The Struggle for Respect

"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".

    In the end, the narrator reveals an even deeper motive for his killing of the elephant.  He spends much of this passage referencing his unease about the relation of himself as a representative of the British authority to the subjected Burmese people.  He even goes as far as to reflect on the "futility of the white man's dominion of the East".  In the final two sentences of the passage however, the narrator reveals a distinctly personal reason for not wanting to disappoint the excited crowd of Burmese villagers.  He admits that if he were to not go through with the shooting of the elephant, "the crowd would laugh" at him.  Underneath all of his musings on the position of Britain as the ruler of Burma exists the fear of individual embarrassment.  His anger at the British imperialist project is rooted in a desire not to be laughed at.  
    It is not the narrator who alone fears being embarrassed in front of the Burmese people, but the fear of every single white man in the East.  He states that, "And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at". This fear shared by all of the white men in the East, like the mask of domination that the white men are forced to wear, is evidence of the break between British imperialist ideology and the reality of the British experience in the East.  Why would a nation unquestionably superior to that of Burma be concerned with being embarrassed in front of the Burmese people?  According to the imperialist rhetoric, the Burmese will benefit socially and culturally from contact with their British rulers. They will let go of their ridiculous customs and practices, instead adhering to the example set by the British.  In reality however, the Burmese retain control of the cultural norms and conventions.  They are the judges of action, deciding who to ridicule and who to accept.  The narrator, and supposedly every other white man in the East, naturally understands this relationship.  He is filled with the fear that he will embarrass himself in front of the Burmese people.  If the imperialist rhetoric was actually applicable in the field, the narrator would not concern himself with the opinions of the Burmese villagers.  In reality, the opinions of the Burmese villagers are what matter most.