What is the meaning of "Shooting an Elephant" by Geroge Orwell?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell portrays a British colonial police officer in Burma who is called upon to kill a rogue elephant that has stormed through a bazaar, destroying some people's property and even killing a man. The officer is reluctant to shoot the beast, which he finds standing calmly in a clearing, but is driven to do so by the fear that the Burmese people will think him weak if he does not do it. The story is basically a commentary on the hostility between the supposedly paternalistic British and their colonial subjects. Because the narrator knows he is so hated, he must kill the elephant to attempt to gain their respect, and demonstrate that the British are willing to use brutal force to maintain control. Basically, though he is morally against killing the elephant, he must play the part of the brutal tyrant that the Burmese people imagine him to be. In this way, the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized is inherently corrupting. This is made clear at the end of the story when the narrator claims that he is happy the elephant had killed a man, because otherwise he would have had to reimburse the animal's owner.


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