How effective is George Orwell as a police officer in Shooting an Elephant?

Expert Answers
kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arguably, George Orwell proves to be an effective police officer in "Shooting an Elephant." We see this through Orwell's actions after he receives a phone call from a local sub-inspector informing him that an elephant is "ravaging the bazaar." The sub-inspector asks Orwell to "come and do something about it," though he does not give specific instructions. During its rampage, however, the elephant kills a man, prompting a large crowd to gather around Orwell. As a result, it quickly becomes clear to him that shooting the elephant is the only acceptable course of action.

While Orwell is hated by the people he polices, generally dislikes his work, and is opposed to British imperialism, he carries out his duties and shoots the elephant. That he did not want to shoot the elephant is irrelevant: he did what had to be done and this makes him an efficient officer, even if he felt remorse at ending the animal's life.

ajcwebber eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell is not only ineffective in policing; the reasons for his failure constitute the core ethical dilemma of the story. Orwell is stuck smack in the middle between the politics of British Imperialism and the attendant expectations of the Burmese "natives." He does not want to shoot the elephant; it is a valuable working animal. Moreover he is loathe to kill it. He has to because the "natives" expect it. He "perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys." Orwell is a symbol of western authority, but also its pawn. He is not true to himself or real to the people he "controls," but rather an "absurd puppet" of the British regime.