Hughes and Orwell When Looking for Similarities Thesis
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Hughes and Orwell
When looking for similarities between authors, it is not immediately brought to mind to look at Langston Hughes and George Orwell. The former was a major writer during the Harlem Renaissance. Most of his work focused on explorations of the black experience in the United States and how African-Americans were mistreated by the white majority. Orwell was an English writer and most of his writing dealt with social commentary on the dangers of fascism and totalitarian governments. However, in two works by these very different men, a parallel can be viewed. Langston Hughes' "Salvation" and George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" both deal with a first-person narrator who is forced by those around him into becoming an outsider, someone outside of the group opinion, and is forced to lie about his true self and his own beliefs in order to fulfill the desires of those who surround him.
In the first story, a young boy, presumably a twelve-year-old version of writer Langston Hughes given that the character is referred to by this name, a child is taken by an aunt to a church revival meeting. He is pressured to give himself over to Jesus and to the evangelical Christianity of his family member. Unaware of the metaphorical nature of seeing the light or coming to Jesus, he erroneously believes himself sinful and wrong when he does not have a spiritual vision. Surrounded by adults who are praying over him and making him feel as though he is not a part of this group, the boy feels no choice but to falsely proclaim that Jesus has come to him and to take his place amongst the saved children. This experience, rather than make him more strongly associated with the Christian community, serves only to alienate him and to make young Langston disbelieve that Jesus exists at all. In
essence, the decision that he made in the church to give into the pressures of those around him completely destroyed whatever spiritual part the boy did possess which was not enough to see the world in the same way as his aunt. He was unable to recover from the blow to his impressionable system of belief and had to question all of the spiritual teachings even to the point of questioning if Jesus Christ was real. If the man had not come when the child needed him so desperately, then he logically determines that Jesus cannot be real.
Orwell's narrative concerns a British imperial police officer stationed in Burma. Like many members of the colonizing nation, he is treated with disdain and hatred by the natives of the land, including the Buddhist monks who according to their religious principles are supposed to be peaceful and kind. This particular police officer actually empathizes with the Burmese people and has negative feelings about the concept of imperialism. He feels pressured to behave in certain ways because he is British and a part of the empirical power, whether he agrees with it or not. In the climax of the story, an elephant has escaped its bonds and has gone mad, going through the town causing destruction and even killing a native man. The narrator has a gone and must decide whether or not to kill the elephant or to show mercy. In the end he does kill the elephant, not because the animal needed to die but because the action was expected by the natives who watched him and he did not want to fail to live up to their expectations, even if it meant defying his personal beliefs. The elephant dies and the narrator does not feel any happier about the native population because of the incidence. If anything he further separates himself from the majority…
Sources Used in Documents:
Hughes, Langston. "Salvation." 50 Essays. Ed. Samuel Cohen. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford,
2011. 179-81. Print.
Orwell, George. "Shooting an Elephant." 50 Essays. Ed. Samuel Cohen. 3rd ed. Boston, MA:
Bedford, 2011. 284-91. Print.
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