What is the style of "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Orwell tells the story in the first person. The narrator is reminiscing about the events of the story, which took place some time in his past. Orwell seems to employ this method because it allows him to intersperse his narrative of events with analysis about what they meant and why they took place. The reader is thus able to see how much the narrator is bothered by these events, which enables Orwell to get at one of the key points of the story, which is how empire compromises the morality of of those who take part in it.  By juxtaposing the narrator's (remembered) desire not to kill the elephant with the crowd's demands that he, as a representative of the institution that was the British Empire, do so, Orwell shows that the institution of empire itself was fundamentally based on the use of force to keep order. 

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Orwell's style in "Shooting an Elephant" is to weave together a first-person narrative with political commentary. He starts his story on a personal and somewhat satirical note: "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." Though the hatred that people in Burma feel towards him as a British colonial administrator is very real, Orwell expresses this idea with a kind of ironic humor (in saying that people hate him because he is important). Within the story of his forced shooting of the elephant, he includes essayistic features, such as "I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it." The essayistic elements help him establish his argument—that the British empire is literally on its last legs—in the midst of retelling his tale of shooting the elephant.

In addition, Orwell's story, considered one of the finest examples of political writing, uses an extended metaphor involving the elephant. He writes, "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." His shooting of the elephant represents the ridiculousness of the British regime in Burma, in which a white man who has very little hunting experience is, by dint of his position, required to shoot an elephant. Orwell describes the massive creature's death in the following way: "He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further." In some ways, the elephant represents the end of the British empire, a large and unwieldy institution that is dying a slow death. Orwell's story makes a good tale that holds deeper reflections about the British empire.


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