conduct in the colonial India. The reason was his in racial superiority which made the White ruffian better than the best non-White.

In the story, we see a clear neglect of the rights and liberties of the colony people. There was no hesitation when they shot down the old man. There was total disrespect of the lives of the people in the colony. This was evident when the dead body of the old man was removed in a street cleaning cart.

Shooting an Elephant

Though this story comes from an Englishman, it clearly depicts the conduct of the Britishers and the colonial attitude towards the natives.

The story begins with the author narrating how the native people hate the Britishers. The inhuman and brutal acts of the colonisers made the natives even more furious.

This piece by George Orwell centres around the attitude of racial superiority held by Britishers and how much they felt to defend this belief. In the story, the author himself had no intention to shoot down the elephant yet he was compelled to shoot the animal because the people expected of him to do so. He shot down the elephant not because he wanted to but because he didn’t want natives see him as less British, less White. He wanted to preserve the image of a master, his superiority in front of the natives.

The story also tells about the ignorance and neglect of the rights and liberties and life of the colony people. When the elephant was shot down, the owner was angry yet he could not do anything because he was a non-White, a colonised people, a native under British colony who had little rights to protest.

When the coolie was about to be shot down, there was little concern of the life of the coolie who was a native Indian. The Britishers thought that an elephant was worth more than any coringhee coolie and, therefore, it was a damn shame to shoot down an elephant for killing a mere coolie. On the other hand, the author was glad that the elephant’s killing of the coolie made his act legally right.

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