The Natives Are Watching. Look Busy.

by zunguzungu

From George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant“:

“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.”

From Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, on setting a date for departure:

“The 20th of September had arrived. This was the day I had decided to cut loose from those who tormented me with their doubts, their fears, and beliefs, and commence the march to Ujiji by a southern route. I was very weak from the fever that had attacked me the day before, and it was a most injudicious act to commence a march under such circumstances. But I had boasted to Sheikh bin Nasib that a white man never breaks his word, and my reputation as a white man would have been ruined had I stayed behind, or postponed the march, in consequence of feebleness.” (310)

How I Found Livingstone, on telling his white underling to get moving:

“Now, Mr. Shaw, I am waiting, sir. Mount your donkey, if you cannot walk.”

“Please, Mr. Stanley, I am afraid I cannot go.”


“I don’t know, I am sure. I feel very weak.”

“So am I weak. It was but late last night, as you know, that the fever left me. Don’t back out before these Arabs; remember you are a white man. Here, Selim, Mabruki, Bombay, help Mr. Shaw on his donkey, and walk by him.” (315)

From How I Found Livingstone, the climactic moment just before actually finding Livingstone:

“I–what would I not have given for a bit of friendly wilderness, where, unseen, I might vent my joy in some mad freak, such as idiotically biting my hand; turning a somersault, or slashing at trees, in order to allay those exciting feelings that were well-nigh uncontrollable. My heart beats fast, but I must not let my face betray my emotions, lest it shall detract from the dignity of a white man appearing under such extraordinary circumstances. So I did that which I thought was most dignified.”