Why didn't the speaker want to shoot the elephant?

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The narrator in Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" does not believe that the elephant is dangerous.  He realizes as he sees the elephant grazing peacefully in the paddy field that the elephant's period of must is over, and that the elephant now is harmless.  He also knows that in Burma the elephant is a work animal and is worth far more alive than dead:

As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him  It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant.

Of course, the elephant had been dangerous.  He wreaked havoc in the market place, killing one man. The narrator, a police officer, was asked to check out the situation.  So, he picked up a gun that would at least make noise. But when he confronted the elephant, he knew what was what was expected of him by the crowd that had gathered behind him:

It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be tow an English crawed: besides they wanted the meat.

So, with thousands of Burmese behind him, as he held the gun on the elephant, the narrator felt that he could not back down, even though shooting the elephant was against his better judgment. Legally the narrator was right to shoot the elephant, but morally he was wrong.  The elephant's death was unnecessary.

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