Shooting An Elephant Summary

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Orwell's story is set in Burma when it was a British colony. It is told by a first-person narrator who is a British policeman serving in Burma. His relationship with the Burmese natives is not a good one; he is hated as a foreigner and a repressive authority figure of white English society. He understands their feelings, but still resents them.

The action of the story concerns a rogue elephant that has killed a Burmese man. The narrator finds the elephant standing peacefully in a field. He does not want to kill the elephant, but he knows the large crowd of people who have followed him to the field expect him to do it. He shoots the elephant several times. The animal is badly wounded but does not die. Finally, the narrator leaves. He cannot stand any longer to watch the elephant suffer. Later, the man who owned the elephant protested its killing, but the narrator was not in legal trouble because the elephant had killed someone. The narrator is relieved.

Orwell's story develops several important themes. Check the links below for a detailed summary of the story and for additional information to help you better understand it.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The narrator (Orwell?) begins "Shooting an Elephant" by showing how much prejudice can be found in British Burma. 

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

Ironically, Orwell doesn't blame the Burmese a bit for exhibiting such hatred toward the English. 

The story really starts when an elephant shows up and "ravages the bazaarr."  The narrator takes his hunting rifle and heads toward the commotion.  The narrator approaches the spot and continues to ask the people, but they all seem to give him vague answers as to where the elephant is lurking.  Suddenly, an old lady is seen brushing some children away because she is trying to prevent them from seeing a dead man (killed by the elephant on a rampage).

Even though the elephant has now killed a human, the narrator still hopes he doesn't have to do away with the animal; however, he still acquires a special elephant rifle for the occasion. 

When the narrator finally comes upon the elephant.  The elephant is completely calm and grazing in a field.  Now the community is watching the narrator and he knows they will demand the death of the elephant.  The narrator has now become the exact person he has always despised, doing something only because he is "required" to do so.  The narrator says:

When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys

The narrator shoots and shoots and shoots again.  The elephant falls.  Because it is still not dead, the narrator gets close to it and shoots it in the heart.  The elephant is finally dead and the narrator is so upset that he has to leave the scene.  The narrator eventually finds out that the elephant's owner was killed which put the narrator (ironically) "in the right" for doing the deed.

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tahiya | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Orwell's ''Shooting an Elephant'' is an auto-biography. It deals with the struggle of a british police officer's unwillingness of yielding before imperialism. How imperialism devours the humanity of the colonized people and helps to devoid of dignity is apparent in the story and can be understood through the actions of the Burmese people. Old Orwell looks back into his past now and silently realizes the new perspective towards his past actions(shooting the elephant). Orwell did not want to shoot the elephant but he was also a victim of imperialism. The elephant symbolized the age-old,tired colonized country and the death of the elephant symbolized that man-made rules does not work everywhere,because after death the elephant was above everything else,above every judgement and discussion. The long description of the elephant's death indicates the guilty feeling that haunted Orwell throughout his life.

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