Do you think Orwell should have shot the elephant?

6 Answers | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One student asked a question about this story:  "What is Orwell's 'moment of truth,' a term used in bullfighting?"  Like the matador, Orwell had a job to do; in addition, his pride prevents him from walking away, just as the matador faces the bull for the same reason.  He is subjugated by imperialism as post #4 states so well; however, he, too, adheres to British pride and sense of "form."  Orwell writes,

I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As an animal lover, I wish Orwell had not shot the elephant. As Orwell explains in his essay, by time he got to the elephant, it was calm. He writes," It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to winin, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I would shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the majout came back." I realize the elephant had killed another human being but I think humans had probably had a great deal to do with why he went crazy in the first place. However, I understand Orwell's feelings that he was there as a representative of the British crown and could not afford to look "like a fool". The entire situation is filled with such irony because no one seems to really know what to do. Everyone is acting according to their assigned roles in society. But that's the entire point Orwell is making.

parkerlee's profile pic

parkerlee | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Since you preface your question with " Do you think...," I will for once express my personal opinion.

Given the fact that the elephant had run 'must' (meaning gone a bit crazy), had killed a "coolie" (word for a native worker) and could go on the rampage again - yes!  If he had had help from other soldiers to net the animal and bring it down or a vet on hand to shoot it with a tranquilizer gun, then he should have done this. But the fact was he was left alone to handle the problem. Since the elephant in question could have killed another person until brought under control, Blair really had no other alternative other than killing the elephant right away or "waiting it out." The elephant was an expensive 'working tool,' certainly, but dangerous and unpredictable.

Suppose Blair had done the latter and the elephant had killed someone else!  Then he really would have had something to regret for the rest of his life....

 

ollij's profile pic

ollij | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

First and foremost, elephants are my favorite animal, they have been since I can remember. I, in that situation, would never under any circumstances have shot that elephant. Nor would I be holding a gun because that also frightens me wholly. However, I don't want to look like a fool. Not that I care too much about what other people think, but I wouldn't want to know, for myself, that people didn't respect me. I understand why he did it, but I'd prefer he'd have made a more moral decision than that of "to avoid looking a fool". Had he, beforehand, been thinking of the Dravidian coolie and his horrid death, I'd say he was more in the clear. But I don't think he should have. The elephant, at the moment, was neither rampaging or threatening anyone. It had calmed down and was simply grazing and bathing. Had he waited for the mahout, everyone would have been happier (in my opinion). So, no, I don't think he should have shot the elephant, but I understand why he did.

epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

In my opinion, Orwell thought that killing the elephant was wrong. He hestiated before he decided to kill the elephant, and clearly felt horrible about it during and after the elephant's death. The main point of the story is that colonizers are compelled to act in ways that they normally wouldn't. In any other circumstances, killing the elephant would have been far less justifiable. The elephant had calmed down, its killing of a human had probably been an accident, and it was a valuable commodity that could still be salvaged. Orwell was not usually a brutal person; his position as colonizer of subjugated peoples forced out a savagery in him that he couldn't suppress.

If Orwell had not let the role of colonizer consume him so much, he would not have killed the elephant. His action was unnecessary and cruel, but that's one of the central messages in Orwell's story. The subjugated are not the only victims of colonization. Their subjugaters also suffer. They cannot resist the gradual and subtle degradation of their morality, sympathy, and humanity.   

I agree with Post #4, that he did in fact have to shoot the elephant.  That was his role as "colonizer." he didn't have any choice but to play out his role. Also with the mob of people watching him, Orwell couldn't let the situation alone.

boryung's profile pic

boryung | Middle School Teacher

Posted on

In my opinion, Orwell thought that killing the elephant was wrong. He hestiated before he decided to kill the elephant, and clearly felt horrible about it during and after the elephant's death. The main point of the story is that colonizers are compelled to act in ways that they normally wouldn't. In any other circumstances, killing the elephant would have been far less justifiable. The elephant had calmed down, its killing of a human had probably been an accident, and it was a valuable commodity that could still be salvaged. Orwell was not usually a brutal person; his position as colonizer of subjugated peoples forced out a savagery in him that he couldn't suppress.

If Orwell had not let the role of colonizer consume him so much, he would not have killed the elephant. His action was unnecessary and cruel, but that's one of the central messages in Orwell's story. The subjugated are not the only victims of colonization. Their subjugaters also suffer. They cannot resist the gradual and subtle degradation of their morality, sympathy, and humanity.   

We’ve answered 318,989 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question