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The whole story can be read as an analogy to the way western culture saw the developing nations during the imperialistic period. The strangeness of the elephant’s behavior, its destructive power, its alienation from civilized life, was the way western culture saw the lifestyle of the native African or Indian citizenship, and rather than treat the elephant (the culture) as something to be understood, he chose to use his advanced power – his weaponry – to simply render the elephant powerless, lifeless, impotent. Western European civilization treated other cultures as primitive animals, uncivilized, and like the elephant, out of the modern world’s habitat. While a patient native animal trainer could have eventually calmed the elephant and brought it back to its natural environment, the impatience and shortsightedness of Western culture could only use force, a limited pallet of solutions to a problem. Orwell made a career of seeing human parallels to animal behavior. There is also the element of “saving face” – a military officer being observed by natives; he is reluctant to use his weapon by also reluctant to appear indecisive.
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