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The author shoots the elephant because he feels he must maintain his authority position, but he also does it from a very human position of peer pressure. He feels the two thousand wills pressing against him, and he just cannot go against them. The story presents a struggle that most people deal with at one time or another in their lives.
In the last paragraph of the essay, the narrator states very clearly why he felt compelled to kill the elephant and in doing so exposes the heart of imperialism:
"Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."
The essay is provided on various internet sites, and below I provide one.
It is not so much that the writer was willing to shoot the elephant but rather, he felt as if he must shoot the elephant. He was surrounded by the native people and he was a representative of the British colonial government; therefore he felt as if he had no other alternative but to shoot the elephant. He also does not want to appear weak or cowardly so he shoots the elephant even though he does not really want to.
This story (or essay) highlights the conflicts both sides in a colonial situation have. For both sides, it is morally debasing and the writer's shooting the elephant exemplifies this situation.
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