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Why is the elephant an important symbol in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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mareena | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 26, 2007 at 10:39 AM via web

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Why is the elephant an important symbol in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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blacksheepunite | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted May 26, 2007 at 10:59 AM (Answer #1)

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The elephant is the key to the narrative persona's difficulties with his position in the Burmese society. He shoots the elephant for all of the wrong reasons, and, because the elephant is an innocent victim of his ego, the elephant comes to represent the effects of the tension between colonizer and colonized in Burma.

The elephant is a potential danger, but the narrator acts long after the danger has passed. The narrator knows there is no benefit for him in shooting the elephant beyond acting as he is expected. The elephant is also valuable. He sacrifices something beautiful, almost human, and valuable simply to appease the needs of his ego. The elephant's physical size is also important, for without the weapon, the narrator would be no match for it.

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merehughes | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted May 26, 2007 at 4:26 PM (Answer #2)

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I would also answer that the elephant is important because the narrator's actions and situation with the elephant mirror colonial/imperial England's relationship with the Burmanese. The elephant is a work animal in India and Burma, and for the colonial power, the Burmanese are also 'work animals'.

As the above comment mentions, the elephant is potentially dangerous, as are any people oppressed by another, however, by the time the narrator reacts, the danger is no longer present.

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