Supporting and Opposing the Empire. Analysis of "A Pipe of Mystery" by G. A. Henty and "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

Term Paper, 2011

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0




G. A. Henty’s A Pipe of Mystery

George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant

Summary and comparison

Literature and sources

Supporting and Opposing the Empire


This work is written in American English, reflecting in grammar, vocabulary, orthography and style. It will deal with one short story, A Pipe of Mystery by George Alfred Henty, and the essay Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell. Its aims are the following: finding the texts’ elements in support of colonial rule and those that oppose it; drawing up an analysis of these elements; and evaluating each author’s position on imperialism.

The text below will be divided into three parts, the first two being the ana- lysis of each short story, and the third containing a summary of both analyses and a comparison. Each analysis will begin with a brief synopsis of the plot, some information about the author, and a short historical abstract. The actual analysis will follow.

Henty’s text was published as part of the five-story collection Tales of Dar ing and Danger, published around 1890.

Orwell’s essay was published in a collection with the title Shooting an Ele phant and Other Essays. While actually fitting the genre, the essay is not a short story because it does contain strong autobiographic references. One could best describe Shooting an Elephant as a hybridization between a political essay, a short story and an autobiography.

G. A. Henty’s A Pipe of Mystery (1890)


Colonel Harley tells his nieces and nephews about the one phenomenon he could not explain by scientific reasoning, which took place when he was stationed in India as a young soldier. There he and his companion save a Fakir from a tiger and ask him to tell them their future in return. The Fakir gives them opium, upon which the two fall unconscious and dream of the Great Indian Mutiny, an authen- tic historic event of 1857, and how they can escape from their attackers’ ambush.

When they wake up, they dismiss everything as just an odd dream, and drop the issue thinking they were not foretold the future. Later, they are caught up in the real mutiny, suddenly remember the dream and hence know how to escape. Now aware that dreams really did give them a truthful insight into their future, the Colonel cannot anymore explain this occurrence.

George Alfred Henty1 (1832-1902) was a very prolific writer of adventure stories for boys, probably the most prolific. Having worked as a war correspond- ent for British papers, he took up writing, publishing his first novel in 1867. Around 1880, he stopped working altogether and focused completely on writing. One of the most popular authors of his time, he sold around 25 million copies. Notwithstanding his stories’ impressive geographical (to some extent due to his extensive travels as war reporter) and historical range (“from the ancient world to the present”, Grimble 2005) a great portion of his works is set in the heyday of the British empire in one of its colonies. Often, the stories feature as protagonist a middle-class boy or young man who becomes involved in a great historic event and proves himself loyal to the British authority. This young protagonist then returns to London to receive his honors, eventually settling and living a peaceful life.

Notably, Henty’s works were preferred over actual history textbooks to teach history to young boys, as Grimble remarks: “Henty's works were especially widely used as a resource for the teaching of history in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.” This point especially will be discussed later.

The important historic event in A Pipe of Mystery is the Great Mutiny of India in 1857, which, according to Raval (2005), was unprecedented in scale and violence. Even though it was “basically a military event, perhaps a desperate and calculated act of violence against the policies imposed by European officers” (Raval 2005, p. 334), the uprising was not limited to the Bengal Sepoys.2 Civil- ians, particularly in the district of Awadh (sometimes spelled Oudh), were involved as well, due to dissatisfaction with the British authority for disrupting important social balances (p. 335).


What will arise from this analysis was to be expected, considering Henty’s personal history and rest of his oeuvre: A Pipe of Mystery is a typical colonial adventure story, which does not challenge the empire or its practices in any way. In this particular case, the text even shows clear support for European domination by means of its discriminatory depiction of the natives, the lack of alternative points of view, and its openly racist comments. At least part of the interpretation is based on Birk/Neumann 2002.


First, I will discuss narration. There are two levels; the first is Colonel Har- ley’s telling the story and talking to his nieces and nephews, the second is the aforementioned story he tells them about his experiences in India. Since the first level―extradiegetic narration―is restricted to only a few lines and includes no comments, it will be skipped in favor of the second level, the Colonel’s account.

Harley, as a narrator, is not exactly the archetypical figural narrator (Stanzel) because he mentions his own narration (“I am not telling you a hunting story.”, p. 150) and makes a few remarks about future actions that the young Harley within the narration could not have known about (“your aunt, then Miss Gardiner”, p. 157; “[a]s at many other stations, the mutiny broke out when we were at mess”, p. 157). The old Harley is the reflector figure and tells about the adventures of the young. In Rimmon-Kenan’s terms, the old Harley is narrator-focalizer3, making the narration heterogetic. Nonetheless, the old Harley does not say enough about future events as to make the story less exciting for the readers, so the narrative situation is still not far from figural.

On the other hand, Harley is no authorial narrator either, since he does not know every character’s thoughts, e.g. the Fakir’s. He does, however, comment on other characters and their actions. His opinion of the native population is not a very favorable one: he calls them “deplorably ignorant and superstitious” (p. 148), and the mutiny to him is “black treachery” (p. 157). He does not make such state- ments about his fellow soldiers, some of whom do believe in the Fakir’s powers to foresee the future (p. 149). Even his own commander is so superstitious that he prohibits seeing the Fakir and asking for a prediction because he trusts the Fakir’s abilities. This one-sided view as well as his double standards mark the Colonel as a biased narrator, thus his narration is unreliable, which was not intended by Henty. He would not want to discredit the hero, his story’s protagonist.

Another feature of Harley’s narration is the lack of a second focalizer, which clearly identifies the story as colonial, because no Indian narrates from his or her point of view (Birk/Neumann 2002, p. 131-132). The narrator “in power” does not allow another point of view in his narration. This mono-perspectivity is a hallmark of colonial narration, there is no alternative version of the story. This closed struc- ture of perspectives4 has another effect: all the story’s characters’ identities appear homogeneous and final; without possibility of change or mingling.

As asserted before, there is no alternative version of the story in the colonial Other’s words, especially so for the mutiny. Its reasons and the Sepoys’ motives for mutineering are completely left out of the picture, only naming “black treach- ery” as a reason for the uprising. Such partial reports of the relation between col- onizer and colonized were an important basis for British colonial rule. They depic- ted the colonial Other as uncivilized sub-humans that should not be taken too seri- ously and that need colonial rule, legitimizing the mission. Excluding or rather censoring the Other’s sentiments about being colonized meant that in British pub- lic opinion, colonial natives either accepted or supported colonialism, thus further legitimizing the mission as humanitarian (cf. Boehmer 2005, pp. 23-24).


1 For more information about Henty’s life, see Grimble 2005 and Boehmer 1998, pp. 482-483.

2 Indian soldiers in the British army.

3 Nünning/Nünning 2008, p. 122: “In cases of external focalization, then, the superordinate narrator and the focalizing subject are one and the same, and are therefore referred to as ‘narrator-focalizers’.”

4 See Birk/Neumann 2002, p. 134: “Eine geschlossene Perspektivenstruktur kann im kolonialen Roman die Identitäts- und Alteritätskonstruktionen äußerst homogen und stabil erscheinen lassen.”

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Supporting and Opposing the Empire. Analysis of "A Pipe of Mystery" by G. A. Henty and "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
LMU Munich  (Englische Philologie)
Postcolonial Theory and Fiction
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supporting, opposing, empire, analysis, pipe, mystery, henty, shooting, elephant, george, orwell
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Fabian Schlecht (Author), 2011, Supporting and Opposing the Empire. Analysis of "A Pipe of Mystery" by G. A. Henty and "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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