For such a dignified animal, symbolic of strength and wisdom, the elephant dies an ignominious death.
In order to effectively shoot an elephant, one should aim at the side of the head, straight at the ear hole so that the bullet will pass through the brain. But, Orwell does not know this, and thinking that the brain is further forward on the great beast's head, he aims lower. Because his bullet strikes lower, the elephant does not die immediately; instead, he seems to have felt some seismic shock within himself as the lines of his body appear to have altered. Suddenly he looks older; he shrinks, he is stricken and crumbling before Orwell's eyes. Then, as though the weight of life were too much to bear, the elephant sags to his knees with his mouth slobbering in the throes of death.
Yet, with the second shot, the elephant rises in defiance to this blast of deadly force. However, a third shot rings out, rattling with agony through his body, knocking out the last strength in his legs. As his hindquarters sink to the ground, the great elephant seems for a moment to grow larger because his front appears to rise as his hindquarters collapse. Then, for the first time, he trumpets, screaming against the gods as he falls mightily, shaking the earth around him.
like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came,...
Still, he is not dead. He lies on his side, breathing surprisingly rhythmically with great raspings from within the chambers of his powerful lungs. Laboriously, his side rises and falls in his agony. Wishing to put an end to the great beast's death throes, Orwell fires into what he perceives as the heart of the elephant. Somehow, this ancient animal of such power continues to lie in agony, still breathing in some other world where bullets seem to make no impression. Orwell must walk away when the tortured gasps last steadily for hours before the mighty elephant finally dies.