Ignorance and Innocence

An important facet to the stories of  both the boy in “Araby” and Orwell in “Shooting an Elephant” is their naivete and ignorance, which ultimately ends in disillusionment. The boy in “Araby” encounters feelings of lust and romance for the first time in his life, being enchanted by Mangan’s sister “I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” He is so enamored with her that when she mentions going to Araby it becomes a heroic quest for the boy: “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.” At the end of “Araby,” however, we see that the bazaar is full of cheap english chotchkies. The story ends with the boy concluding that: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” The boy sees now the imperialism of the world he lives in, and simply gives up.

Orwell too has a moment of clarity in “Shooting an Elephant,” during the climax of the story, when faced with the challenge of what to do, he decides to kill the elephant. Not because he believed it was the right thing to do, but rather, because he feared being mocked: “My whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.” Orwell offers himself up as a part of the imperialist machine, “solely to avoid looking a fool.” However, he regrets this action after, and, helpless in aiding the elephant in death, Orwell, “could not stand it any longer and went away.”

In both works, both characters undergo transformation in the unfulfillment of their goals. It is in the disappointment of their quests that they truly see the underbelly of Imperialist Britain, and choose to reject it by running away.



Empire: The Duty of the English

Orwell and James Joyce provide insight into the natives feelings toward England.  Joyce notes that a few street singers in Ireland sang a song about the Irish nationalist, O’Donovan Rossa.  They also sing about “troubles in our native land” (2219).  He is showing discontent among the people.  Orwell mentions similar feelings in India.  He comments that a group of Buddhist priest’s sole purpose was to “stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans” (2567).  These two authors are portraying how the natives publicly displayed their hatred toward England, the Imperial power.

Another interesting similarity between the two authors is their perception on the duty of the English rulers.  Joyce mentions in Araby that an English lady spoke to the narrator “out of sense of duty” (2222).  Orwell fully explains this duty by observing that when a foreign nation rules another nation, the rulers of that nation “wear a mask” with the purpose of “trying to impress the ‘natives’” (2570).  He explains that it was the perceived duty of the English to appease the indigenous people.  Both Orwell and Joyce wrote against the Imperial stance of Britain, so they incorporated the  animus feeling of the native people to convict the British people that the Empire was dying.

Darwin as a Literary Figure

Faulkner said: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.” This is advice is cliché because it is so intuitive: by taking the time to read any given genre of fiction of any given quality, you have an opportunity to either learn from the masters or learn from other writers’ mistakes. Yet, I think this advice can be taken still further. One can learn how to write better fiction by reading non-fiction, and vice-versa. This is part of the reason why we are reading Darwin in our English course: literature encompasses far more than pure fiction.

When Darwin wrote of his first encounters with the Fuegians, he wrote a story. His story’s characters were comprised of Fuegians and Beagle crewmembers; he was the stalwart protagonist. The plot followed actual events as he perceived them. Anybody reading his account in 19th century Britain might have thought the account was interesting because as far as they know, the described events may very well have occurred in real life. What kept people reading, however, was Darwin’s use of provocative language and storytelling—techniques that are more obvious in “pure literature.” Regardless of how interesting a real-life event may be, the efficacy of its conveyance relies upon the same principles as “pure literature.”

Darwin’s Influence

Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle is interesting in the way that it is presented through a scientific mind that challenged the close-mindedness of the Victorians, which greatly influence a movement of deadly curiosity towards a faith of morality. This stems from Darwin’s unique writing style that presents the realities of the unknown with a clear, analytic perceptive with devices such as diction and imagery. For instance, Darwin has very strong, descriptive diction that further pushes curiosity in the minds of the readers. When Darwin presents the Fuegians found on the west coast of Wollaston Island, he describes them as “poor wretches” with “hideous faces” and “filthy and greasy” skin that makes one question how they are “inhabitants of the same world” (1266). Just as he concluded, the appearance of the these people are unbelievable, especially for minds that did not think of the realities of what they considered unknown. Along with this description, in the earlier selections Darwin also presented Fuegians with the same intense astonishment like the previous. When describing his first arrival to Tierra del Fuego, he explains how the natives’ language was compared to someone clearing their throat with many “hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds” and how they all “posses the power…[the] power of mimicry” (1264). Again Darwin continues to compare the humanity of the natives to the men that have “long civilized” as he claims how this unknown reality is entirely tangible. With this influence, Victorians may question their own set of norms and morals, and how in a sense have been shielded by their own internalized superiority complex throughout the many years of colonization. Regardless of the tone and intention Darwin originally constructed, his works do influence the way one views and concludes about a concept, idea, and so on.


Darwin’s work “The Voyage of the Beagle” is applicable to literary analysis through its reflection of the radical transformation of the Victorian beliefs, while still trying to work within them. When Darwin arrives at Tierra del Fuego he immediately establishes his lack of understanding of the world before him, it is something he has never “beheld” (pg. 1262). However, he takes the time to create a barrier between “savage and civilized man”, despite his lack of knowledge (pg. 1263). Darwin is still trying to fit these new experiences within his current Victorian/Colonialism belief system– anything new is inferior and infantile. For example, the party he meets at the island resembles “the devils” from the “plays like Der Freischutz” and the language they speak is barely “articulate”(pg. 1264). He still chooses to hold an entirely different world to Victorian ideals, and fit them with his preconceived notion of what is acceptable. This accurately reflects the Colonial mindset of English superiority and English responsibility to the native inhabitants to “educate them and instruct them in religion” (pg. 1265). When Captain Fitz Roy “bought” a child with a “pearl-button” for this very purpose. This juxtaposes the opposing views of the time period: improve the world through cruel colonization. However, Darwin tries to assuage his guilt with the description of “brutal” husbands and fathers (pg. 1267). This shows the unsustainable belief system trying to work within a world that does not play by the same rules. This same conundrum is paralleled when Darwin tries to explain “inherited habit[s]” in birds and the “natural history of these islands” (1270-72). The conclusions he must draw cannot be made within the same cultural rule book. For Darwin to understand he must break away.


I think we are reading Darwin because he has a distinct style involving lots of imagery, he is a scientist as so he has a different view on the world, and his writing provides another view on Victorian beliefs. Starting with his style, Darwin describes the scenery and people in his account with more detail and imagery than would be expected. He describes “dense gloomy forests” and “heavy squalls” to set the scene of his story. This provides a clearer picture for the reader. He describes the people he meets almost like characters in a story, going through their identifying features and traits one after another. He describes the natives he meets as “devils” and describes their face-paint as “bright red”, “white like chalk”, and “black like charcoal”. He describes their language as “hoarse, guttural, and clicking”. Darwin has a very descriptive style which is one of reasons why we are reading him. Darwin’s style may have evolved from his job as a scientist, or naturalist in his time. Darwin, being a scientist, writes is a more clear and less ornate style than some of the other authors we have read. He writes his observations with very little of his own opinions coming in until the section on the Galapagos in which he theorizes why he thinks the islands have such varied organisms. Lastly, Darwin was a Victorian and as such he shares many of the same views as his contemporaries. In his writings, you can see his racist view of the natives and his view that western society is helping them get out of there “savage” ways.

Darwin’s Exploration of the Unknown

Though during his time, he was seen as a mostly controversial figure in the eyes of many, Charles Darwin was one of the first prominent writers who changed the way in which people view tradition and traditional values. Although his upbringing was anything but what his father wanted, he still had high hopes to study natural history. His theories on evolution and marriage were seen to be controversial. On page 1262, he specifically says that “….a wife would provide an ‘object to be beloved and played with-better than a dog anyhow.’ To many people, that statement, and rightfully so, made people angry. Many scholars began to belittle his theories and opinions.

In his work titled, “The Voyage of the Beagle” from Chapter 10. Tierra Del Fuego, he discusses his encounters with the Fuegians, the people native to the archipelago off the southern tip of South America. He says the shore is, “..rugged, inhospitable Staten-land..” and the people  as “..stunted, miserable wretches farther westward..(1263), with only a single cloth for clothes. The “savages” were easily able to catch on to their actions. They are extremely good at mimicking. I think that people during this time didn’t want to believe that there were people out there who only had cloth for clothing or only communicated with hand motions or sounds. Darwin explores and exposes this unknown reality of living to the public through elaborate imagery which makes one feel as if they are truly there. Studying Darwin is key because not only did he set the foundation for all kinds of inquiry and discussion, but to this day, many people still question the idea of evolution because it seems so foreign to us. His ideas and theories are so important to the everlasting progression of the human species. The idea of mimicking especially resonates well because most of us do this without even thinking about it. It’s how we all learned how to walk, run, speak, climb etc.