Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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How does "Shooting an Elephant" relate to imperialism?

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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George Orwell's story "Shooting an Elephant" relates directly to the issue of European imperialism and the effects of colonization not only on those being colonized, but on those doing the colonizing.  The very first sentences in his story bespeak the loathsome nature of colonialism and its gradually corrosive effects on both sides of the equation:

". . .in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European...

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arkaless | Student

George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant deals with his experience as the sub-divisional police officer in Moulmein, Lower Burma. The story reveals the official obligation as well as the moral dilemma of an Imperialist police officer to shoot a rogue elephant. The author-cum-narrator was not willing to shoot the elephant, for the madness of the animal was nearly over and, moreover, he had never shot at a huge animal like the elephant. But he felt rather compelled to do so by a crowd of locals who wanted to see the magical incident of an elephant being shot at and killed by the white man. The  author, being a representative of the European Imperialist regime, just could not afford to go back without shooting the beast.

Orwell's essay(or it may also be read as a short story) explores how Imperialist domination and its omnipotent icon, namely, the European sahib, were believed to be so invincible that the author simply did not have the liberty to deprive the big crowd of people from enjoying a sensational sight. Shooting an Elephant is thus a very subtle critique of British Imperialism in the Indian sub-continent.

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