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Humanities 2018, 7(4), 124; https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040124

Orwell’s Tattoos: Skin, Guilt, and Magic in ‘Shooting an Elephant’ (1936)

Worcester College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
Received: 11 September 2018 / Revised: 8 November 2018 / Accepted: 9 November 2018 / Published: 27 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Anatomy of Inscription)
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PDF [198 KB, uploaded 27 November 2018]

Abstract

This paper considers the significance of the talismanic tattoos on Orwell’s hands, which he acquired in Burma during his time as a colonial policeman from 1922 to 1927. It examines historical evidence suggesting that such tattoos were understood differently by British and Burmese people, and concludes that, for Orwell, their meaning was multilayered: first, they were a means of understanding Burmese culture more intimately; second, they were a psychological attempt to cathect his feelings of guilt about his complicity in colonial injustice by remaking his ‘skin-ego’; and third, they were a gesture towards the possibility that inscription—first in the form of tattoos, and later in the written word—might be a way to understand and process his self-alienation. The paper goes on to examine Orwell’s 1936 essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’ in the light of Orwell’s interest in inscription, and traces its themes of mark-making, magic, and authorship, arguing that these ideas enabled him, at a crucial moment in his development as a writer, to map his experiences of colonialism onto his wider commitment to anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian politics. View Full-Text
Keywords: Orwell; Burma; tattoos; colonialism; Anzieu; Fanon Orwell; Burma; tattoos; colonialism; Anzieu; Fanon
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Mullen, L. Orwell’s Tattoos: Skin, Guilt, and Magic in ‘Shooting an Elephant’ (1936). Humanities 2018, 7, 124.

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