Non-Fiction Prompt #9
Write a scene of a personal experience that risks painting you in a negative light. For example, you could write about a time you bullied somebody, a time you stole something, a time you said something you wished you could take back. The goal of this exercise is to illustrate honest, human vulnerability.
In George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” he writes of an incident that occurred while he worked for the British Civil Service in Burma in the 1920s: While he’s on duty, an elephant breaks loose from its chains, causes damage in the community, and kills a local. The elephant’s attack of rage passes and he begins quietly munching on grass. Even though the elephant now poses no threat, Orwell, goaded by a mob of 2000 locals, ultimately shoots the elephant, against his moral beliefs. He admits that he does it to seem as though he’s in charge, as a sahib is meant to be perceived. He does it “solely to avoid looking like a fool.” Orwell writes this piece as a critique of British Imperialism, saying that in his role as a representative of the British, “[his] whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”
Orwell writes about himself, but isn’t necessarily a sympathetic narrator. At one point he refers to himself as an “absurd puppet.” The elephant does not die at the first shot, and its death, slow and terrible, is described in nearly 600 words of brutal detail. Orwell is perfectly straightforward in admitting his guilt and shame, sacrificing the reader’s sympathy in order to explore larger themes of social justice. Though this piece describes a moral conflict, a moment of personal, internal tension, the essay becomes about much more than simply his personal experience.
Details on EVENT’s 2016 annual Non-Fiction Contest.