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What is the thesis of George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"?

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trees2010 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 30, 2010 at 6:02 AM via web

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What is the thesis of George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:10 PM (Answer #1)

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Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," is an essay, so it does contain a thesis.  Orwell's thesis is that when a white man becomes a tyrant, it is his own freedom that he loses.

In the essay, Orwell demonstrates how he loses his freedom to behave intelligently and morally.  He does not want to needlessly kill the elephant, and he strongly suspects that the young elephant's must is waning.  The elephant is not in proximity to any people and appears to have settled down.  The animal is valuable to its owner and cannot really be blamed for the damage it's done.

It is unreasonable to kill the creature needlessly.  But Orwell has no choice.  He is in a position of authority over the local people and cannot allow himself to be seen as hesitant or weak or foolish.  Because of his position as "tyrant," he must kill the elephant. 

As a representative of the tyrannical colonial power, England, he has no choice.  As a white man who has become a tyrant in Burma, he has lost his own freedom. 

Though no records exist of Orwell ever having shot an elephant, and though some commentators have speculated that Orwell fudged a little on the details, "Shooting an Elephant" was intended as a nonfiction essay and continues to be regarded as such.  It is a powerful indictment of the colonial system that Orwell, regrettably he himself says, was a part of. 

Incidentally, the essay reveals another byproduct of colonialism--Orwell's hatred of a people that he otherwise would have felt no disdain for.  In response to the Burmese resentment of him, he develops a strong dislike for them.

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted September 30, 2010 at 6:27 AM (Answer #2)

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I'm assuming that you mean theme rather than thesis.  One these of Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant" is the effect of the masses on the individual.  The narrator of the story shoots and kills an elephant that is no no longer dangerous to the Burmese village.  He kills the elephant because he does not want to appear a fool in front of a crowd of Burmese, numbering in the thousands. 

If you dig a little deeper, though, you will see that Orwell is showing us the effects of imperialism.  When a powerful nation exploits the people of another country, the resulting tension causes everyone to become somewhat savage.  The narrator is a British police officer, and even though he sympathicizes with the plight of the Burmese, he despises their contempt for him, as a representative of the British empire. 

These themes can be turned into strong thesis statements for an essay. 

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