In George Orwell’s short story, “Shooting an Elephant,” the narrator, possibly Orwell himself, is a police officer sent to kill an elephant that is perhaps on a rampage. When he finds the elephant, he doesn’t want to shoot it, but he is extremely pressured by the local people, and he finally shoots it, simply to “avoid looking the fool.”
“At that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.
But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. 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. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. 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.”
For a brief time in my young years, it wasn’t cool to have clean tennis shoes. I remember the kids with money and houses and fathers who mowed the lawn on Saturdays and drove in clean cars, they would scuff up their shoes to be “cool.”
My single mother worked for a long time to get me my first pair of tennis shoes that actually had a logo on them. I put them on and just stared. I didn’t want to get a mark in them. They were beautiful and it was like I was suddenly a part of something…. Something that the others had. I remember sitting on my grandma’s steps with my cousins from Minneapolis, who knew what it took to be cool. These cousins, who had a swimming pool and neighbors with the same. Who had an address they were proud of. They looked at my shoes and laughing said, “Get new shoes? They’re awfully white aren’t they?“ I knew what they meant. I was not in the club. I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t cool. Just scuff them up. Do it. You don’t want to look like an idiot. My heart beat quickly, I wanted to belong. But I knew how many phone calls my mom had to answer at Alexandria Public schools just to pay for those shoes. I knew how many words she typed and how many angry parents she put up with just to afford them. I knew. And they continued to laugh at me. I knew and they started to walk away. I rubbed them against the cement.
My mom saw the scratches but didn’t say anything. I felt ashamed. I loved those shoes and I should have been strong enough to keep them pristine. I should have been strong enough to wear them proudly… White… Glowing, yes we are poor, yes, my shoes are white, and yes, my mother gave them to me, and yes, that makes me cool! I thanked my mom again for the shoes. I slept in them that night.
Having a mother that loves you, nothing makes you stronger, and what could be cooler than that? I start each day with a full heart, and take a walk in clean shoes.