Anti-European feelings drive the narrative in "Shooting an Elephant." The story's narrator sets the tone in the first sentence by saying, "In lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people." These people, as he goes on to explain, are the native Burmese, who hate their European colonizers. The narrator says the "anti- European feeling was very bitter." Nobody has the nerve to openly rebel, but the native people do all sorts of small things that make the narrator's life, as a police officer and representative of the British empire, a misery: they trip him on the football (soccer) field while the referee looks the other and in the town, "hoot ...insults" at him when he is too far down the street to retaliate. He says the Buddhists priests are the worst: they seem to have nothing to do but "stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans."
It is this tense, hostile relationship between the narrator and the natives that leads him to feel he has no choice but the shoot the elephant, even though he knows it is the wrong thing to do. Europeans are not supposed to show fear in front of the natives. He shoots the elephant, even though it causes the animal to suffer, because he can't afford to lose face in front of the Burmese.