Different perspectives in regard to racism

George Orwells short story “Shooting Elephant”

Henry Louis Gates’ “What’s in a name” versus George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”

Henry Louis Gates’ essay “What’s in a name” and George Orwell’s short story “Shooting an Elephant” both present central characters who are part of a minority group present in a society that is inclined to discriminate them. Orwell is the narrator in his short story and he discusses in regard to an incident in Burma where he is influenced to act against his principles with the purpose of having locals appreciate him. Gates is also the narrator in his essay, but his writing is actually meant to emphasize that it is perfectly normal to someone to feel angry as a result of being discriminated. Both of these individuals put across stories presenting themselves in worlds that they apparently do not belong to, but they use different strategies with the purpose of trying to influence others in accepting them.

Both texts are written in first person and this makes it possible for readers to feel that they develop a special connection with the narrators; especially taking into account they appear to address their readers directly. While both protagonists appear to be well-acquainted with their position in the society that they live in, they are unhesitant about trying to get respect from the people that they interact with. Their attitude is surprising when considering that race is one of the most important concepts in the communities that they live in. However, the fact that they want to reinforce their self-esteem is enough to influence both of them to look at matters from the perspective of individuals that have no particularities that could influence others in wanting to discriminate them.

The narrator in “What’s in a name” is frustrated with the fact that white people often discriminate African-Americans and is reluctant to allow this. The fact that his ancestors suffered greatly as a result of racism further contributes to his understanding of the matter and he thus feels that he needs to get actively involved in influencing people in abandoning preconceptions and stereotypes regarding race. In contrast, Orwell is less determined to have individuals in Burma refrain from discriminating him and his peers. He is well-acquainted with the fact that racism dominates the minds of most locals, but generally considers that it is perfectly normal for them to think this way. Orwell practically knows that him and his people came to Burma and imposed their influence in the area and thus considers that it would be wrong for him to attempt to rise against these people. Gates’ ancestors were brought to the U.S. against their will, forced to work as slaves, and discriminated with every chance that they got. This is why the narrator in “What’s in a name” feels that it is very important for him to stand against individuals who are inclined to think about stereotypes when considering him and his family.

Orwell and Gates are in different environments and this is essential in determining the attitudes that each of the individuals adopts in order to achieve their goals. The former acts against his principles and kills an elephant because he knows that this is going to influence locals in liking him. On the other hand, Gates is confident in his powers and refrains from yielding in the face of white people because he knows that this would destroy his self-esteem. These different strategies that the writers adopt make it possible for readers to understand the value that self-esteem represents for each of them. Orwell knows that he is not going to stay in Burma for long and feels that it would be nothing wrong with him putting across behavior that would influence locals in hating him even more. Gates is part of a group that has suffered as a result of racism for centuries and he knows that adopting an aggressive attitude is one of the only solutions to improving his lifestyle.

These stories present readers with men who have different perspectives in regard to racism. Orwell is part of a group that occupies a territory illegitimately while Gates is part of a group that it is illegitimately being discriminated. This is why they adopt different attitudes in dealing with their problems. Even with the fact that they are both part of a minority community, it only seems natural for white people in Burma to be discriminated because they exercise their authority in the territory while it is abnormal for African-Americans to be discriminated in the U.S., taking into account that the Constitution promotes values like freedom and equality. It is perfectly normal for Gates to feel anger as a result of the fact that many white people that he interacts with tend to think in accordance with stereotypes regarding black men. This men simply puts across his frustration concerning how a presumably civilized society fails to make significant progress in the field of racial discrimination. Orwell acknowledges the immorality of him and his peers imposing their authority in Burma and wants to influence locals to like him. He is even ready to do something that is against everything that he stands for in order to demonstrate that he can actually be a likeable person. It is virtually as if he feels a rush of aggressive energy when locals try to convince him to kill the elephant.

Works cited:

Gates, Henry Louis Jr., “Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars,” (Oxford University Press, 20.05.1993)

Orwell, George, “Shooting an Elephant,” (Penguin Books Limited, 04.06.2009)

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