16 Jul 2013

OCR Exam Essay English Language Exam Shooting an Elephant

OCR English Language Exam Past Paper 2011
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  1. 3  Shooting an Elephant
    How does George Orwell convey his thoughts and feelings to the reader?
    In your answer, refer to the language he uses and the tone created. 

Exam Answer: A* Grade
Orwell dramatises the dilemma of shooting the elephant in the contast of what he wants to do, and what he’s ‘got to’ do. He’s torn. His tone is at times, humourous, at others defeated, as if he sees himself as an actor or ‘puppet’ in a drama he wants no part of. He’s on a murderous mission impelled by the will of the ‘two thousand’ people - to kill an elephant that he sees as gentle through the metaphor of its ‘grandmotherly’ air, an image which makes it hard to justify shooting it.
At the start he’s feeling tense, overwhelmed by the masses of people which he describes by repetition of ‘two thousand’ as if he can’t quite process the scale of what’s happening to him. He uses phrases like the ‘whole population’, ‘crowd’ and this passive group of watchers transforms in his eyes to ‘an ever-growing army’, with potentially hostile connotations. He doesn’t ever seem fully in command of them though he’s the only one with a gun. He seems embarrassed at being their leader, aware that they ‘did not like me’ or find him interesting, except for this one thing they want him to do, which he thinks is wrong. He uses the semantic field of discomfort: ‘uneasy’, ‘unnerving’ with people ‘at my heels’ to give a crowded, unsettled effect. Having an audience is not just awkward, they’re forcing him on.
Orwell creates a claustrophobic mood with words like ‘pressing’, ‘inexorably’, ‘impossible’ as if he’s physically and mentally trapped in the situation. This contrasts with the ‘garish’ ‘happy’ and ‘excited mood’ of the crowd which only heightens his own grim mood. He seems to long to be ‘alone’ with the ‘sole’ thought in his head, attempting, but failing to distance himself.
Orwell develops an extended metaphor of theatre - ‘magic’ ‘audience’ ‘perform’ and ‘fool’ - as if this will be a farce. Lists heighten the tension and sense of him being forced on, through long and fractured sentences that push him inexorably towards the unpleasant conclusion, as where he says ‘To come all that way... - no, that was impossible.’ It’s as if he’s debating it with himself, with his inner voice, but the outer noise of the crowd is stronger, and his fear that they will ‘laugh’. By leaving this short sentence to the end of the paragraph he shows how cowardly and pathetic he feels. Should the fear of laughter be enough to make us commit ‘murder’. By using this personification for the killing of the elephant, he shows us his pity, and self-revulsion about what he’s going to do. It’s as if he’s questioning his own masculinity when he uses words like ‘feebly’ - it seems to be about peer pressure and his awareness of his own weakness in giving into it. He’s almost ready to die rather than back down and entertains grim fantasies of his own death using sensory language and lists in: ‘pursued, caught, trampled on’ and ‘reduced to a grinning corpse’. The oxymoron almost suggests he’d be happier to be dead, and it also adds to the black humour and pantomime tone of the article. He’s dicing with death and looks like an idiot. He can only win the crowd’s approval by doing something cowardly. And he’s too cowardly to do what he knows is right.
He visualises himself as a ‘toad’ under a ‘steamroller’ if the elephant charges, but you could also say that he sees himself as a metaphorical toad - cowardly. The crowd is the steamroller that is pressing him on.
Exam Answer: C grade
In this article, the author described himself of being pressurised into killing the elephant. This can be seen when he compared himself as ‘a conjurer’ and depicted the crowd as audiences who watches him as if he was ‘about to perform a trick’. If he doesn’t kill the elephant, then the ‘ever-growing army’ would not be pleased. Also, he felt as if he was ‘only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those faces behind’. The people were just there to enjoy the upcoming, heartbreaking event. Expectations were given to him; ‘two thousand people marching at my heels’; he felt like that he had to do it ‘two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly’. There was no way out.
The author described the people as an ‘army’, suggesting that they were powerful, strong, and forceful. Only one way was given- to kill the elephant- no other way out. But he didn’t want to kill the animal. This can be seen in the article as he distinctively wrote ‘I did not want to shoot the elephant’ also, he used emotive language describing the elephant ‘beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have’. This personifies the animal, persuading the reader that elephants are not a monster, but amiable, affectionate and amicable.  Despite this, the elephant still has to be killed for the villagers’ desire. ‘Not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful faces behind’. If not, he will be ‘humiliated’. When the elephant was killed, he presented an anecdote of the whole actions of the elephant from when the trigger was pulled to the very last moment when the elephant fell to the ground with powerful adjectives like ‘devilish’, ‘flabbily’ also. In the last paragraph ‘he sagged flabbily to his knees. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling’, this presented the elephant as a hero, fighting to his last breath which makes the reader sympathise with the elephant and perhaps also, at the same time, blames the villagers of being ignorant.