Can somebody tell me where the irony is in this quote from "Shooting an Elephant"?"The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued,...

Can somebody tell me where the irony is in this quote from "Shooting an Elephant"?

"The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do."

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the narrator is standing relatively close to the tranquil elephant, he expresses his desire not to shoot the elephant, yet feels persuaded into killing the majestic animal because of peer pressure from the Burmese citizens. While the narrator understands that he could easily be trampled by the massive elephant if it begins charging at him, he is more concerned with the "yellow faces behind." The British police officer then admits that he is not frightened by the elephant and is more worried about the reaction of the crowd. Orwell writes,

"The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do" (3).

What is ironic about the narrator's comment concerns the fact that he is more worried about being laughed at than being trampled to death. As a British police officer, the narrator understands the importance of appearing calm and resolute at all times. If the elephant were to trample him, the Burmese citizens would more than likely laugh at his death, which is what the British officer fears. It is also ironic that the oppressed Burmese people have control and power over the British police officer, who is their oppressor.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony in the situation lies in the gap between appearance and reality. Here is George Orwell, supposedly given power and prestige because of his colonial position, and he is in charge of shooting the elephant. Yet, it is shown that the real power is held not by George Orwell, but by the people he is supposedly in charge of. His fear of being laughed at actually gives them the real power, forcing him to shoot the elephant even though he does not want to and sees no need to do it. This is a further example of how, "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys," which could be said to be the central theme of this excellent essay. "Turning tyrant," or taking power, in theory gives the man a position of leadership and authority. However, as George Orwell experiences, it also potentially exposes them to ridicule, which is to be avoided at all costs:

The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

Thus it is that through the fear of mockery, it is the natives who actually have the power, and force Orwell to do what he does not want, destroying his own freedom in the process.