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The Destructive Power Of Peer Pressure

1487 words - 6 pages

Peer pressure and acts of mass blind obedience are all too common occurrences in our everyday society. A person, who under any other circumstances would never act in such a way, will commit unthinkable acts when backed by a single person or even worse, a large mass of individuals. It’s almost always destructive, and the person or persons involved usually always end up feeling regretful and bewildered by their actions. When thinking about group peer pressure, there are several other words that come to mind such as; conformity, compliance, brainwashing and social influence. Group peer pressure can make a person with the purest morals and the highest values act in ways that are more than contradictory. Group peer pressure can turn a saint into a sinner, a leader to a follower, and an individual to a tiny speck in a large and corrupt mass.
This pressure is evident in the story titled “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell. In this selection, originally taken from a collection of essays under the same title, Orwell describes an incident where group peer pressure led him to commit the inhumane killing of an elephant. Orwell, who was serving as a member of the British Imperial Police in Lower Burma, is required to kill this animal after it came into “must” and ran rampant throughout the village. While some may argue that the killing was justified given the elephant had already violently destroyed property and killed one villager, Orwell still felt some degree of shame and regret over the incident. He states in the text of the people of Lower Burma:
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. (Orwell 2007: 476)
The above statement leads one to believe that this is the underlying theme of the entire selection. It was the hype and pressure that Orwell received from the crowd of locals that led him to shoot the elephant. He expressed that he consciously knew the shooting was a “serious matter” (Orwell 2007: 476) and compared the killing of such an animal to “destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery” (Orwell 2007: 476). Even after Orwell dismisses the idea of killing the elephant, he eventually makes the decision to carry out the shooting to avoid looking like a “fool” (Orwell 2007) and being laughed at by the natives. It becomes more obvious that he felt a great deal of remorse over the killing in the final paragraphs of the selection. Had he felt no remorse, then he would not continue to justify his actions long after the fact. This shooting obviously created an internal moral struggle. He is finally able to make the conclusion that because the elephant had killed a villager, it put him “legally in the right” (Orwell 2007) and gave him “sufficient pretext for...

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