In his reminiscent and reflective essay, "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell finds his role as a British officer to symbolize colonial authority. As such, the Burmese people react to him with animosity and resentment.
The antipathy of the Burmese people manifests as the Burmese people meeting Orwell with "sneering faces," or a Burmese referee on the soccer field looking the other way when a nimble Burmese player trips him. Young Burmese men hurl insults at him after he has gone a safe distance past them. Worst of all, Orwell states, are the Buddhist priests who "seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans."
Orwell realizes that to the Burmese he represents British colonial authority and its oppression. When he responds to the call about a rogue elephant, the crowd that forms eyes him with resentment, disdain, and hatred. Witnessing these feelings, Orwell notes that "[W]hen the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys."
Orwell finds himself compromised by his position, and he feels that he must kill the elephant because "every white man's life in the East was one long struggle not to be laughed at."
Orwell shoots the elephant "solely to avoid looking like a fool" since he has appeared on the scene as a figure of British authority. Upon later reflection, Orwell realizes he has exhibited moral cowardice in killing the elephant, a walking symbol of human nature that is sacrificed as an innocent victim of the oppression of colonialism.