Shooting an Elephant Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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How does "Shooting an Elephant" relate to imperialism?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this essay, Orwell uses shooting the elephant to illustrate the basic irrationality and evil of imperialism.

As the story opens, we learn that the narrator, a young imperial police officer in Burma, is hated by the native Burmese, as all the British imperialist forces are—and he knows it. However, when an elephant goes on a rampage, he is called on to handle the situation, in part because only the British are allowed to have guns. By the time he arrives at the scene, the elephant is completely calm and poses no threat. Yet, because a crowd of hostile, passive-aggressive Burmese are behind him, implicitly challenging him to act, the narrator shoots the elephant for no reason but to save face and look like he is handling the situation in a strong and aggressive manner.

As the narrator describes in some detail, the elephant dies slowly and in agony. Its owner loses his investment in the animal. The narrator feels disgusted with himself for letting pride overcome his ration and empathy and...

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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.