• Colonialism refers to the rule of one nation over a group of people
in a geographically distant land—usually to maintain control of
that land’s resources.
• Between the 1600s and the 1800s, Great Britain took control of
millions of people, their land, and their resources through
• British citizens often went to live in the colonies and to govern
over the people there.
• British were outsiders and in the minority in the colonies.
• The colonial subjects were resentful of the British.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• Orwell was a British journalist and author, who wrote two of the
most famous novels of the 20th century 'Animal Farm' and
'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.
• Joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, then a British colony.
He resigned in 1927 and decided to become a writer.
• He disliked imperialism.
• This essay is set in the British colony of Burma
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• How did the Burmese felt about Orwell’s presence in their
• How do you think Orwell might have felt?
• Orwell’s stated purpose for writing this essay is “to reveal his own
personal dilemma and to reveal the cultural dilemma presented by
colonialism itself.”
• The narrator, an officer of the British imperial police in Burma,
considers himself an enemy of imperialism, but his role as a
representative of the British crown invites the hatred of the
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
◦ Orwell’s essay reveals the ambivalence (confusion) a person may
feel in a position of power.
◦ Orwell feels he must maintain “face” in front of the crowd of
Burmese who have followed him.
◦ Orwell’s sympathy for the Burmese
◦ As soon as the narrator receives the telephone report of the rogue
elephant, it becomes inevitable that he will have to kill the animal;
◦ Merely going out to see what is happening insures this, as does the
discovery of the trampled Burmese man, and the narrator’s
sending for the elephant gun and cartridges.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
The increasingly agitated crowd also directly influences the narrator’s
The increasing size and unity of the crowd also functions as part of the
The mob itself becoming something ever more enormous and
dangerous, like a rogue elephant.
The narrator averts danger only through offering it what it wants,
namely the death of the elephant.
On one hand young Orwell sympathizes with the Burmese people, on
the other hand Orwell, the police officer, is committed to continuing
and even defending that oppression.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• As a British police the narrator frequently endures jeers from the
• They do not realize that he, too, opposes English occupation of Burma.
• In his position, he sees the misery that imperialism produces.
• “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups,
the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of
the men who had been flogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me
with an intolerable sense of guilt,” he says.
• "the evil spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible."
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• One morning an elephant is loose in a bazaar in a poor section of
• Burmese sub-inspector phones him to come and remedy the
• The elephant, normally tame, is in must, a state of frenzy brought
on by sexual heat.
• After it had broken its chain and run away, its mahout pursued it in
the wrong direction and was now many miles away.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• So far the elephant had demolished a hut, overturned a garbage
van, killed a cow, and eaten produce in the fruit stalls of the
• Because the Burmese have no weapons of their own, the elephant
is free to run wild.
• The gun is not powerful enough to kill an elephant, but the noise it
makes can frighten an animal.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• Onlookers report that the elephant captured a man with its trunk
and then ground him down with its foot.
• A friend of the narrator owns an elephant gun, and the narrator
sends a police orderly to fetch it.
• The narrator heads down a hill toward paddy fields where the
elephant was last seen.
• Throngs of people follow him to witness the shooting of an
elephant and to reap the harvest of meat afterward.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• The elephant seems peaceful, as if his must frenzy has subsided
and he has returned to normalcy.
• To kill the elephant would be a terrible shame.
• After all, he is a working elephant, just as valuable as an expensive
• If he has indeed become docile again, his mahout will have no
trouble controlling him.
• The narrator decides to observe the elephant for a while.
• The narrator looks at the spectators, now numbering about two
thousand, he realizes that they expect him to shoot the elephant.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
“And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first
grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.
Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native
crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an
absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I
perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own
freedom that he destroys . . . I had got to shoot the elephant . . . To come all that
way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to
trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. 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.”
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• He fires several shots. The elephant continues to breathe.
• Unable to stand there and watch it suffer, the narrator leaves.
• He finds out later that the beast lasted another half-hour and that
the Burmans “had stripped his body almost to the bones by the
• Afterward, the Burmans and the Europeans were divided on what
should have been done.
• The owner is angry. As an Indian, he is powerless to take action.
• The narrator has the law on his side. An elephant has to be killed if
its owner fails to control it.
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• The older Europeans defend the narrator.
• The younger ones say it is wrong to shoot an elephant for killing a
coolie, for the it is worth much more than the victim.
• The narrator says, "And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie
had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a
sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered
whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to
avoid looking a fool."
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• Conflicts:
• one with the British Empire because of its unjust occupation of
• one with the Burmese because of their mockery of him as a
representative of the British Empire,
• one with himself in his struggle with his conscience and self-image.
• All three conflicts complicate his ability to make objective, clearheaded decisions.
• He blames British tyranny and Burmese reaction to it for his
George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
• Themes:
• The Evil of Imperialism
• Loss of Freedom in a Colonized Land. When imperialists colonize a
country, they restrict the freedom of the natives.
• Resentment. The natives resent the presence of the British, as
would any people subjected to foreign rule. They ridicule the
British from a distance and laugh at them whenever an
opportunity presents itself. In turn, many of the British despise the
natives. And so, there is constant tension between the occupier
and the occupied.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
• Literature mostly about South African, apartheid, a racially divided
home country.
• Has often written about the relationships among white radicals,
liberals, and blacks in South Africa.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
•The story “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off,” is based on an
incident that took place during the policy of apartheid in South
•The date and location of this short story is very crucial to the story as
a whole.
•The time period in which this short story is set in is important
because it helps the reader understand the views each characters in
the story have toward each other, and cultural norms which the
characters take part in.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Apartheid (meaning separateness in Afrikaans) was a system of
legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government
of South Africa between 1948 and 1990.
• Apartheid had its roots in the history of colonization and
settlement of southern Africa
• Development of practices and policies of separation along racial
lines and domination by European settlers and their descendants.
• The Apartheid system was formalized in 1948 into a system of
institutionalized racism and white domination.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants and visitors into racial
groups (black, white, colored, and Indian or Asian).
• “Whites Only” signs were commonly posted at schools, hospitals,
parks, public restrooms, and beaches during the apartheid regime.
• The Immorality Act (1950-1985) was one of the first Apartheid
laws in South Africa. It attempted to forbid all sexual relations
between whites and non-whites.
• In 1949, interracial marriages had been banned by the Prohibition
of Mixed Marriages Act.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• On the grounds of the Immorality Act, the police tracked down
racially mixed couples suspected of being in relationships.
• Homes were invaded, and mixed couples caught in bed were
• Most couples found guilty were sent to jail.
• Blacks were often given harsher sentences than whites.
• Stereotypes
• A stereotype is an overgeneralization about a group of people
based on a lack of knowledge and experience.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Characters:
• Marais Van der Vyver-- a farmer, who is smart but isn’t very
socially adept and has problems with intimacy.
• Lucas--a black farm boy, who is a good mechanic and likes to go
hunting with Marais.
• Captain Beetge--a police, a tough guy, who can’t stand to see a
man crying.
• Alida Van der Vyver --Marais’ wife, who cares about gardening and
having a high social status
• Willem Van der Vyver—Marais’ father
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Different level of understanding or comprehension of the incident:
• the community as outsiders
• the people involved—the bond:
• Marais and
• Lucas’ mother;
• the grief of Marais Van der Vyver over the death of his “son”
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• The author makes stereotypical comments to show the wide gap
that existed between whites and blacks during South Africa’s
apartheid regime and the depth and complexity of racial prejudice.
• These stereotypes also highlight the disparity between the public
persona or image that the South African government demanded of
its citizens and the private lives that were conducted despite the
government-enforced racial segregation.
• As you are reading, keep track of those groups of people about
whom the narrator makes stereotypical comments.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• As an advocate for apartheid, the narrator casually points out
stereotypes of black people living in South Africa.
• Afrikaner farmers, Americans and English (overseas people), White
people in the South African cities, Anti-apartheid agitators, Black
parents, Young black wives.
• By telling the story through this point of view, Gordimer is pointing
out the naivety of the white people towards discrimination and
separation between blacks and whites that takes place in an
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Living in apartheid South Africa, having a child with someone of
the opposite race would be unthinkable and therefore he shot his
son to avoid the truth being uncovered.
• This is where the true irony of the story comes out since the
narrator contradicts everything he said before.
• In the story’s early stages Van der Vyver’s overriding concern is the
way the incident will be portrayed in the media.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Van der Vyver is a politician who is in charge of the local security
• He is fully aware that the international focus will be on a wealthy,
politically influential white Afrikaner’s involvement in the death of
a poor black laborer
• This he considers “will fit exactly their version of South Africa,”
something that will “be another piece of evidence in their truth
about the country.”
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• Van der Vyver’s own racism is contained in his musings about the
changes that are already spreading throughout South African
society: “[N]othing the government can do will appease the
agitators and the whites who encourage them. Nothing satisfies
them, in the cities: blacks can sit and drink in white hotels, now,
the Immorality Act has gone, blacks can sleep with whites … It’s
not even a crime any more.”
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• The idea that whites and blacks sleeping together is “not even a
crime any more” obviously contains irony aplenty in the face of the
story’s final revelation about the dead black man’s identity and
highlights Van der Vyver’s essential hypocrisy.
• At the boy’s funeral, we are told that his mother “can’t be more
than in her late thirties,” which heavily implies that she was
underage when Van der Vyver impregnated her.
• Although the story does not clarify whether their relationship was
consensual (we are given to understand that it was), there is
clearly questionable morality at work here.
Nadine Gordimer (1923~ )
• And denial on Van der Vyver’s part, which is all the more
distressing in the face of his derisive observation that the dead
man’s “young wife is pregnant (of course).”

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