Monday, March 21, 2016

Control: Elephants, Indians, and Gandhi

Today we watched a scene in Gandhi where he begins his famous "Salt March."  In the scene, Gandhi is talking to the reporter Vince Walker, and says, "They're not in control.  We are."

*Side Note*:  The character Vince Walker is a composite character.  He's apparently a mixture of Webb Miller, William Shirer, and perhaps several others.  Feel free to research this and leave comments on the blog with what you find.  *End Side Note.*

Here's the scene, with the line starting around the 50 second mark:

Several students asked me about this scene on their daily participation papers.  (They have to write at least one question, and one comment - but most students end up writing quite a bit more.)

Here are some examples:

When they asked that question, it again reminded me of "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell.  Here are a couple lines from the essay:

...They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick.  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.  And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.  Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd - seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.  I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.  ...A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things...

Orwell knew.  He knew the British only had a false control.  He knew the British weren't really in charge, they only acted the part they were forced to play.  (Or maybe, more appropriately, the part they forced themselves into playing.)

Gandhi also realized this.  He knew the British only maintained a false control - and this only while the Indians were willing to play the part.  This was a part Gandhi was no longer willing to play.

As is usually the case, students may earn some extra credit for my class by reading and discussing the blog with an adult.  If they've done this, write some thoughts from your discussion on a scrap of paper.  Write down whether you agree or disagree.  Was Gandhi in control or not?  What about Orwell?  Perhaps the British were in control?  Were they, and what does that mean?  And what does it mean for us today?

Write a couple sentences about what you think, and what you've discussed.  Then, have the adult you discussed this with sign the paper.  Turn the paper in tomorrow.  Make sure your name, date, and hour are on it.

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