close-up illustration of an elephant's face

Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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What is the sequence of events in "Shooting an Elephant" and how does it affect the narrative? What sensory details are used and what effect do they have on the narrative?

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Concerning the sensory details in Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," you can look at the actual killing of the elephant.  Emotion is evoked in this scene by the use of precise and insightful description.  Orwell writes (I'll emboldened the images, or sensory details):

In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant.  He neither stirred nor fell, but every line on his body had altered He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralyzed him without knocking him down.  At last, after what seemed a long time--it might have been five seconds, I dare say--he sagged flabbily to his knees.

Look at the diction, or word choice, and the phrasing

  • mysterious, terrible change
  • stricken, shrunken, immensely old
  • frightful impact
  • paralyzed, without knocking him down
  • sagged flabbily to his knees

And notice the image created by "paralyzed him without knocking him down."  The description, diction, phrasing, imagery all present concrete details that evoke powerful emotion in the reader. 

And the elephant scene is, of course, central to Orwell's ideas.  He is an outsider forced to do what he doesn't want to do by the crowd of insiders surrounding him, and his action is loaded with ambiguity concerning its consequences. 

Orwell tries to evoke pity, disgust, righteous indignation.  He wants readers to decide that imperialism destroys both the colonizers and the colonized.

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The main sequence is the build up as Orwell, the narrator, works his way through the town in the path of the destructive elephant until he catches up to it and is forced to shoot it.

Throughout the story, Orwell describes the looks of the natives, the way that people are talking about him, the appearance of the places ravaged by the elephant in passing, and the smells of the entire affair.  These sensory details serve to heighten the various conflicts between Orwell and this rather unsavory duty, his hatred of his position as one of the oppressors, and the whole amazing sense of futility, in his mind, of the entire operation.

All of these details serve to magnify the conflicts and then also serve to deepen the sense of utter meaninglessness and futility in the final scene when he is forced to kill the elephant and struggles to do so as the elephant seemingly will not die.

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